B-3 organ precision specialist Dr Lonnie Smith dies at 79
Dr Lonnie Smith, whose deliberate cross-genres of gospel, R&B, blues, and jazz tunes added a distinct voice to the Hammond B-3 organ, passed away on September 28 at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was 79 years old.
His death was confirmed by his longtime partner and manager Holly Case, who was by his side, the cause was pulmonary fibrosis.
In the early 1970s, Smith added “Dr”. title to his name. He told the Amsterdam News “I’m not a doctor, but I can certainly operate when it comes to this music and I know how to make an audience feel good.”
Smith was named the 2017 NEA Jazz Masters Fellows, the country’s highest honor in jazz. The Association of Jazz Journalists voted him Organist / Keyboardist of the Year for nine years. In 2012, Dr Smith launched his own label Pilgrimage Inc. and in 2015 he made the historic decision to quit Blue Note Records after 45 years. The label released “Evolution” in 2016. Its 75th anniversary celebration at New York City jazz club, Jazz Standard, was a live recording of its second Blue Note album “All in My Mind” with its longtime contributors , guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Jonathan Blake. This year, Blue Note released “Breathe”, the last album before his death which featured the surprise presence of punk rocker pioneer Iggy Pop, who appeared on both vocal tracks “Why Can’t We Live Together” and ” Sunshine Superman ”by Donovan. “
Lonnie Smith was born July 3, 1942 in Lackawanna, New York, a suburb of Buffalo. He was raised by his mother, Beulah Mae Early, and his stepfather, Charles Smith. He first sang in the church choir and during the doo-wop days of the 1950s he sang with the Teen Kings who became the Supremes (which included Jerry Bledsoe, who later became a personality of radio in New York). The band recorded a song “Snap, Crackle and Pop”. The group gained a solid reputation and became the first part of the teenage idol of the time, Fabian. In a previous interview with Amsterdam News, Dr Smith recalled, “I really liked singing, but I had to wait to get on stage after the band and then sit down again, so I thought playing an instrument was the way to go. He hoped to play the saxophone but ended up with “a battered crown”.
Although he does not know how to play the piano, he still accepted the concert. He remembers, “The only thing that got me through was my singing. I was pecking at the piano and no one really noticed my inadequate playing skills. After being introduced to his new instrument, he concluded that the organ was his intended choice, it was the only instrument he actually knew and sang every Sunday in church.
While playing the piano at a club, he also played downtown Buffalo at Little Paris during his breaks. He eventually left the piano concert when the owner refused to give him more breaks because he never returned on time. Young Smith’s many days hanging out and practicing at Art Kubera’s music store paid off when the owner gave him a Hammond B-3 organ at no cost.
His career didn’t take off until the early ’60s when he met manager and agent Jimmy Sibling who booked him in the studio with Motown stars Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Charlie and Inez Fox and the Impressions. He then played a concert at Small’s in Harlem where he met George Benson who had joined McDuff and Lou Donaldson. Benson’s manager Jimmy Boyd hosted a recording session for Dr Smith with guitarist Grant Green. Unfortunately, Smith never showed up on the date stating in an interview with this writer: “I had only been playing for a year and still training and didn’t feel ready to play with a great musician. like Grant Green. ” A few years later, Smith and Benson sat down with Green at Harlem’s Palm Café.
Later, when Benson formed his own group, he asked Smith to join him. During his time with Benson, they recorded five albums on Columbia Records (John Hammond signed both). During their Columbia sessions, Lou Donaldson asked the two musicians to join him for his Blue Note “Alligator Boogaloo” session. The recording became one of Donaldson’s greatest hits, who also played a major role in Smith’s departure from Columbia after only a year to accept a contract with Blue Note Records in 1967 as a sideman with the saxophonist. viola Lou Donaldson. After four years, he became a leader by recording four albums for the label, including his first classic “Think!” (1968) and ending with “Drives” (1970).
“Dr. Lonnie was a genius, a very consistent organist for many years,” said alto saxophonist and songwriter Lou Donaldson. “He played on my debut album ‘Alligator Boogaloo’, we played together for 10 years. was a good friend. ”
The accomplished composer and master Hammond B-3, who inspired five generations, never took formal music lessons and could not read music. During our interview a few years ago, Smith noted, “When I was young playing was all that mattered, reading music was secondary and I just never took the time to study. I have been fortunate to have a great ear and have always been able to convey my musical thoughts to any band.
Smith never stopped performing live, but he took a studio hiatus until 1993 when he returned to the studio with a John Coltrane “Afro Blue” tribute released on the MusicMasters label. The same trio with guitarist John Abercrombie and drummer Marvin Smith recorded two Jimi Hendrix tribute albums, Foxy Lady (1994) and Purple Haze (1995). Smith’s music was noticed in the hip hop community when A Tribe Called Quest sampled his music, which created a trend among rappers.
Smith has been featured on over 100 albums, including 30 as a frontman and eight with Donaldson. “When Lou [Donaldson] and I was going to the studio, we never thought that young people would play our music.
“Music is something that comes from my heart, I take advantage of the gift of God.”
In addition to Case, Smith is survived by four daughters, Lani Chambers, Chandra Thomas, Charisse Partridge and Vonnie Smith, and several grandchildren.
A memorial will be held in New York. The time and date will be announced.