Kevin Eubanks on Guitar/Organ Hookups

The guitarist selects his favorite collaborations between these disparate yet supremely complementary instruments

Photo of guitar and organ combination of Carlos Santana and Gregg Rolie
"A grooving combination": Gregg Rolie and Carlos Santana
Jimmy Smith
Photo of Kevin Eubanks Tonight Show bandleader
Kevin Eubanks
B.B. King

The collaboration of guitar and organ has long been embedded in jazz. The tone and the timbre of the two instruments make a very good blend in different contexts. Also, being that they’re both electric instruments, players can command their dynamics. On the guitar they have touch, which gives them control of volume and articulation, but they also have the volume knobs to make the signal louder or softer, which is the same as the organ. I use a volume pedal a lot when I play, and basically that’s an organ thing. They are definitely in the same family.

Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery

“James and Wes”
Jimmy & Wes: The Dynamic Duo (Verve, 1966)

What comes out more than anything here is the warmth of Wes and the groove of Jimmy Smith-he is groove. The intensity of Wes is really pushed by Jimmy. It’s a blues, and Jimmy always has that gospel edge and that blues-funk-jazz thing that he was incredible at. And I love Wes Montgomery, so I couldn’t resist this one.

Jimmy Smith

“I’ll Drink to That”
Off the Top (Elektra Musician, 1982)

George Benson and Jimmy are playing here with Stanley Turrentine, Ron Carter and Grady Tate, and it’s a different vibe than what was happening with the first track. George played a lot with organ, and he seems to float a little bit more than Wes; Wes kind of lays in it. George’s articulation with a pick, and Wes’ articulation with his thumb, gives you a different blend with the organ and saxophone and all of that. I wanted to show Wes and George with the same organist to demonstrate the different textures.

John Abercrombie

“Red and Orange”
Timeless (ECM, 1975)

Fusion-the word is a cliché now, but at the time it wasn’t-was wonderful for maybe seven years, before it lost elements of blues and jazz and became its own thing, with a lot more technique and a lot less feel. On this you’ve got Jan Hammer, a great organ player a lot of people weren’t aware of, and Jack DeJohnette, and it has a great jazz vibe, which makes everything a lot looser. Jan and John Abercrombie had a real understanding of what I call modern fusion music. It’s also a great composition.

Santana

“Black Magic Woman”
Abraxas (Columbia, 1970)

The guitar and organ are so prominent on this song. Gregg Rolie has that dirty organ feel and there’s a wonderful grittiness to it. The song itself is kind of eerie and mysterious. I felt that this song, and this band, was really different from anything else-the rhythm section, the percussion. And still, the organ and guitar are so prominent and pushing it forward without being in your face. It’s edgy, it’s sexy and it’s a wonderful example of how guitar and organ are a grooving combination.

Tower of Power

“Squib Cakes”
Back to Oakland (Warner Bros., 1974)

You have the organist, Chester Thompson, and guitarist, Bruce Conte, really pushing the rhythm section, not just when one of them is soloing but when they’re both comping behind a sax or trumpet solo. It’s like a jazz-gospel groove but at a quicker tempo; you can hear the jazz influence in the lines that they’re playing. It’s such a sophisticated funk group for that time period, but yet again you have guitar and organ at the center, which opens it up to rock, blues, gospel and jazz. As long as you keep the guitar and the organ moving and simmering, it gives you that warmth. It’s really powerful.

Yes

“Roundabout”
Fragile (Atlantic, 1971)

The guitar and organ combination gives this a certain brightness. You still feel some church in there, but you also feel something kind of innocent; you’re having fun. It was a new sound, but still you had the old organ-and-guitar duo powering through and holding its own. The groove is there, and the tones of organist Rick Wakeman and guitarist Steve Howe still have that edge.

Ray Reussner & Tandy Reussner

“Boccherini Concerto in E Major No. 1 Allegro”

Unreleased performance at Bales Organ Recital Hall,

University of Kansas, Lawrence (via YouTube)

I wanted to stretch the combination of guitar and organ as much as I could. The tonalities of Ray’s nylon-string guitar and the pipe organ, played by Tandy, are way different. A real pipe organ has the wind going through it-it gives it a different attack, a decay on the notes, which is pretty much the opposite of a classical guitar. Those notes are really short-lived; the attack is immediate. It’s an odd combination, but once you start listening you can see how one is an extension of the other.

B.B. King

“I’ve Got a Mind to Give Up Living”

Unreleased live performance, organist unknown

(via YouTube)

B.B. made this really deep. I wish the organ was a little bit more pronounced in it; it gives [the song] a haunting feel, in a dark way. What kind of blues is this? Are we mourning something? But the feel is so open and simple. Organ is very effective when it’s a slower tempo and you can hear the notes ring out and the volume pedal going in and out of it. It holds you up; it’s almost like air underneath. You can sustain notes. Guitar players have been envious of that since day one, that we can’t sustain a note like an organ can.

[As told to Jeff Tamarkin]

Guitarist Kevin Eubanks has been recording and performing since the early 1980s. He has released more than 20 albums as a leader or co-leader, including Duets (Mack Avenue, 2015), a collaboration with Stanley Jordan. From 1995 to 2010 he served as the leader of the Tonight Show Band alongside host Jay Leno.

Read Shaun Brady’s feature on Kevin Eubanks.

Purchase this issue from Barnes & Noble or Apple Newsstand. Print and digital subscriptions are also available.