Day of the B-3 Titans

A handful of keyboard instruments have transcended being known among just musicians and become bona fide mainstream cultural icons. By far the most well known of these is the Hammond B 3 organ. I grew up loving it, fascinated by

A handful of keyboard instruments have transcended being known among just musicians and become bona fide mainstream cultural icons. By far the most well-known of these is the Hammond B-3 organ. I grew up loving it, fascinated by its sound and the sound of the spinning Leslie speaker, and wore out a few records trying to cop solos. Three that I remember playing and studying again and again were Booker T's "Hip Hug Her," Chester Thompson's solo on "Squib Cakes" by Tower of Power, and Tom Coster's burning solos on some of Santana's work - notably the jam "Flame Sky" off of Welcome a.k.a "Santana's White Album," and "Let the Children Play" from their live opus Moonflower. Tom also authored this magazine's Rock Keyboard column back in the day.

Just getting to pick the brains of one of these guys for a few minutes is a dream come true for any student or fan of the B-3. All three of them in the same room - and on pretty short notice? Even for the world's only English-language magazine devoted to keyboard playing, that's a once-in-ten-lifetimes event - something on the order of a planteary alignment.

1009 Booker Tom Chester

It didn't hurt that everyone was local--within 25 miles or less of our humble-but-stealthy office park headquarters near SFO airport--and happened to be home between gigs. So the three titans all graciously agreed to come by yesterday and give us their opinions on the current crop of B-3 simulator keyboards, a.k.a. clonewheels.

As of their visit, we'd accumulated a Nord C-2, which we'd put under my old Electro 2 to see just how far the organ sound has come since; Hammond XK-3c set up with the XLK-3 lower manual and stand; Korg CX-3 (current model, not the vintage analog one); Roland VK-8; and the new Ventura TX-5 from Brazil--formerly this brand was called Tokai but they renamed it to avoid confusion with the eponymous guitar maker. We also had two of the leading software plug-ins: Apple EVB3, which I'd hosted in MainStage and made some basic but pretty screen controls for; and Native Instruments B4 II, hosted in the formidable Lionstracs Mediastation, a Linux-based workstation keyboard from Italy whose numerous talents include VST hosting.

1009 Chester Plays EVB3 2

Above (and sorry for the image being sideways - our web interface doesn't seem to want to let me rotate it at the moment), Chester Thompson checks out EVB3 on my MacBook Pro, controlled from an M-Audio Axiom Pro you'll be reading about in the December issue. His reaction mirrored everyone's: "Wow ... I'd actually use this on a recording session." Keep in mind these guys are the pickiest in the world about their B-3 sound, and they have a right to be.

1009 Lionstracs B4 screen

Here's the Lionstracs touchscreen showing B4-II.

1009 Booker Jack Tom Chester Ventura

Clockwise from left: Chester, bay area keyboardist Jack Ortolani (no, we're not related), Tom, and Booker evaluating the Ventura TX-5. Behind Tom is the Hammond XK-3c atop the XLK-3 lower manual.

Watch Blogs for more photos and quotes tomorrow. For the clonewheel roundup in print, we're shooting for the January issue, and we'll also have full, high-resolution videos of Booker, Tom, Chester, and Jack's visit up in the main area of the site soon. Thanks for reading!