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Jimmy McGriff, Hammond B-3 Organ Virtuoso, Dies at 72

Jimmy McGriff, one of the last remaining giants who popularized the Hammond B-3 organ, died May 24th at a nursing home in New Jersey. He was 72. The cause was no t disclosed but was believed to have been heart failure. He had also suffered from multiple sclerosis.

McGriff, who always considered himself as much of a blues musician as a jazz player, came to prominence in 1962 when his instrumental interpretation of Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman” became a Top 20 pop hit and number 5 R&B on the Sue label. His album of the same name was also a success, reaching number 22 on the Billboard album chart.

McGriff was born April 3, 1936 in Philadelphia. He began playing piano at age 5 and also took up a number of other instruments, including alto saxophone, vibes and drums. He played upright bass in his first band, a piano trio, but after his discharge from the Army in 1956 he became interested in the organ, specifically the Hammond B-3, whose inherently soulful sound appealed to jazz, R&B and gospel musicians.

McGriff studied at the Juilliard School of Music and the Combe College of Music in Philadelphia and took private lessons from both Jimmy Smith and Richard “Groove” Holmes, two acknowledged B-3 masters who served as major inspirations for McGriff. Sue Records signed him in 1962, and McGriff scored further hits for the label with the singles “All About My Girl,” “Kiko” and “The Worm,” as well as charting albums with Topkapi, Blues for Mister Jimmy and The Worm.

In the mid-’60s McGriff recorded a series of albums for the Solid State label, and later in that decade he moved over to Blue Note, where he attempted to apply his style to the burgeoning fusion movement. By the ’70s, he had added other electronic keyboards but he eventually reverted to the B-3 and his more traditional blues-based sound. He continued to record, switching over to Milestone Records in the mid-’80s, until recent years.

Originally Published