I dig old stuff.

The most hilarious interview I’ve ever done: Dr Lonnie Smith

Is there anything better than the sound of the Hammond B3 in full flight? I think not! Infact, if you think otherwise its probably best not to read this blog entry, because its all about the B3, and in particular, one of the greatest jazz musicians to ever play it – Dr Lonnie Smith. His name is often mentioned alongside other undisputed ‘legends’ of the instrument – Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Brother Jack McDuff and Shirley Scott – all of whom are sadly no longer with us. Infact, Dr Lonnie is one of the few surviving original players still kicking the ‘B in 2013.

Back in June 2012, Dr Lonnie visited Australia to play some shows for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, but before his arrival – and to pump up interest in the show – I interviewed him via phone at his home in Florida.Dr__Lonnie_Smith_i__558781a

Usually before I do an interview, I invest a bit of time researching the artist and also sussing their interview ‘form’. After researching Dr Lonnie Smith, I have to say I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The transcripts I’d read seemed to indicate that unless you asked him the right question, you’d struggle to get a one-line answer. And if you were silly enough to ask him why he wore a turban, well, you were likely to be met with awkward silence.  Hence, when I picked up the phone and dialed his digits I was a little apprehensive. Thankfully my nervousness was in vein. We hit it off from the start, and as far as interviews go, It’s probably the funniest one I’ve ever done.

From his stories it became clear that Dr Lonnie would have been a very cheeky young man, able to get away with outrageous things because his talent, B3 mastery (self-taught) and his intelligence far outweighed his naughtiness.

Dr Lonnie Smith’s 1969 recording for Blue Note Records, Move Your Hand

Perhaps my favourite anecdote of his was the origin of the track, Move Your Hand, which is the title track of his 1969 album – a live recording he did for Blue Note Records in Atlantic City. I don’t want to spoil it, but suffice to say it isn’t about gambling. He was barely able to finish the story for laughing.

We chatted for close to two hours, and would have chatted for even longer, except that here in Australia it was getting on to 3am on a weekday. We parted on giggly, happy terms and made arrangements to catch up when he came to town later in the month.

The Melbourne International Jazz Festival rolled around and soon it was the night of Dr Lonnie’s gig.  The venue was Bennett’s Lane Jazz Club – an intimate venue in the heart of the city which fits about 60 people at a time, if that.

That night he made the Hammond hum like crazy. I thought it was going to explode! Anyone who was there would have to agree that Lonnie topped the list for the most mind-blowing performance in the Melbourne International Jazz Festival’s history. People are STILL talking about it.

Dr Lonnie Smith and I backstage during his concert at the 2012 Melbourne International Jazz Festival

After the gig, I was ushered in to visit him in his dressing room. He was just the same as he’d been on the phone. He giggled and chatted away about gigging back in the day. All the while he was holding my hand(!!). His minder kept coming by and saying “Lonnie you really need to get some rest now before your next show,” which annoyed him. He didn’t want to rest – he wanted to TALK; So we kept doing just that until it was time for him to go back out and do another show.

It was an honour to spend time with Dr Lonnie Smith. It’s something I’ll never forget.  Not only is he a legend of the Hammond B3, he is also a beautiful person.

To listen to my interview with him for PBS FM click here.  The interview begins at the 59 minute mark.


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