Newly Discovered Johnny ‘Hammond’ Smith Music to Be Released
Organist Johnny “Hammond” Smith helped refine his instrument’s indelible groove when he started recording in the late 1950s. He also developed a unique sense of harmony that was highlighted on such albums as Breakout and Gears in the 1970s. Smith kept developing his sound until his death from cancer in 1997 at the age of 63. Now his widow, Cheryl Smith, is working to issue previously unreleased recordings that will show the organist had plenty of more to offer.
“I always had the tapes, we used to keep them in Rubbermaid tubs in a shed we had outside, along with pictures,” Cheryl said from her home in Victorville, Calif. “God knew there would come a time when I would need to use this stuff. I didn’t have time before now, since I was being a parent. Raising three kids, I didn’t have time to do anything like this after Johnny passed. The kids are now 21, 22, 23 and out of the house, so my life is different.”
Cheryl has put together a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the transfer of her late husband’s cassettes to 1- and 2-inch tapes and release them as a double CD and vinyl album this spring. She also made one of his songs available for a remix contest through the organist’s official website.
“One particular album is a huge find; it could be Gears Revisited,” Cheryl said. “That heavy jazz funk is what the whole album is. Fans are going to love that stuff.”
Other tapes show a more somber side of Smith’s music and personality, including his recitations that were intended to be combined with organ and guitar.
“He had one piece called ‘This Old House,’ which was [about] his journey, the old house being his body and getting to the point where you decide to live with the cracks, since there’s no point in renovating anymore and living with what the house leaves you.”
Because Johnny Smith was also an educator—he taught at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona—Cheryl feels that he would appreciate that she intends to also release his writings and other of his thoughts along with his music.
“He was so passionate about teaching,” she said. “He loved the youngsters. If we older musicians aren’t passing down our knowledge, what have we done? In a sense, he’s very much alive in this process without physically being here.”
Information about the Johnny “Hammond” Smith fund-raising campaign is posted at the Kickstarter