Johnny Hammond

Johnny Hammond (aka Johnny Smith, Dec. 16, 1933 — June 4, 1997) was an American jazz keyboardist who debuted in 1958 with a solo organ album as Johnny Smith.

Adopting the name Johnny “Hammond” Smith, he released three soul-jazz albums on Prestige-subsidiary New Jazz in 1959/60, then switched to Prestige for 16 further albums between 1961 and 1971.

Trimming his name to Johnny Hammond, he issued six jazz-funk albums on the CTI-subsidiaries Kudo and Salvation between 1971 and 1974, culminating with Gambler’s Life. Moving to Milestone, he released four further jazz-funk albums between 1975 and 1978.


Early years, New Jazz titles

Hammond was born John Robert Smith on December 16, 1933, in Louisville, Kentucky. His earliest credit is on the 1957 two-part single “Oh, Yeah!” by Chris Columbo and the Swinging Gentlemen, released on King Records.

In 1958, he debuted under his own name with the solo organ album Have You Heard Johnny Smith, released on Arrow Records. It features his rendition of the 1930s keyboard standard “Deep Purple,” which later inspired the name of the English hard-rock band. Three of the album’s eight songs (“Shalimar,” “Flip Top,” “Ecstasy”) are Smith originals. The risque cover image is credited to Chuck Stewart, the photographer behind numerous ’50s-era album covers on Roulette and Verve.

In 1959, Smith signed to Presige-subsidiary New Jazz and released his first two albums as Johnny “Hammond” Smith, That Good Feelin’ and All Soul. He’s backed on these titles by guitarist Thornel Schwartz, bassist George Tucker, and drummer Leo Stevens. He retained Tucker for the 1960 New Jazz release Talk That Talk, featuring saxophonist Oliver Nelson, drummer Art Taylor, and percussionist Ray Barretto.

Also in 1960, Smith played on Nelson’s New Jazz release Taking Care of Business, a hard bop set that opens with the vibe/sax-driven “‘Trane Whistle.” During the ensuing 10-year period, Smith released 16 albums on Prestige, the parent label of New Jazz.


Prestige years (1961-1971)

Smith’s run at Prestige started with the 1961 albums Stimulation and Gettin’ The Message, both with guitarist Eddie McFadden and respectively featuring vibraphonists Freddie McCoy and Lem Winchester. That same year, Smith played on the Jazzland release Bottom Groove by the Wild Bill Moore Quintet. Smith then collaborated with saxophonist Willis Jackson on the 1962 Prestige release Johnny “Hammond” Smith Cooks With Gator Tail.

In 1963, Smith collaborated with saxist Seldon Powell on the Prestige/New Jazz release Look Out and issued two albums on Riverside Records: Black Coffee and Mr. Wonderful, the latter with saxist Houston Person and trumpeter Sonny Williams. As a sideman, Smith appeared on two 1964/65 Prestige titles by saxophonist Gene Ammons: Velvet Soul and Angel Eyes.

Person played on seven further Smith titles up through 1970, including the 1965 Prestige release The Stinger. That album, which features four Smith originals (inc. “Cleopatra and the African Knight”), sports a cover depiction of the DC Comics character Green Lantern in a color-altered (red and yellow) variant of his famous costume.

In 1966, Smith cut a “followup” album, The Stinger Meets the Golden Thrush, with blues singer Byrdie Green. Returning the favor, Smith played, arranged, and conducted Green’s 1966–68 Prestige trilogy: The Golden Thrush Strikes at Midnight, I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good), and Sister Byrdie! Vibist McCoy returned for Smith’s other 1966 Prestige title, Opus de Funk.

Smith issued two further albums on Riverside, the 1966/67 titles Open House! and A Little Taste, respectively featuring trumpeters Thad Jones and Virgil Jones. On his two 1967 Prestige titles, Love Potion #9 and Gettin’ Up, he tackles some of the era’s pop and soul hits (“A Taste of Honey,” “Stand By Me,” “Knock On Wood,” “The ‘In’ Crowd”).

His 1968 release Nasty! marks one of the earliest appearances of guitarist John Abercrombie, whose light licks underlay Smith’s thick Hammond organ and Person’s striking sax, notably on the nine-minute title track. Smith released two further albums in 1968, Soul Flowers and Dirty Grape, both sporting psychedelic typography and then-prevalent song selections (“Ode to Billy Joe,” “Alfie,” “To Sir, With Love”). Both feature guitarist Wally Richardson, whose singular solo album, Soul Guru, appeared that year on Prestige.

Smith’s 1969 release, Soul Talk, welcomes Soul Guru drummer Bernard Purdie, who’d backed more than 30 artists during the prior three years (incl. David Newman, Phil Upchurch, Tamiko Jones, Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, and The Insect Trust). Noted for his tricky, syncopated “Purdie Shuffle,” he gives this album a harder, more punctual rhythmic feel than prior Smith recordings.

Purdie stayed for Smith’s two 1970 releases, Here It ‘Tis and Black Feeling, which both feature 52-year-old bassist Jimmy Lewis, a veteran of the Count Basie Orchestra. The former covers newly-minted evergreens (“Stormy,” “You Made Me So Very Happy”); the latter features prominent horn charts, thanks to the presence of alto/tenor saxophonist Rusty Bryant and returning trumpeter Virgil Jones.

In 1971, Smith wrapped his Prestige run with What’s Going On, centered on the iconic Marvin Gaye hit. It also includes an impression of the Jackson 5‘s recent “I’ll Be There,” plus two Smith originals: “Smokin’ Cool” and “Between the Sheets.” Arranged by William S. Fischer, the album features a larger brass cast than prior Smith recordings, including veterans Ernie Royal (trumpet), Garnett Brown (trombone), Babe Clark (baritone sax), and up-and-coming saxist Grover Washington Jr. Also present are two members of the Philip Glass Ensemble: saxist Richard Landry and trumpeter Robert Prado, who died the following year in an oil-field accident.


Discography:

  • That Good Feelin’ (1959 • Johnny “Hammond” Smith)
  • Gettin’ the Message (1960 • Johnny “Hammond” Smith)
  • All Soul (1960 • Johnny “Hammond” Smith)
  • Talk That Talk (1960 • Johnny “Hammond” Smith)
  • Stimulation (1961 • Johnny “Hammond” Smith)
  • Johnny “Hammond” Cooks With Gator Tail (1962 • Johnny “Hammond” Smith & Willis Jackson)
  • A Little Taste (1963)
  • Look Out (1963 • Johnny Hammond & Seldon Powell)
  • Mr. Wonderful (1963)
  • Black Coffee (1963 • Johnny “Hammond” Smith)
  • Open House (1965)
  • The Stinger (1965)
  • Opus de Funk (1966 • Johnny “Hammond” Smith)
  • The Stinger Meets the Golden Thrush (1966 • Johnny “Hammond” Smith)
  • Love Potion #9 (1967)
  • Gettin’ Up (1967 • Johnny “Hammond” Smith)
  • Dirty Grape (1968)
  • Nasty! (1968 • Johnny “Hammond” Smith)
  • Soul Flowers (1968 • Johnny “Hammond” Smith)
  • Soul Talk (1969 • Johnny “Hammond” Smith)
  • Black Feeling! (1970 • Johnny “Hammond” Smith)
  • Breakout (1971)
  • What’s Going On (1971 • Johnny “Hammond” Smith)
  • Wild Horses / Rock Steady (1971)
  • Here It ‘Tis (1971 • Johnny “Hammond” Smith)
  • The Prophet (1972)
  • Gambler’s Life (1974)
  • Higher Ground (1974)
  • Gears (1975)
  • Forever Taurus (1976)
  • Storm Warning (1977)
  • Don’t Let the System Get You (1978)

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