By Ian Bremner
Organ master, front man and namesake of the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, Delvon Lamarr takes things as they come. He doesn’t stress about much else other than his Hammond organ. As his audience grows, the day to day grind of the “music industry” is left to his wife and manager, Amy. Delvon’s focus was, is and always will be his music, the organ. Things seem to be going smoothly for the jazz trio, the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio these days. After playing shows all over town including KEXP and Upstream Fest, their debut album, Close But No Cigar is being re-released on the Ohio-based soul label, Colemine Records. The group is celebrating the release on Feb 17th at Tractor Tavern (TIX)
We had a chance to meet Delvon at a diner in West Seattle for a wide-ranging conversation covering everything from the origins of Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, how they write and record songs, James Brown’s tight band and details about the upcoming record, Close But No Cigar. Read the interview below and check out performances from Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio and buy the record when it comes out March 2nd (HERE).
Ian Bremner: There was an old video of your band, the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio back at the Seamonster Lounge in Wallingford a few years back. Where are some of your favorite local venues to play?
Delvon Lamarr: I used to play at the Seamonster a lot with my old band Rippin’ Chicken. We used to play every first Wednesday. I also played with Lucky Brown every last Wednesday of the month. I play a lot of jazz gigs, like straight-ahead bee-bop, with Kareem Kandi and disorganized (Lamarr’s straight-ahead jazz group).
Close, But No Cigar is actually a re-issue?
Delvon: Yeah, it’s a re-release. We self-released it in July 2016. We had a meeting and I asked everyone if we wanted to do it independently or try for a record label and it was voted to do it independently, so we did, and…. It’s really hard. Damn near impossible.
We played a couple of gigs with some artists on Colemine Records, like Monophonics. I had heard of Colemine before but that’s the first time I looked at what they do. We started talking to Kelly Finnegan about Colemine and later on, we played with the Dip, who is also from Seattle and they are on Colemine too. That’s when Amy (wife and manager) worked her magic and got us in the presence of Colemine and we talked about everything from releasing a 45RPM to a full album and it was a trip to watch it all work like that.
Ian: When looking at labels, Iit must have been nice to have a full record ready to go.
Delvon: She (Amy) did all the talking. I can’t take credit for any of that. Terry was playing our album in their store, before they had even made a decision, and he said there were so many people asking about the album. They have a record store too, Plaid Room Records, and he was just playing while working and he said there were like 50 people that day asking, “who is that?”
Ian: I love that label. Do you know Durand Jones and the Indications? And Aaron Frazer aka Flying Stars or Brooklyn?
Delvon: Oh yeah. Didn’t they just get a Grammy or something? I thought it was a big deal floating around. Maybe they got Grammy nominated? Or they won? It was a pretty big deal.
Ian: OK, so I always wonder, how do you name an instrumental song? Is there a story behind it? Is it completely arbitrary? How do you do it?
[mischievous laughing ensues]
Amy: Oh no, I need to leave the room.
Delvon: Alright…. Alright… well, Concussion I can’t take credit for. Concussion was a tune way before our current band, I wrote that a long time ago playing with Rippin’ Chicken. One day in rehearsal Olli Klomp, was listening and he says, “this sounds like Concussion or something” and he started singing, “things are kind of hazy, I may have a concussion” (in the melody of the song, Concussion”) and so it just kind of stuck. That was the lyric to the song. But some songs like, Tacoma Black Party was inspired by our own Ms. Amy Novo. She threw a Block Party in Tacoma and when she was on the microphone, announcing “welcome to the first annual Tacoma block party,” the way she said “block” sounded like she was saying “black.” (more laughing). She looks over at Jimmy James and he’s laughing and making fun of her because it sounded like she said “BLACK party” and she looks to the audience and they all heard “black party” too.
Another one is Shortcake. We played that on the Nancy Guppy show, but it’s not recorded just yet. Amy’s nickname is Shortcake now. We played the New Orleans Food and Funk Festival at the Wamu Theater and her and Jimmy James are ALWAYS making fun of each other, always. At one point, Jimmy James called her “Shortcake.” There was a guy there from the liquor control board or something and for whatever reason, he just thought that was the funniest thing ever. So later on, Amy and I are walking around checking out all the vendors and all you hear is “HEY SHORTCAKE!” and why, does Amy turn around and respond to this guy?
Ian: She kinda asked for that one..
Delvon: I said, “you just picked your nickname.” So we wrote a song called Shortcake.
Ian: Some artists claim to not even listen to the genre that they make a name in, do you listen to soul and jazz?
Delvon: Oh man I listen to everything, but my first love is jazz. It’s always been. I was a jazzer way before this band was even thought. When I first started playing, I was playing trumpet and drums. I was playing drums with Patti Summers Trio for 3-4 years when I was not even old enough to be in a club. I had my own group, because the high school I went to didn’t have a music program so I used to drag my trumpet out with some buddies and created a little jazz trio. My brother’s a rapper, Tyrone, so I’ve always had hip hop in my life too. He started making a studio when he was 15 and he’s 4 years older than me. I remember being up in the room with a little Dr. Rhythm drum machine and was making beats. I used to try to rap but that was a horrible decision. That was definitely not my calling. I grew up listening to soul, rhythm & blues and gospel in my house. My mom was a singer so she was all over the place from Elia Jackson to BB King. I’ve had an array of musical influences in my life.
Ian: You have some soulful, funky stuff, but the root of what you do is jazz. I have a vague understanding of some of the classics, but are there other Trios that you look to for reference?
Delvon: Dr. Lonnie Smith. Huge fan, that’s my guy. He actually rented my organ when he was here last year. Unfortunately, it was kind of funny. I had a gig the same night of his show. His gig was in North Bend and mine was in downtown Seattle. We were living in Tacoma at the time and I had to drive my organ to North Bend, drive back to Tacoma to grab my other organ, then drive to Seattle. Then when that gig was done, I had to drive back to Tacoma, go back and pick up my other organ.. man, I was hauling ass. I just missed him too and they were waiting for me. I probably drove 300 miles that day.
Ian: God I imagine driving around that organ all around, do you have a pick-up truck or something?
Delvon: Nah it fits in a mini-van. Got a touring van, but what I drive now is a Ford Windstar, it fits in there. I probably just ruined my chances of a Chevy endorsement.
Ian: Your trio sounds like it could just jam forever, do you ever have chance to rehearse?
Delvon: Nah, Ill tell you how we rehearse. I multi-track everything and I send it to those guys. Sometimes we’ll get together and sometimes we just do it on stage. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
We may have rehearsed last year like 3 times. Jimmy will sometimes send me a guitar riff on his phone and I’ll be like, “yeah that sounds good.” And that’s what I really like about these guys, playing with David McGraw and Jimmy James. We all listen. Me and Jimmy’s repertoires and history of music is very similar. So I hear what he’s doing at all times. We’ll be playing a song, one of our own tunes, and he’ll quote a song and I’m just like, “got it” and ill change the whole thing. That’s what I love about playing the organ, when you carry the bass, you can mold the song into whatever it is you want it to be. When we do our live shows, we don’t know what’s going to happen. Whatever Jimmy was listening to earlier in the day, he may play that on stage, and I try to catch that. It happens so fluently that most people think we rehearse it that way. We have never rehearsed any of that stuff. We don’t even talk about it. It just happens. That’s what I love about these guys. They listen and we all communicate really well.
Ian: As a fan, you can sense that in the crowd too. Some bands will announce when they messed up a note or something, but rarely can you actually tell otherwise. You CAN tell when three guys are just locked in.
Delvon: Oh, we let everyone know when we mess up. I remember we were playing the Royal Room (In Columbia City) and we were playing Ain’t it Funky, and that song has these hits and I don’t know what happened but me and David got off track and it sounded like we were falling down some stairs. Jimmy looked at us and said “Five, Five, Five.” You know that reference? Back in the day James Brown would fine his band $5 for any mistakes. He’s always listening. You’ll see him turn around and sign “five” with his hand and you know. It looks like a part of his dance, but nope, he was fining people. That’s why his band was so tight. It could get expensive.
Ian: I imagine David McGraw and Jimmy James are hard guys to track down with all of the projects they have going. How were you able to snatch them up?
Delvon: Well, the original Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio was me, David and Colin Higgins, who was the original guitar player. He started getting busy with Cecil Moses at the time so he went off to do that. I know it would be hard because David McGraw and Jimmy James are both in the True Loves. I figured if one of them was going to busy, they both would be busy. Instead of fighting someone else’s schedule, why don’t I just get guys from the same band? So I did. Jimmy James was pretty hesitant. We were playing a lot of covers and Jimmy had never played that stuff. I said, “man you’ll be fine, just show up on Tuesday.” From then on, the first note of the first song we played, the audience, everyone, we all knew that THAT was the band. That’s actually how a lot of our songs got written. They were just Royal Room jams. That’s how Close But No Cigar came to be recorded.
Ian: Similar to naming the songs, how do you record something that derives from a long jam? How do you split that into individual songs?
Delvon: Oh, I don’t’ know, it just happens. We just had a bunch of grooves and made them into songs man.
The group teased another release set for Records Store Day, when they will be playing at Plaid Room Records, owned by their label, Colemine on April 21. Keep an eye out.
Listen to Close But No Cigar via spotify
Watch a full Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio set