Leon Ferguson & The Groove Tones - Stokin'
The Mystery Organist
Anyone that knows me or that’s been to the main Funky16Corners site knows how much I dig that species of the little record with the big hole known as the Hammond 45 (taking it’s name from the organ manufacturer, who’s product is featured prominently on all of said 45s). There’s something about the sound of a wailing Hammond organ with a soulful groove that stands as a kind of Rosetta stone of soul and funk. In those 2 ½ to 3 minutes of sounds is the key. It surely has something to do with the churchy origins of the instrument, with the gospel truth translated into soul no less so than when coming out of the mouth of a giant like Ray Charles (know also to take a spin on the B3 now and again). Ironically enough those sounds also conjure up images of smoky dive bars (strippers optional, but preferred) in black neighborhoods in every major American city (but with a special nod to Philadelphia, a veritable wellspring of great organists). This constant teetering between the sacred and the profane is the nuclear reactor at the heart of soul music. Certainly some Hammond 45s are more profane than others. Listen to a tune like Toussaint McCall’s mighty ‘Shimmy’. If there’s a church in there it’s filled with people having sex. Anyway, the world of Hammond 45s runs the gamut from slightly soulful/funky turns by established jazzers trying to stay current (Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff etc.) to cats from the soul side of the street burning up the keys (McCall, Leon Haywood, Merl Saunders, Baby Cortez et al). Like non-instrumental funk/soul 45s, for every player with a real discography, there are ten others that never made more than one or two brilliant 45s before going back to pouring beer, moving pianos or sleeping in all night movie theatres. One wonders whatever happened to Big Bubbles and the Soul Brothers, R.D. Stokes, or LaBert Ellis, especially after you finally track down and savor the grease pouring from the grooves of their 45s. A recent acquisition along these lines was the sole release ever committed to wax by Leon Ferguson and the Groove Tones (and what self-respecting digger could pass by a name like that???), ‘Miss Dolores Funk’ b/w ‘Stokin’ on San Francisco’s Galaxy label. The Galaxy label itself had some hits (by Rodger Collins and Little Johnny Taylor) as well as a bunch of other non-hit, but extremely high quality sides by the aforementioned Merl Saunders and Bobby Rush among others. Who Ferguson and his Groove Tones were, and where they were from, remains a mystery (Galaxy was SanFran based, but released records by artists from all over the country). What is not mysterious is how good this 45 is. I found it on E-Bay (by doing and “organ funk” search) and like I said, I couldn’t pass it by. The fact that no one else bid on it and I got it for $10 (?!?!?) seemed almost too good to be true (even more so when it took the seller a month to put it in the mail). When it finally did arrive, and I slapped it on the ole portable victrola, my face lit up like a wino finding a case of fortified wine on the sidewalk. This 45 is what those of us who spend too much time and money on 45s refer to as a “two-sider”, meaning that both tunes are of excellent quality (which is more often than not, not the case). “Miss Dolores Funk” is a slow groover with a riffing organ and a sax soloing over the first part of the song. When the organ jumps to the front – just about doubling the volume – it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. “Stokin’” (the number featured here), taken at a similarly slow (but not relaxed) pace sees the organist (who’ll I’ll assume is Mr. Ferguson) stretching out a little bit. Just try listening to this one without being drawn into the groove. One minute your sitting there minding your own beeswax, the next thing you know you’re bobbing your head and the guy in the cubicle/car next to you thinks you’re nuts. In the end it’s worth it.