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On the Record with Dr. Lonnie Smith

“When I play, it’s like electricity going through my body at that moment.”

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Dr. Lonnie Smith - PHOTO COURTESY OF SUSAN STOCKER
  • Photo courtesy of Susan Stocker
  • Dr. Lonnie Smith

Dr. Lonnie Smith started playing Hammond B3 organ with George Benson, and went on to become one of the best-known practitioners of what is known as soul-jazz. He’ll tear it up in Pittsburgh on Saturday, with his trio. 


What made you decide the B3 was your instrument?

The organ is an extension of me. It has every element in the world as far as I’m concerned. You have the sun, the rainbow. You have water, the thunder, the rain. See, when I play, it’s like electricity going through my body at that moment.

You were in Pittsburgh with guitarist George Benson but just briefly?

We were in his mother’s basement and we learned two songs. Then he said, “[Guitarist] Grant Green is playing tonight in New York. If we leave now, we can catch him.” So we took off for New York. Grant was playing on 125th Street and Seventh Avenue. They called us up to play a tune and [Green] didn’t want me to get off the stage. George and I stayed together. We got signed to Columbia Records.

But then you moved to Blue Note — what was that like?

I was shocked myself. I had only been playing for about a year. They had all the great organists and the great horn players — so what do they need me for? But I didn’t realize that it was a little different style. I had a laid-back, lazy groove, and they loved that.


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