Why a website dedicated to Johnny “Hammond” Smith?
If you knew him, you loved him. If you heard him, you loved his music. Unlike many of the other jazz organ greats, Johnny’s career spanned many styles. His early music consists of haunting ballads and strong grooves, his middle period is the essence of driving funk and a precursor to today’s acid jazz. His 1970’s period took him into funky pop-jazz that has become legendary, as evidenced by the amount of his material being sampled by some of today’s rap stars. In his later life, he took an interest in developing the musicianship and careers of many young musicians. During his teaching days at Cal Poly Pomona, students swarmed all over his warm personality and he never turned them away.
What was Johnny’s real name?
John Robert Smith. At different times in his career, he was known as Johnny Smith, Johnny Hammond Smith, and Johnny Hammond. Johnny Hammond Smith was the name he went by the longest. The “Hammond” was added to help avoid confusion with a guitarist of the same name (and with whom he recorded on Black Feeling!). The name Johnny Hammond was used in his 1970’s period.
What makes this site better than other sites that mention Johnny?
The problem with sites such as All-Music and Tunes is that they are largely automated, so Johnny is often confused with the guitarist by the same name. Plus, they see Johnny Hammond Smith and Johnny Hammond as two different people! This site is created by someone who knew and loved Johnny, and will take the time to sort out the correct information.
What did Johnny do after he retired from recording in the 1970’s?
He never ceased to perform. I saw him perform several times in the late 80’s and early 90’s throughout Southern California. By the January 1987, Johnny was teaching music at Cal oly Pomona. It was part of his later life ambition of helping young people. He often taught young musicians how to play and how to compose – never asking for money for his services. He composed a staggering amount of music. If you want a sample of the kind of music he was writing in the 1980’s, check out this Nancy Wilson album and click on Quiet Fire, which Johnny wrote during his Cal Poly days. Better yet, buy the CD and hear the full version! (I have no partnership with this website, I only promote it as a service to Johnny fans!).
Did Johnny only play the organ?
No. His career revolved around the organ, but that was far from his only instrument. He often referred to himself as a pianist. His later recordings feature some great electric piano work. Johnny knew his longtime fans wanted to hear him play the organ, and he never stopped playing it. But there were many creative sides to Johnny in which he played piano and synthesizer. He wrote everything from jazz to rock to classical music. He continued composing music until the end. I once went to his house in the 1980’s and there was a stack of music paper about 2 feet high of his “recent” compositions. He played a few of them, and I could tell he put great care into them! I remember on one occasion hearing a tape of a classical work he had written.
What has been Johnny’s impact on music?
Significant. Not only did he help start the careers of countless musicians such as George Benson and Grover Washington Jr. (among many others), he helped inspire the current acid jazz movement. Jamiroquai, for example, has publicly named Johnny as one of their influences. Plus, one of their first hits entitled When You Gonna Learn is inspired by Johnny’s Los Conquistadores Chocolates. In the liner of the CD single they write, “Thanks to J.H. for his inspiration. You are sadly underrated, but you know who you are.”