Lonnie Smith arrived on the back of a wave of Hammond organists – Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff his obvious forebears.
Smith would release solo albums and collaborate with many artists – he was busy from the mid-60s right through until the late 1990s. And then from there across the 00s too, right up to and including a brand new album released earlier this year. Breathe is a gem. It features collaborations with special guests. Jazz, funk, soul and R’n’B – and all of the musical moments in-between. Lonnie was so good.
He was the organist for the incredible George Benson Quartet. This was when I first heard him – listened intently without even knowing the name of the player. Of course I was listening to George but I was equally captivated by the organ playing on It’s Uptown and The George Benson Cookbook. When I was 13 I had a double-tape featuring both those albums, all those wonderful standards like Summertime, A Foggy Day, Stormy Weather and Willow Weep For Me, they never sounded so good. That creamy, dreamy organ driving them home.
I’d rediscover Smith by fluke again, via a bevy of hip-hop samples. The Beastie Boys taking a drum groove here, an organ lick there. That set me off through Smith’s own solo catalogue. What an embarrassment of riches. Then there’s the other big names of jazz he worked with.
He’s there on records by Lou Donaldson, Red Holloway and Jimmy McGriff. He also worked with Blue Mitchell, King Curtis and David “Fathead” Newman, among many other names.
His debut solo record is a gem – featuring George Benson (returning the favour) and Melvin Sparks.
If you’ve never heard him you have to check him out. But chances are you heard him without even knowing it.
What a force. And what a player.
R.I.P. Lonnie Smith