Montague Armstrong are Jude Cowan Montague and Matthew Armstrong. In 2018 they released their first joint album, HAMMOND HITS, as a cassette release on Richard Sanderson’s Linear Obsessional label.
They both talk about their love of the Hammond Organ.
JUDE: We got the organ many years ago for 50 pounds from an old church hall in Fulham, West London. It was my fault. I saw it on Ebay. We had the black taxi at the time, a relic of when Matt worked in the cab trade. Luckily enough, as we didn’t check beforehand, we found out that Hammonds came apart in two halves. It was still incredibly heavy. I had to do some serious distortions to fit into the back of that cab with the Hammond.
I’d always wanted a Hammond organ. Who doesn’t? What a beautiful thing it is, not only to listen to but to look at. Our Hammond is not the classic B3 model. I have played one of those in Brian O’Shaughnessy’s Bark studio. I used one for my album doing settings of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. I loved doing that album.
The Hammond we got was a T102. The Spinet model for a home audience. The T series, containing solid-state transistors was made in 1968 and the 1970s. It’s a Tonewheel. This is the fascinating heart of the Hammond. It may be, as they say, a simple electromechanical apparatus for generating electric musical notes in electromechanical organ instruments. But it’s also incredibly beautiful to look at.
The heart of the tonewheel is a trough is filled with oil. In here are all the cotton wicks which go out into individual bearings. The bearings are made out of a spongelike material, impregnated bronze bushings. Capilliary action draws the oil down the wicks to the tonewheels. The little tonewheels come in pairs, driven by the same shaft. There is one main drive shaft. A series of gears keeps the sets of tonewheels driving, a pick up takes the sound from the tonewheel and converts the motion via electricity into soundwaves.
The first time I saw all these tiny cotton threads and the metal tonewheels I fell in love. To take the back off and see the love and hard work with which these machines felt overwhelming. It was to be in the presence of something enormous, something alive, something beneficient to the universe. The pattern of the planets! The motor car! The speed of mechanics! The copper brilliance of electricity! It was an impossible Heath-Robinson creation.
Until 1975, all the Hammond organs, including my T102, generated sound by creating an electric current from rotating a metal tonewheel near an electromagnetic pickup, and then strengthened the signal with an amplifier so it can drive a speaker cabinet.
To the early history! The first Hammond organ was manufactured in 1935 by Laurens Hammond and John M. Hanert. The technology comes from the Telharmonium, created in 1897 by Thaddeous Cahill, who used revolving electric alternators to generate tones. These were then transmitted over wires. This was INCREDIBLY BULKY needing SEVERAL RAILWAYS cars for transportation. The alternators had to be large enough to generate high voltage to create a loud enough signal. The Hammond organ solved this problem by using an amplifier.
Hammond had already started his own business in another area of technology, the Hammond Clock Company. He was a professional inventor and when sales his 3D glasses and this auto-bridge shuffler declined in the Great Depression he was inspired by listening to his own electric clocks that created noises with their gears.
Any Hammond organ with a tonewheel is special to me but many people are most interested in the Hammonds with the Leslie speakers. The Leslie is a combined amplifier and loudspeaker and modifies the sound with its rotating baffle chamber. It allows the musician extra control by either an external switch or pedal that alternates between a slow and fast speed setting, known as ‘chorale’ or ‘tremolo’. Donald Leslie, who began working in the 1930s was trying to emulate pipe organs, and discovered that baffles rotating along the axis of the speaker cone gave the best sound effect. He sold the speakers as an add-on, a sound modification and they were available initially to other organs, but his company was later bought by the Hammond corporation. They are identified with the classic Hammond organ sound.
By emulating the rich sounds of the pipe organ, by straining to be an equivalent instrument in church life, the Hammond has such power, such vibrations, such chunky, cherry, juicy sounds. It’s alive, it’s a creature, like a huge stirring badger with electric hair has been trapped inside the case. I’m in love with its neurons and switches, its electric pipes.
Some of the players who’ve utilised these classic sounds have had incredible performances preserved not only on record but on video and which are now easily available on YouTube. With the instrument lending itself to drama many entertainers use the Hammond. As someone who always seeks for inspirational women artists I was delighted to find performers such as Ethel Smith. ‘The first lady of the Hammond’, she played pop, bossa nova, Mozart on the whirling, humming, flickering Hammond. She was good. A great pianist, wonderful performer, elegant and spikey. As a film actor she’s had her cinematic performances preserved for us.
I love Cherry Wainer who played with Lord Rockingham’s XI and her husband, drummer Don Storer. Hear her rock out, jazz out, big-band out. There’s a Moose Loose Inside This Hoose . . . her smile is huge, her hair is short, her dog sleeps beside her on the stool as she plays away, away, up and down with humour, poise and enthusiasm. Thin, dancing and with eyes that pop out of her head she’s on the ball, on the note and on the pedals.
Here she is in the duo with husband Don on a German TV show. Don’t let her entertaining manner and confident use of pause disguise to you her mastery of this complex, thunderous instrument.
And other jazz and other gospel performers who loved the Hammond include Shirley Scott, loved by guitarist and friend Simon King. Shirley played blues influenced music with saxophonist Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis.
MATT: Cherry Wainer and Brother Jack McDuff are two of my favourites. Jack McDuff’s left hand and pedal work just keep going. He gets the most out of the Hammond he doesn’t just use the big sounds, his playing is very articulated. He uses the instant attack for real purpose – in rhythm as well as melody. As a bass player I really appreciate what he’s doing. I’ve spent my life trying to do interesting rhythmic sections for ‘pop’ band combos – particularly the Kenny Process Team – and I can hear that this is a man who is really interested in exploring in a similar vein. Breaking up the line. Adding vigour through the unexpected – and continuity. It’s a fine balance and he pulls it off with this complicated instrument with its pedals, double manuals, multiple voices and sharp percussion section.
This is a great clip of Jack McDuff in action. He uses the percussion element of the Hammond, the top manual, so well. This is a neglected area of what the Hammond can do and you can hear it cut through brilliantly. It’s hard to make an impact after a George Benson solo but by using the piano-like, bell-like and underknown voicings in the Hammond’s repertoire he stuns the moment.
You can sit at the Hammond first thing in the morning (if it’s working) and get it to vibrate, rumble and surprise you. Wow – what can I do, I’m taking off on this big electro-turbine machine. It’s a good day if it starts with a Hammond organ.
Listen to Hammond Hits on Linear Obsessional’s bandcamp page. https://linearobsessional.bandcamp.com/album/hammond-hits