Back in the day, when you said organ, you were talking about one of two things: a part of the body or the Hammond B-3. Jazz organ masters like Larry Young and Jimmy Smith did not play the Minimoog or the Casio Tectronic, they played the B-3. Nowadays the kids are picking up a new keyboard a week, whatever the latest gadget may be, but they still can't play the original organ from 1955.
Philadelphia-bred organ master Jimmy Smith is best known for his soulful, swinging B-3 records from the '50s and '60s, and his influence on contemporary B-3 players like Joey DeFrancesco and Tony Monaco is huge. But very few people know that Smith had a second instrument, which he kept tucked away in a large back closet: an custom organ known as a Mr. Johnson.
The Johnson Organ Company started out making B-3 ripoffs, but after Hammond sued, it went in another direction. During the '50s the company's most popular model, the Mr. Johnson, was popular among experimental underground organists who felt that the mainstream was too restrictive. It came in many colors, shapes and sizes, but always featured a large silver "J" at the end. Jimmy Smith saw his first Mr. Johnson at his cousin Sid's house, and that very afternoon he knew he had to have one of his own, so he spent all his beer money and bought a custom model.
Me and Mr. Johnson collects six unreleased tracks taken from archival recordings that Sid finally made available last year, five decades after they were made. Jimmy Smith plays standards and blues pieces, emphasizing bawdy and off-color topics. Everyone who's heard Smith knows he had a magical touch, and to hear him touch his Johnson with this kind of fervent intensity adds a whole new dimension to funky numbers like "Rough and Tough" and spirituals like "Body and Soul."
They say Jimmy Smith was the greatest man who ever played an organ, but until you've heard him play his jet black stretch Johnsontouch and love every note, even add brief ecstatic vocals here and thereyou'll never know the meaning of the word.
Personnel: Jimmy Smith: Johnson organ; Richard Johnson: Johnson organ (5,6).