Bass AND Keys...
Intro – As a keyboard player myself, I’m very excited that we have a musician of the caliber of organist Lorenzo Farrell living here in the South Sound, giving us multiple opportunities to hear him play. Lorenzo was gracious enough to take a few minutes to chat with me about his musical background and current projects.
Q – Hi Lorenzo. Congratulations on being part of one of the top contemporary blues bands, Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, and on helping the group win the 2021 Best Band Award from the Blues Music Foundation. When did you start playing with Rick, and how did that come about?
A – I’ve been playing with Rick since 2003, when I joined the previous incarnation of the band, Little Charlie and the Nightcats. Rick was always the front man and songwriter and when Little Charlie Baty retired from the Nightcats in 2007, Rick kept the band going, with the brilliant guitarist and producer Christoffer “Kid” Andersen. When drummer Derrick “D’MAR” Martin, who spent 17 years in Little Richard’s band, hopped on board, things really took off and the band has been hitting on all cylinders since.
Q – There are many awards in the blues field, but the BMAs from the Blues Music Foundation in Memphis is definitely a big honor. What was that experience like? Do you go Memphis to accept the Award?
A – Due to Covid, the awards ceremony was entirely virtual, so we didn’t get to go to Memphis this year. Last time we won, in 2018, we were there for the actual ceremony/party at the Memphis Convention Center and it was quite exciting. It’s a huge honor to win Band of the Year—I’m very proud of it.
Q – One of the interesting things about Rick Estrin and the Nightcats is that the band does not have a bass guitar player. You do all the bass parts on the organ. In the classic Hammond organ jazz trio format the organist plays bass, but I can’t think of another contemporary blues band in which that’s the case. How did that evolve?
A – Good question. I was originally the bass player for the band. I decided that I wanted to play keyboards, but the economics of the music business being what they are, it wasn’t an option to hire someone to fill the bass chair I was vacating. So, if I wanted to play keys, I had to cover the bass lines as well! It’s not easy to learn how to do it, and since as you mention, it’s not very common, I didn’t know anyone who could show me how to do it. Luckily, I had recordings of the towering giants of the Hammond Organ trios to study and pick up clues from. Jimmy Smith, Groove Holmes, Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff—these guys really inspired me to try to figure out how to get my left hand to sound like a bass player. Since I had played acoustic and electric bass for many years, I had a bit of a head start.
Q – Playing both bass and keys is unusual. Offhand I can’t think of anyone else who’s made that transition. Speaking of the organ trio genre, you co-lead the Hudson-Farrell Organ Trio, along with drummer David Hudson, and have a Wednesday night residency at The Spar in Tacoma, with different guests on guitar. The organ trio, either organ/drums/guitar or organ/drums/sax, was hugely popular in the ’50s and ’60s, with the players you just mentioned, and others like Charles Earland and Shirley Scott, but we don’t see it much now. Was forming this group to some extent a conscious decision to try to bring back the genre?
A – I think those old organ trios are some of the coolest groups ever. But I’d be deluding myself if I thought the 21st century organ trio would ever attain anything like the popularity it had in the 1950s and ‘60s. There don’t seem to be that many keyboard players who play organ, or who enjoy playing bass lines. But I think audiences appreciate it when they see it. It’s big rich sound, and the potential for some exciting and unpredictable interaction is high. That’s what keeps me coming back.
Q – The traditional organ trio straddled the fence between blues and jazz. How would you describe the music you play with the Hudson-Farrell Trio?
A – I’d say we play feel good music inspired by the great organ trios. It’s just like you said, on the border of blues and jazz, with some funk and soul thrown in. It’s more accessible than a lot of jazz, and to my ear, more sophisticated than a lot of blues. But at the end of the day, I think it’s the rhythmic groove that makes the listener feel good.
Q – Besides blues and jazz, are there any other kinds of music that you listen to or play? What kind of musical training did you have?
A – I love classic rock, British invasion, and that kind of stuff. I took classical piano lessons when I was a kid, but I’ve had to unlearn a lot of it in order to play the more groove-based improvisational style I do now.
Q – It’s very cool that we have a player of your caliber living here in the South Sound. What brought you here?
A – My wife and I fell in love with the area. I especially love the weather, and all the evergreen trees, the water, the mountains in the distance. Because of our work, we are lucky enough to be able to live pretty much anywhere as long as there is a happening local music scene and a major airport not too far away. So here we are!
Lorenzo, Dave Hudson, Tom BoyleQ – Where do you see your career going from here? Are there any new projects you’re currently working on?
A – Aside from the Farrell/Hudson Trio and Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, the other thing I’m excited about is my regular show every Tuesday night at the New Frontier Lounge near the Dome in Tacoma. The band is called Tacoma Scrutinizers. It’s more funk and 60s rock oriented than my other projects—but of course you are still going to hear some blues and jazz. The biggest excitement for me is that I keep my Hammond B3 organ there, so if anyone is curious about what the real thing looks and sounds like, that’s where to catch me. The Hammond Organ—vintage mid-century technology alive and well—and there’s nothing else that has that sound!
Q – Agreed. There is nothing like the sound of a real B3, just like there’s nothing like the sound of a real piano, though the technology of the Nord that you play with the Hudson-Farrell Trio, and some of the digital pianos, is pretty impressive. Thanks Lorenzo, for taking the time to do this interview.
A – My pleasure. Thanks Mark.