I would like to argue that the Hammond organ has made a significant influence on contemporary music over the past seven to eight decades. I also think that the influence is most evident in jazz, blues and rock music in the 60s and 70s when so many artists used the Hammond organ both on stage and in the studio, and in the latter part of the 60s when thousands of ordinary people attended courses on how to play.
Initially, the instrument was sold to churches as an alternative to the large pipe organs, since it was both cheaper, lighter and smaller. Eventually, the instrument became very popular in cinemas, restaurants, major sports events and also got into the blues, gospel, jazz, rock, and soul music (in the 60s and 70s). The soundtrack from the early 1970s progressive rock music is often strongly influenced by the Hammond organ.
Today’s piano and keyboard players may not be very concerned with the Hammond organ and “the Hammond sound” because there is always a selection of organ sounds to choose from on digital pianos, electronic keyboards, and synthesizers. By writing this article I want to help increase the knowledge and interest of the Hammond organ to those who love the Hammond sound, and hopefully to someone who is not as big a fan.
I’m going to break down the content into 6 sections:
- How Is The Hammond Organ?
- The Leslie Speaker Cabinet
- Home Organ Courses
- Affected Jazz, Blues, And Rock Music
- A Selection of Famous Hammond Organ Players
- Hammond Today and Tomorrow
How Is The Hammond Organ?
So how is the Hammond organ? As a former organ player who unfortunately never got the opportunity to own a real Hammond organ, I am of course a big fan of “the Hammond sound”.
The Hammond organ is a keyboard instrument belonging to the group of electrophones invented, designed and built by Laurens Hammond in the United States around 1934. The sound of the original versions of the instrument is generated electromagnetically by means of mechanical tonewheels, amplified and produced in speakers. It is thus more correct to call it an electric instrument. In recent times, electronic editions have also been made in which the tone is produced by oscillators, i.e. electric tone generators. The organ produces a temperate, warm and vibrant sound and became an instant success.
The Hammond organ is often divided into two main groups:
- Cabinet models like the B-3, C-3, and A-100 have 61-key manuals and 25 pedals where the B-3 model is the most sought after. The largest versions of the B-3 have three manuals and a full pedal set, just like the church organs.
- Smaller models like the L-100 and M-100 have two manuals with 44 keys.
Most of the models have two manuals in addition to a pedal set, as well as so-called drawbars that are used to change and form the register hose, vary the number of overtones and affect the actual stroke. The two best-known Hammond models, B3 and C3 came in 1954 and had a touch response percussion system and a vibrato scanner. Most of the original designs from the past were still retained. The model B-3 got a special status in jazz, blues, and rock.
Some Hammond organ concepts:
Waterfall keys: Keys with a flat, full front and rounded edge. Important to play the classic Hammond glissando.
Drawbars: Sliders that adjust different characters of the tone and are set up according to old pipe organ systems.
Tone Wheel: Rotating cogwheels with sinusoidal “teeth” that are read electromagnetically and create the tone of the organ.
Hammond’s tonewheel organs were produced until 1974. Later, digital organs have been produced that have attempted to imitate the sound of the old tonewheel organs.
The Leslie Speaker Cabinet
The Hammond organ was often used in combination with the so-called Leslie speaker cabinet (with rotating horn and subwoofer beam), which, along with a hard and almost spitting approach, gives the instrument its distinctive rotating sound. This introduces both an amplitude and frequency modulation of the signal as well as a constant doppler effect, spreading the sound spectrum significantly.
At the mid-50s what most people considered to be the Hammond organ sound was the sound of a Hammond organ through a Leslie tone cabinet. With its spinning sound, it has been managed to turn smoky bars and small chapels into concert halls and cathedrals. The moving sound had something majestic about it. And it still does.
The Leslie speaker is a large speaker cabinet with rotating speakers intended to simulate pipe organ.
Home Organ Courses
In the ’70s, the Hammond organ was introduced as an organ for home use and became a great success. The Hammond organ with a rhythm box and pre-recorded accompaniments became a template for the home organ, and similar organs made by other manufacturers were often mistakenly called Hammond organ. Almost every home had to have this new musical instrument, perhaps as a substitute for the much more expensive piano, and millions of people around the world attended courses to learn how to play it.
Affected Jazz, Blues, And Rock Music
“I was walking down 79th Street in Chicago and heard a song that turned out to be Misty by Groove Holmes played on a Hammond B3. Never heard an organ sound like that before. I only knew one blues that I could play on the piano, but when I played it on a B3 (and Leslie) at Lyon & Healy a few weeks later that was it. I was in love. ”- Eric Michaels, jazz musician (Eric Michaels Organ Trio)
The story of Eric Michaels tells how the sound of Hammond B-3 together with a Leslie speaker influenced musicians to start playing the Hammond organ.
Many jazz, blues, and rock artists started using the Hammond organ. Jazz musicians Fats Waller and Jimmy Smith made it a popular jazz instrument, while Jon Lord from the hard rock group Deep Purple and Keith Emerson from the prog-rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer contributed in the 1960s and 70s to the Hammond organ also being widely used in rock music.
A Selection of Famous Hammond Organ Players
- Tony Banks (Anthony George Banks)
- English musician, songwriter, singer, and film composer
- Hammond model: L-122, T-102
- Band: Genesis
- Keith Emerson (Keith Noel Emerson)
- English musician and composer
- Hammond model: L-100, C-3
- Band: The Nice, Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP)
- John Evan
- British musician and composer
- Hammond model: C-3
- Band: Jethro Tull
- Matthew Charles Fisher
- English musician, songwriter, and producer
- Hammond model: M-102
- Band: Procol Harum. Playing the Hammond organ on the 1967 single “A Whiter Shade of Pale”
- Ken Hensley (Kenneth William David Hensley)
- English singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer
- Hammond model: A-100
- Band: Uriah Heep
- Booker T. Jones (Booker Taliaferro Jones, Jr.)
- American multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, record producer and arranger
- Hammond Model: M-1, M-3, and B-3
- Band: Booker T. & the M.G.’s
- Tony Kaye
- English keyboardist, songwriter, producer, and manager
- Hammond model: M-100, C-3
- Band: Yes, Badger
- Jon Lord (John Douglas “Jon” Lord)
- English composer, pianist, and Hammond organ player, and known for his pioneering work in fusing rock with classical or baroque forms
- Hammond model: C-3
- Band: Deep Purple, Whitesnake, Paice Ashton Lord, The Artwoods and The Flower Pot Men
- Jimmy Smith (James Oscar Smith)
- American jazz musician whose albums often charted on Billboard magazine. He helped popularize the Hammond B-3 organ, creating a link between jazz and 1960s soul music
- Hammond model: B-3
- Rick Wakeman (Richard Christopher Wakeman)
- English keyboardist, songwriter, television and radio presenter, and author
- Hammond model: L-100, C-3
- Band: Yes, Strawbs
Hammond Today and Tomorrow
So how is the Hammond organ today? The original Hammond organ has fortified its position in history and is still widely used in orchestral context due to its unique sound and solid construction. This despite the fact that the last tonewheel model rolled out of the factory in 1974 and that more digital imitations have seen the light of day in recent years.
The Hammond and Leslie brands continue today and are owned by Hammond Suzuki USA. To the purist, the originals are still the greatest and there is a thriving market for vintage Hammond organs – particularly the B3 – and Leslie “speakers” sixty years after their adoption by pop, jazz, and blues artists.
I hope you enjoyed being on this short journey with the Hammond organ and its musical friends. The story of the organ intended for churches and became one of the most charismatic musical instruments in contemporary music is also important general knowledge for the understanding of recent music history. As all travel comes to an end, so does this, but I am convinced that the Hammond organ will continue its musical journey through the decades that come and fascinate even more people with its distinctive tone and sound.
If you have any questions regarding the content of this article, please leave them below and I will be more than happy to help you out.