Music News & Reviews

‘I had never heard funk music like that:’ How a B3 organ changed this musician’s life

The Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio will be performing at the Burl this weekend and Lamarr is bringing his B3 organ.
The Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio will be performing at the Burl this weekend and Lamarr is bringing his B3 organ.

Being a dedicated musician doesn’t always translate into being a resourceful businessperson. Delvon Lamarr readily admits to that. A major instrumentalist for years in a fruitful soul/jazz scene in Seattle, Lamarr was eager enough to perform that he would agree to a gig almost anywhere. Of course, that meant carting along his instrument of choice, a B3 organ, to whatever venue booked him.

“I just wanted to play music, so I would take pretty much every gig that came to me,” said Lamarr, who makes his Lexington debut Sunday at The Burl. “My wife got tired of me complaining about driving 150 miles for a $75 gig dragging around a B3. She really got tired of that, man. She was like, ‘Dude, you’ve got to step up your game.’ So she said, ‘You know what? I’ve got an idea. You get your musicians together and you create the music and let me handle everything else.’ And I did, too. I never wanted to run a band.”

So the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio was born, with Lamarr heading up an instrumental, ‘60s inspired organ/guitar/drums formation. But he credits wife Amy Novo, who now serves as his manager, for starting the band.

“She’s really the founder. She started it and has been working tirelessly, getting out there and pushing for us. It’s always a great feeling when you have someone that believes in you. This was her concept, her vision.”

Take a listen to the easy grooves on Lamarr’s 2016 debut studio album, “Close But No Cigar” or the 2018 performance follow-up record, “Live at KEXP!” and you hear a sunny, soulful blend of vintage R&B oozing through the darting guitar lines of Jimmy James and the jazzy bounce of Lamarr’s B3 playing. Sometimes the inspirations surface within the organist’s own compositions, like the solemn Memphis soul that percolates during “Al Greenery” (from “Close But No Cigar”). In other instances, he goes straight to the source, as shown by the luminous soul melodies that ignite a cover of the 1971 Curtis Mayfield hit “Move On Up” (from “Live at KEXP!”). But as coolly commanding as his playing is, Lamarr came to the organ in largely happenstance fashion. The same things happened with drums and trumpet, the instruments he mastered before ever touching a B3.

“When I was in the band room in junior high school, I saw this horn on the floor. I lied to the band teacher and said, ‘I can play that.’ He said, ‘Do it and I’ll put you in the band.’ That instrument was a baritone horn. I picked the horn up, watched the dude next to me play it and started to emulate what he was doing. So right out of the gate, I knew how to play it. I used to go back to where all the instruments were and played them. Every instrument I picked up and put together, I could actually play. That’s when I knew I could play pretty much any instrument.”

The B3 didn’t come to Lamarr until he reached his early 20s, gigging as a drummer in a trio with the popular Seattle organist Joe Doria.

“Joe was my introduction to the B3. When I was young, the pastor’s wife played organ in church. But when I saw Joe play … I had never seen anyone play organ like that. It was unreal. When I started playing organ, one of the first bands I heard was Soulive. I was listening to the radio and I didn’t know who it was. I thought, ‘That’s pretty funky. Is he playing organ bass?’ And he was. He was playing bass on the organ. I had never heard funk music like that. It sounded like the jazz guys to me.”

From there, a generous mix of jazz/soul organ masters from decades past – Charles Earland, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Brother Jack McDuff – became mentoring figures through their recordings. Subsequently, Lamarr’s Organ Trio (currently rounded out by drummer Keith Laudieri) took off. A new studio recording has been completed while a massive touring schedule, which includes an early summer run through Europe followed by a series of jazz festival dates, will keep Lamarr and his B3 on the road through the fall.

“Listen to someone like (‘60s/‘70s era organist and Miles Davis alumnus) Larry Young and his playing is so mellow and so fluid. Then you’ve got cats who can pretty much bounce on organ from gospel to classical to jazz to hip hop all within the same song. It’s such an expressive instrument. You can literally make it sound like whatever you want it to sound like. I haven’t quite been able to do all of that yet, but I do know how to get it sound like how I want it to sound.”

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio/Driftwood Gypsy

When: 8 p.m. April 14

Where: The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd.

Tickets: $10