"Back At The Chicken Shack"
Blue Note (1963)
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I've referenced it at least a dozen times in previous posts. It's one of the most popular instruments that you don't think of when you think "rock 'n' roll," but it's been there for so many albums we've looked at: The Allman Brothers, The Animals, Santana. That instrument is the Hammond organ. The original organ is not a handy instrument. They're huge, which is why they're normally relegated to churches and opera houses. Therefore the Hammond company began making smaller, more portable models that featured a less symphonic sound, thanks to electric speakers and pickups. Like all things musical, the popularity of the instrument can be traced somewhere, and that individual is Jimmy Smith.
Smith was originally a jazz keyboardist, but inspiration struck him and he invested in a Hammond during the mid-50's (even then the instrument cost more than $2,000). He wasn't the first to try the instrument, but his virtuosity made him the biggest name. It seems odd to compare Smith to something as overblown as power metal, but his fleet fingers could create dense walls of notes, similar to the technique of guitar tapping. The show is impressive, but "Back To The Chicken Shack" allows Smith to serve as a sideman as well as virtuoso, and in the process create some much smoother jams.
The opening title track is probably the best of the bunch. If you want an idea of how Smith sounds while he plays backing melodies, imagine yourself at a baseball stadium during the '70s. I don't know how many ballparks still have organ players, but Smith is where they took their inspiration from. Although Smith is the headliner, he shares the spotlight equally with saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. Listening to the two leads play their respective instruments, it becomes evident how much Smith played the organ like a jazz saxophone. Perhaps he opted to share playing time on "Chicken Shack," but he'll be damned if he's just going to play simple rhythms in the background of someone else's solo. But, even as he improvised melodies, Smith supplied bass lines using the pedals of the Hammond.
Three of the numbers on "Chicken Shack" are originals, and two are pop/jazz standards. The longest song on the album, "Messy Bessie," is notable because guitarist Kenny Burrell takes a solo, and not just a smooth, jazz guitar blurb like during the title track, but an aggressive passage with some legitimate hammer-ons going on. Drummer Donald Bailey has been described as "king of the organ trio drummers," but this seems to mean he's the most content at playing chill snare/cymbal rhythms, and otherwise fitting in to the background.
I can only imagine how cool it was to be Jimmy Smith. Sure, the Hammond wasn't the electric guitar, but it was an instrument that left its mark. Critics began referring to his style as "funk-jazz," which sounds accurate, but if you think about it, his music came way before funk gained mainstream attention. And when genres like soul and funk began getting big, they owed part of their style to the Hammond organ.
INTERESTING FACT: At the age of 14, Laurens Hammond, the inventor of the Hammond organ, submitted a design for an automatic transmission for automobiles to Renault (this was 1909). He was rejected.