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Book Reviews

The Hammond Organ: Beauty In The B

By Published: November 15, 2006
After the tonewheel generator, the best-known features of the Hammond are the drawbars, which along with the presets (the reverse-colored keys at the far left of the lower manual) justify Mike Eppley's assertion that "a Hammond is really the first synthesizer." While several prominent players like Emerson, Booker T. Jones ('Green Onions"), Tom Coster ("Samba Pa Ti") and Rod Argent ("Time Of The Season") are happy to share their signature drawbar registrations, others turn out to be like chefs unwilling to reveal their secret recipe. When Vail asked Jimmy McGriff for his favorite drawbar settings, all he got for an answer was a smile and "I don't tell nobody that. That's my secret." Although Paul Shaffer readily admits to having looked over the shoulders of Jimmy Smith, Booker T., Billy Preston and others to cop their settings (which he keeps taped to his B-3), he was evasive about his own: " ... a little bit of full organ ... a little bit of jazz organ. The same stops as everybody uses."

Along with his above-mentioned comic relief, Amels also contributes "25 Hammond Licks You Must Know," only one portion of the book's fully notated master classes presented by such acknowledged savants as Joey DeFrancesco, Mike Eppley, Larry Goldings and Tony Zamagni; John Medeski, Rose Mary Bailey, Coster, Shaffer and Argent give additional performance tips. A very nifty supplement to the "Licks" and "Classes" is the option of going to the publisher's Web site at to download standard MIDI files and/or audio files to accompany them.

Vail does more than just give tips from technical experts on how to buy, restore, and maintain Hammonds and Leslies. All Hammonds were not created equal, we learn. Starting around 1968, the profit-monger side of the Hammond Company began to dominate the craftsman side (Hammond himself had vacated his position as president in 1955 and retired completely from the firm in 1960). Cheaper materials, including the cabinetry wood, were used, and assemblers on the production line were given fixed times to complete their tasks. As a result, there are certain vintages to be avoided, and Vail lists the "good" and "junky" serial numbers. He gives space to some of the most highly regarded professional restoration technicians in which to elaborate their respective philosophies—tube pre-amps versus solid-state, stock versus "super-stock," "chopping" and "hot-rodding," and so on.

In addition to an appendix of print and video resources, and an updated discography featuring authoritative recommendations for must-hear recordings by some of the greats of the Hammond organ, Vail closes with a comprehensive index, a very practical bit of back material all-too-often neglected in books of this sort.

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