Barrelhouse Chuck’s brand new album is something old, some things borrowed and at times something blue.
It is a collection of songs that features Barrelhouse Chuck Goering revisiting the 1960’s compact electronic organ sounds which were a ubiquitous presence in the pop, garage rock, soul, jazz and blues music sounds of that decade. This album could just as easily be entitled, Farfisa Funk.
A little background might be in order. The compact organ sound reached its zenith in the mid-60’s due in large part to the Farfisa Electronics Company in Olfina, Italy. They began manufacturing a compact electronic organ in 1964. They distributed the instrument in the U.S. by Chicago based Musical Instrument Company who had a high profile in the industry as it owned Gibson which was already a popular guitar manufacturer. The Farfisa Electronic Compact Organ also had a feature that made it unique amongst the competition. It had integrated legs that could be folded up inside the body of the organ. This made travel easier and the Farfisa could sit on top of another keyboard on stage or in the studio.
The first time many of us heard a song that featured the Farfisa Compact Electronic Organ, it was played by Dallas native Domingo Samudio. His big 1965 hit Wooly Bully was recorded by his band known as Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs. Samudio wasn’t the only Mexican-American to take the Farfisa sound to mainstream audiences. A year later Rudy Martinez and his Bay City, Michigan, based band, ? and the Mysterians scored big with a compact organ riff laden tune, 96 Tears.
By this time another band and another compact organ had made it big. It was the San Antonio based Sir Douglas Quintet and a Vox Continental Compact Organ. Their 1965 hit, She’s About a Mover, featured a heavy riff played by Augie Myers. The band's leader Doug Sahm and Augie Myers would reunite decades later in a band called The Texas Tornados.
In the world of 60’s southern soul music the Farfisa was used at Rick Hall’s Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, by house keyboard wiz Spooner Oldham who played compact organ on many hits including such iconic songs as Percy Sledge’s enduring classic, When a Man Loves a Woman and Aretha Franklin's, I Never Loved a Man (The Way I love You).
In the 60’s the lines between jazz, soul and pop music blurred and often in the center of this was the compact electronic organ. Perhaps no better example of this was the work of Nancy Wilson on her album, Today, Tomorrow and Forever. The compact organ work of Jack Wilson (no relation) can be heard all over this record.
Oakland, California’s Sly and the Family Stone favored the Farfisa. The instrument got some big “face time” on the Academy Award winning film Woodstock when Sly played the Farfisa during the band's 1969 performance in Bethel, New York, at that iconic festival.
In the world of blues music, Earl Hooker's 1960’s sides featured the compact organ sounds of Johnny “Big Moose” Walker and Walker’s work which featured Hooker on guitar. These 60’s records represent some of the most creative and wild recordings to come out of the blues genre during that decade. Just as blues music has had an impact and influence on all forms of American music, the pop music of the day was influencing blues players and at the center of this was the compact electronic organs.
The compact organs were also a favorite with music store organists of the day. Picture a man in a powder blue, polyblend suit with a paisley tie and white loafers playing the instrument in front of the music store trying to lure customers in to buy the latest and greatest keyboard that was “AFFORDABLE AND FUN”. The in store organ jockey always had hundreds of “sound combinations” from which to choose, yet it seemed he always had it set to “Samba.” How very 60’s...
It was in this world that Chuck Goering grew up. Born in 1958, the man who would be known as Barrelhouse Chuck was heavily influenced by these new “space age” sounds. Along the way the blues bug hit and he became famous for his Chicago style blues piano playing in the mold of Otis Spann and his mentors Little Brother Montgomery and Sunnyland Slim. However, there seems to be at least one compact organ combo tune on many of his albums. He also used a compact on several albums in which he was featured as a side man. It is from these various sessions through the years that the brand new Combo Classics is derived.
In 2010 he released an album of the same name. This new 2014 release is more pleasing to my ears as it is sequenced differently and has two additional 60’s era numbers which do not appear on the 2010 release. They are Booker T and the M.G.s' Time is Tight, which originally appeared on Chuck’s 2013 collaboration with Kim Wilson’s Blues All-Stars and the Joe Tex tune, Don’t Go to Dallas that showed up on a Cash Box Kings’ album from a few years back.
Combo Classics starts off with a fabulous take of Earl Hooker’s Hot and Heavy. The original featured Johnny “Big Moose” Walker on organ. The Barrelhouse Chuck version originally appeared on the 2013 album by the Swedish band Trickbag entitled, Trickbag and Friends. He also works with this talented Scandinavian based, international ensemble on an original, co-written by Chuck and the band called, Pacific Blue that shows up here on Combo Classics. He even pulls a song from a Nick Moss album entitled Porchlight which originally appeared on an old album from the mid-west based guitarist’s catalogue.
There are two more nods on the album to “Big Moose” Walker as another Earl Hooker penned number, Wah Wah Blues shows up and there is a wonderful blues in the form of a Walker original entitled, The Bright Sounds of Big Moose. There is James Cotton’s Slam Hammer which originally featured Otis Spann on a compact. There is even a version of the Ventures Walk Don’t Run ’69.
By the 70’s the focus in popular music shifted away from the Farfisa and onto the Moog Synthesizer. By the end of the decade guys like Augie Meyers and Barrelhouse Chuck had to scramble around to try and find old Farfisas and other compact organs. Like 60’s classic car buffs they need working parts to keep these instruments on the road. So cannibalizing compact organs for parts and components is part of the gig.
One could also accuse Barrelhouse Chuck of cannibalizing his own catalogue. While this may be true and might drive record collectors crazy, I think putting these previously released selections in this type of an album makes perfect sense and represents an art form unto itself. The enjoyment of music often represents context, mood and, in the case of Combo Classics, a little nostalgia. These songs belong together on one disc.
Combo Classics is just plain fun. It also will send listeners back to that time when these new sounds exploded onto the scene. For me I am spinning those great Earl Hooker/Big Moose Jackson sides from the 60’s right alongside my new Combo Classics disc. Maybe it is time to pull out that old Nancy Wilson record, put on our pajamas and dance on mom’s brand new white shag carpet again.
- David Mac