Heavy Organ Music

I’m a total sucker for a special certain kind of music that was fairly widespread and even (occasionally) popular in the late ’60s and early ’70s, but that doesn’t really seem to have any direct modern analogues. I call this genre Heavy Organ Music, though I don’t think anybody else does. You can generally describe it as mid-tempo, choogly rock (complete with appropriately widdly guitar and ram-a-lam drum solos), fortified with strong, typically baritone male vocals and cemented together with swirly, gurgly organ parts, usually played on classic Hammond B-3 or Vox Continental organs. Or other combo organs of the era, Farfisas and the like. You know the sound. Organy.

A great example of Heavy Organ Music is Ball by Iron Butterfly, which puts its better known predecessor, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, to shame in terms of quality songwriting and performance. The Butterfly’s Doug Ingle delivers perfect bari vox and organ textures throughout Ball‘s run, atop the muscular Lee Dorman-Ron Bushy rhythm section, as Erik Brann slings some serious riffs and chops on his six string axe, while also providing sensitive lead vocals on set closer, “Belda-Beast.” Ball was released in early 1969, which puts it right smack in the middle of the Heavy Organ Era, a great time in musical history when long-haired, hard-working rockers hauled giant keyboards around the world in order to deliver the groove to their hungry, happy audiences. Think Steppenwolf’s big hits (“Born To Be Wild,” “Magic Carpet Ride,” “Rock Me,” etc.) for another quintessential benchmark of that audio era. Oh, to get back to the Garden!

I’ve been having a Heavy Organ Music fest lately, having found a lot of classic discs of the genre online on the sorts of music blogs that digitize long-out-of-print vinyl records that have never been issued on CD, or have already gone out of print (again) if they ever did see the surface of a shiny silver circle. (For the record, I don’t feel guilty about downloading these albums, since I paid for them all once on vinyl, but just haven’t been able to listen to them for 15+ years now).

I’ve found that the Uriah Heep and Jethro Tull family trees serve quite well for ordering and framing such early obscurities. Uriah Heep has spent most of their career (like Deep Purple) mining the Heavy Organ Music lode, and its members honed their chops in a variety of precursor bands, almost all of which are worth hearing. Tull’s third album, Benefit, probably stands second to Ball in the Heavy Organ Music pantheon, as John Evan (for their benefit) lights up the keyboards with Messrs Anderson, Bunker, Barre and Cornick delivering their finest, tightest, hardest work ever. Glenn Cornick played in a couple of great Heavy Organ Music bands after getting the boot from Tull, and his replacement one-time-removed, John Glascock, was a veritable yeoman deluxe of Heavy Organ Music in a long string of bands before he joined Tull, and then succumbed to heart disease at an entirely, unacceptably youthful age.

Some of my greatest rediscoveries to date have included:

The Gods: To Samuel a Son and Genesis. At the time these albums were recorded, The Gods included John Glascock, Joe Konas, Lee Kerslake and Ken Hensley (the latter two later of Uriah Heep). In earlier incarnations, The Gods also included Glascock’s brother Brian (The Motels), Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones) and Greg Lake (King Crimson, ELP), among others. Perfect primordial Heavy Organ Music, with bits of psychedelia tossed in for good measure.

Octopus: Restless Night. Featured bassist Nigel Giggs and drummer Malcolm Green, both later of Split Enz, playing in support of Griggs’ singer-songwriter-guitarist brother Paul, offering a very Beatles-flavored twist on Heavy Organ Music, with lots of Mellotron duking it out with the Hammonds.

Toe Fat: Toe Fat and Toe Fat Two. Ken Hensley, Lee Kerslake and the Glascock Brothers (at different times) supporting blues-pop belter Cliff Bennett in a band that seemed to work really hard to repulse audiences with their band name and album covers, half-a-decade before punk made such antics acceptable. But some great, great, greasy rock to be found within, if you dare enter. (For the historic record, after Toe Fat, the Glascock brothers went on to form the incredible prog-flamenco band, Carmen, and then when John went to Tull, Brian ended up in The Motels with Martha Davis. They were an accomplished, if little known, pair).

Head Machine: Orgasm. A concept album about, uh, the album’s title, recorded by The Gods under an alias, for somewhat obvious reasons. This one has to be heard to be believed.  The song titles include: “Climax: You Tried To Take It All,” “Make The Feeling Last,” “You Must Come With Me,” “The Girl Who Loved The Girl Who Loved,” “Orgasm,” “The First Time,” and “Scattering Seeds.” Did I mention it has to be heard to be believed?

Karthago. Rock n’ Roll Testament. Glenn Cornick briefly moved to Berlin after his ouster from Tull, joining Karthago for one record’s worth of Heavy Organ Music madness. He then went on to Los Angeles to form Paris with Fleetwood Mac’s Bob Welch and the Nazz’s Thom Mooney, issuing two albums of great, greasy, stinky rock (Paris and Big Towne 2061, both of which I also grabbed recently), although there are more phat synths there than swirly organs.

These and other classics of the genre currently fill my computer play list and related burned compilation CDs, so if you see me in the next week or so and I have a particularly far-away stare on my face, you’ll understand why. It’s the Heavy Organ Music, yo.

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