Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Julie Driscoll with Brian Auger & the Trinity -- "Season of the Witch" (1967)

When I look out my window,
So many sights to see.
And when I look in my window,
So many different people to be

Brian Auger, an English musician who recorded and/or toured with Rod Stewart, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Eric Burdon (among others), was a master of the Hammond B-3 organ.

Rock musicians often used the compact and portable Farfisa or Vox Continental organs in the sixties.  Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs used a Farfisa on "Wooly Bully," and Elton John used one on "Crocodile Rock."  A Vox Continental is featured on "96 Tears" by ? and the Mysterians, and the Strawberry Alarm Clock's "Incense and Peppermints."

The British new wave band Squeeze used a Farfisa, and even recorded a song called "Farfisa Beat."  (You can click here to listen to it.)

But the Hammond B-3 (or the C-3, which differed from the B-3 only in its "modesty" panels, which hid the organist's legs from the public eye and made it more suitable for use by a female performer, especially in churches) was what serious blues, jazz, and progressive rock musicians played.  Deep Purple, Yes, Procol Harum, Pink Floyd, Santana, Steppenwolf, Uriah Heep, Kansas, and many, many others used the B-3/C-3.

Here's one of my favorite Hammond B-3 songs:

The Hammond organ was an electromechanical organ that was invented in 1934 as a lower-cost alternative to wind-driven pipe organs.  Hammonds were distinguished from other similar organs by their sliding drawbars, which were mounted above the keyboards and which controlled the sound produced by increasing or decreasing the volume of  certain waveforms.

Hammonds often were played through Leslie speakers, which were electrically rotated to reproduce the Doppler effect and which created a very distinctive vibrato.

Wikipedia has a lengthy and somewhat technical explanation of how Hammond organs worked if you want to know more.

Hammond B-3 organ with Leslie speakers
My piano teacher owned a Hammond organ, which I played on occasion.  (I was a pianist first and foremost -- I could never break myself of the habit of hitting the keys harder when I wanted the organ to play more loudly.  That doesn't work on an organ, of course.)  

The Hammond was a unique instrument, with a unique sound.  The drawbars were marked with numbers ranging from zero to 8, and sheet music arranged for the Hammond organ would have a series of numbers -- e.g., 03 5066 800 -- that told you how to set the drawbars to produce the recommended sound.  

The B-3 had four groups of nine drawbars that controlled the different keyboards, plus a few drawbars for the pedals, so there were literally millions of different drawbar combinations.

I never got familiar enough with the Hammond to have any feel for how to improvise with the drawbars to create a particular sound.  But masters of the B-3 could slide drawbars in and out while performing to change the nature of their sound to exactly what they wanted.

Brian Auger was a master of the Hammond organ.  His first band, Steampacket, is considered by some to have been the first "supergroup" -- other members included Julie Driscoll, Rod Stewart, Long John Baldry, and Vic Briggs (a guitarist who later joined Eric Burdon and the Animals) -- but they broke up before they recorded an album.  

Auger then formed the band Trinity, which had some success in the UK but didn't get much attention in the US.  Trinity's biggest English hit was a psychedelic version of Bob Dylan's "This Wheel's On Fire."

A later recording of that song by Driscoll (who is now known as Julie Tippetts) was used as the theme song for the BBC comedy series Absolutely Fabulous.

The Driscoll/Auger version of "Season of the Witch" may be my personal favorite.  But I have to admit that my judgment may be unduly influenced by this absolutely fabulous film of Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the rest of the Trinity performing the song:

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