HAMMOND ORGAN HISTORY

This week’s passing of iconic rock keyboardist Jon Lord refreshed my memories of touring with Hammond organs in the 1970s and ’80s. Jon was certainly a trailblazer for rock keyboard players and his name is synonymous with the Hammond brand.

My family had a Hammond chord organ when I was young. It was an “easy play” organ with buttons to play chords. I was never very fond of it because it sounded kind of cheesy. I was much more into playing drums. But it did give me a chance to noodle around every once in a while. It wasn’t until college that I started playing keyboards. My first keyboard was a synthesizer that I designed and co-built. I then added a Fender Rhodes piano.

When I began touring with the Hollywood-band Madame Beast, I rented a Hammond B3. The change from piano to organ was not an easy one. But after a few months, I grew to love playing it. A few years later, I purchased a Hammond C3. The basic difference between the two was that the B3 had four legs and the C3 was the church model that had a cabinet that went down to the floor. The C3 was a monster, weighing in at over 350 pounds and was built like a tank. I never had to worry about it functioning properly, despite the constant touring. I did replace broken keys a few times because I would occasionally jump on the keyboard during a show. But overall, the most reliable piece of equipment you could ever ask for.

That Hammond C3 also stayed with me when I toured with a Denver-based band called Reign, as well as with the band Lois Lane, which was mostly based in Chicago. Eventually, the band leader made a decision (an ill-fated one, in my opinion) to leave the lucrative Midwest circuit for Salt Lake City. I bowed out of Lois Lane a few months later, heading back to Chicago with the Hammond and the rest of my gear in a U-Haul trailer. Towing it through the Wasatch Mountains in the dead of winter was no picnic.

But the story has a happy ending. As I made a choice to create a high-tech solo act, I purchased a lot of new gear and sought a good home for the Hammond C3 that had entertained rock audiences in so many cities and towns throughout the U.S. and Canada. Fittingly, I sold it to a Baptist Church on the South Side of Chicago. It makes me think of that terrific scene in “The Blues Brothers,” where Jake and Elwood “see the light” and go wild at a Sunday morning service. I’m sure that my Hammond is still working to this day and bringing a lot of joy to both the keyboardist and the congregation.

Cub Scout Duane Decker, with his first keyboard. Pretty amusing, in retrospect!

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