Ike Stubblefield on Hammond Technique

October 4, 2012


Master B-3 player Ike StubblefieldTHE LIST OF ARTISTS IKE STUBBLEFIELD HAS WORKED WITH SINCE HE STARTED IN 1968 IS EPIC: Marvin Gaye, Eric Clapton, Freddie Mercury, the Four Tops, Martha Reeves, the Temptations, George Benson, B.B. King, Jerry Garcia, Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Derek Trucks, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Cee Lo Green, and Quincy Jones— to name a few. He owns 15 Hammond organs and 24 Leslie speakers, most of which live with friends in different locales so that there’s always a rig nearby when he plays in town. When he was inducted into the Atlanta Hard Rock Café’s Hall of Fame in 2005, one of his B-3s became the first to be permanently displayed in any Hard Rock Café worldwide.

After more than 45 years of carrying the B-3 torch, he remains an extremely in-demand player, with a busy international performance schedule and credits on 29 records in the past year alone. I caught up with Ike at my home studio just before he headed to New Orleans for several shows, where he shared advice on unusual playing techniques that take advantage of the B-3’s quirky controls and percussive character.

Got To Be Real

“Nothing beats the sound of the original Hammond B-3, and yet, no two sound alike,” Ike noted, adding that he can tell immediately when a given B-3 sounds ideal to him. While Ike plays many digital keyboards, he insists on vintage Hammonds for live gigs: “There’s too much record of my being an authentic Hammond B-3 player, so I can’t go against that now,” he explains. While Ike agrees that clones have gotten much better sounding in recent years, physical familiarity is a primary consideration. “It’s important, for any instrument, to completely understand its layout. Get married to where everything is on the organ—develop a one-on-one relationship with it,” he says. “Dig in, make mistakes, and take the time to develop the intuition that will serve you well both live and in the studio. You should be able to find not only the notes, but also the drawbars, vibrato/chorus knob, percussion tabs, and the rest of it with your eyes closed. It’s a lot like learning the dashboard in your car.”

Ike demonstrates percussive slapping on the organPercussive Slapping

To master the “key-slapping” technique that skilled B-3 players use for affectation and for locking in with a funky rhythm section, Ike says to listen to recordings of great Latin percussionists— especially those playing congas—and think about applying this level of syncopation to the organ. He thinks of the organ in terms of leftand right-hand “zones” for each manual. Drawbar settings for the percussive approach either emphasize higher frequencies or go “all stops out.”

Th is way, he can slide up from the lower register to a percussive slap in the treble, slap all four zones as though they were congas, or do a mixture of both. Th is is often combined, he notes, with tapping downbeats on a tonic note on a bass pedal to add more rhythmic pop, and to ground the overall effect with a tonal reference, as he’s often playing atonally: “For this technique, it’s not about the notes or chords—it’s about the drawbar settings and resulting frequencies, the percussive attack, and the syncopated timing,” he says.

Holding down the cancel key while

The Cancel-Key Trick

On an actual B-3, this can work to great advantage during certain passages—especially live. When done properly, it sounds like a filter is being modulated. To pull it off , hold down the far left preset key—the reverse-color C at the very bottom— with your pinky, as shown above. On a vintage B-3 (as well as the Hammond XK-3, XK-3C, and new B-3 line), this key “cancels” or mutes all sound on that keyboard.

While holding the cancel key down, press various preset keys to its right with the other fingers on your left hand while playing a chord in the mid-upper register of the manual with your right. The variation in pre-wired drawbar settings from preset to preset changes the sound significantly— and as quickly as you can “play” the presets.

Practice changing chords at the same time you strike a new preset key, and changing the rhythm as you change keys (think of house music), and you’ll get even more out of this technique. You can also bring in the expression pedal to smooth preset switches or make them more dramatic. Some newer clone organs that have reverse-color preset keys (e.g., Hammond XK-3C, Studiologic Numa organ) can also do this.

Jumping a chord from upper to lower manual on the HammondThe Upper-to-Lower Chord Slide

On a full console organ such as a B-3, the two manuals (keyboards) are aligned key-for-key, so you can quickly slide the same chord from the upper (“swell”) to the lower (“great”) manual without error. Dual-manual clones such as the Hammond SK2 and New B-3 line, Nord C series, and Crumar Mojo align their keyboards the same way.

The payoff is that with different drawbar settings on each manual, you can quickly and dramatically change the sound of a chord. Ike advises to try “jumping” the chord from swell to great just as you finish a palm smear from low to high on the great manual. Try jumping from a mellow drawbar setting on the swell manual to a bright one on the great manual, and vice-versa.

Best Practices

In spite of his preference for the real deal, about half of the recorded work Ike did last year used Native Instruments B4, but only after extensive tweaking. “I know how the organ is supposed to sound, and I’ve set up my own templates to get it as realistic as possible.” When organ is an important part of your live sound but portability is an issue, Ike advises to use a portable rotary speaker—such as the Leslie 3300 or 2101 models or a Motion Sound product—if at all possible. If using a Leslie with a six-pin cable, a good quality tube preamp/speed control is essential. Ike liked the Speakeasy unit we put between the Nord C1 and Leslie 145 during this interview.

Ike also advises that room acoustics can affect how a given combination of drawbars sounds, and for this reason, never to treat any drawbar setting as rigid for any song. He adds that bass pedals can be used for emphasis by doubling lefthand waling bass lines—but not on every note. “Personally, I don’t use the pedals above G,” he explains, “so in the past I’ve used a Plexiglas holder that mounts over the high-range pedals, allowing me to mount my Mu-Tron and other effects pedals under the B-3 to process it or a keyboard stacked on top of it.”

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