Memphis Organs 1965 & 1969
Mr Bobby Emmons Hey....it’s Wednesday (like you forgot or something). Like you aren’t staring at the clock, watching the second hand fall like an axe, over and over again, praying for five o’clock (I know I am). For those of you that saw the title of today’s post and thought you were in for some kind of vintage parade of the phalluses, I’m sorry to disappoint you but Google is a single click away. The organs we speak of today are the kind manufactured by Hammond, Farfisa, Lowrey etc., i.e. keyboards. Back in the middle of the 20th century, when enterprising souls like Fats Waller and Milt Buckner decided that electric organs could be used for something other than church music, they had no idea how far it would go. Later on, when Jimmy Smith made the organ an acceptable front line solo instrument in the jazz world, he brought things a step closer to where we’re headed. Thanks to cats like Smith, organ combos became a staple of the smoky barrooms or America’s urban centers. Before long, the mighty Hammond was yanked out of the clutches of the beboppers and commandeered by R&B types who proceeded to get chicken grease and Dixie Peach all up in the keys, driving the unwieldy beast all the way to Soul Street. It’s especially cool to see an instrument that started out in church play such a prominent role in an otherwise “profane” world, especially considering how many of soul music’s greatest vocalists made the same transition. I mean, could Bach or Saint Saens have had any idea that the passage of time would mutate the massive, cathedral-bound beasts that they composed for into a delivery system for stuff like Toussaint McCall’s “Shimmy”? I dare say not.... Thousands of great organ-based soul/funk 45s were recorded in the 60’s. Many were by better known masters like Bill Doggett, Hank Marr, Jack McDuff, Booker T & The MGs, and the Meters, but the lions share were laid down by completely obscure artists that never made more than one or two 45s. The two numbers we offer today fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. Bobby Emmons and Art Jerry Miller were both busy studio musicians (especially Emmons) who more than likely performed much of their best work on other people records, and both of them had the opportunity to release records under their own name. Bobby Emmons started out his career playing organ and piano with Bill Black’s Combo. Through the 1960’s he was a mainstay of Memphis recording studios, working on the staff at both Hi Records and American Recording studios and playing on countless R&B, soul, rock and country records before relocating to Nashville in the 70’s. I first heard Emmons organ work when I dug up his “Blue Organ” 45 on Hi. Not too long after that I found a copy of the awkwardly titled 1965 LP (that the tune originally appeared on) ‘Blues with the Beat with an Organ’. Though most of the LP is pretty standard R&B/pop organ combo action, ‘Blue Organ’ is surprisingly funky for 1965. Emmons works it out with some Willie Mitchell-esque backing, and the cover of ‘Mack The Knife’ on the flip manages to add a bluesy feel not ordinarily associated with the Weill/Brecht chestnut. Art Jerry Miller also started as part of the Hi studios band, writing the funky ‘Up Hard’ for Willie Mitchell. His 1969 LP, burdened with the suggestive but ultimately misleading (though there is a semi-visible breast on the album cover) title “Rated X: Suggested For Mature Souls”, was recorded for the Stax-associated Enterprise label. Miller is best known for the funky 45 ‘Grab a Handfull’ b/w ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ (both tracks appear on the LP), but both of those numbers are largely electric piano features. Of the remaining organ-based tracks on the LP (which is entirely instrumental) the best are ‘Mod Strut’ and ‘Moon Shot’. Bearing the clear influence of Booker T. & The MGs, Miller lays it down with help from drummer Willie Hall and the Memphis Horns. Though it doesn’t feature anything groundbreaking, the LP is still worth checking out if you dig soul organ. Bobby Emmons went on to write a number of country hits and play on scores of LPs. I have no idea what happened to Art Jerry Miller.