Simply put, to me Johnny Hammond was the greatest soul-jazz organist of all time. Born in Louisville, Kentucky on the 16th December 1933, he began learning piano as a child, idolizing the likes of Bud Powell and Art Tatum. After moving to Cleveland in the fifties, Johnny familiarised himself with the talents of Wild Bill Davis, who was a jazz organ pioneer at that time and switched instruments to the organ. He made his professional debut in 1958 having worked with the supremely talented Nancy Wilson during the same time period, later on producing some exceptional music throughout the sixties and seventies. He eventually shortened his name to Johnny Hammond, which was a nickname originating from the Hammond B-3 organ he used to play. As the seventies came along, Johnny became progressively more funky in his sound, having previously collaborated with the Mizell Brothers (who have produced records Donald Byrd, Bobbi Humphrey, Barry Gartz and the biggest legend of them all Michael Jackson) on their 1974 album Gambler’s Life. In 1975, Johnny released what would be considered a classic in the jazz-funk genre, Gears. It was reviled by purists but canonized by acid jazz fans, and its legacy remains as one of the most underrated classics in modern music.
My experience of the album for the first time came when I was at Sounds of The Universe in Soho, London one Autumn Sunday in 2017. The record was playing on the bottom floor of the shop, and my ears immediately perked up. I had never heard a record before with such incredibly textured key arrangements. The drumming was incredibly intricate, the saxophone leads were just phenomenal. The basslines were groovy and the compositions were unique and impeccably arranged. There was something about this record that just struck a chord in me, it was something I had to purchase. I can’t remember what song I heard that time in the record shop, but I think it was “Lost on 23rd Street.” Throughout six track album you have moments or true funky energy that seeps through the body, like on “Tell Me What To Do,” amazing guitar leads, phenomenal keys and maniacal drumming on “Los Conquistadores Chocolates,” which may be my favourite track on the album, and more soulful and slower moments on tracks like “Can’t We Smile.” It is an album that is full of energy and character, something that Johnny Hammond displays to perfection on this project. I haven’t listened to an album that has made my jaw literally drop with such profound and complex musical arrangements as Johnny Hammond’s Gears.
It’s a true classic and one which needs to be shared wide and far with music lovers. Listen to it below via Spotify, and if you want to purchase the album, go to discogs.com where you will find all the information you need.