On This Day (January 11)…Happy Birthday, Laurens Hammond!

The scientist and inventor Laurens Hammond was born on this day in 1895.

Laurens Hammond seated at a Hammond organ (Ouramericannetwork.org)
Retrieved from here.

As you may have gathered from his surname, this is the man who invented the Hammond organ. After studying mechanical engineering at Cornell (graduating in 1916), Hammond embarked upon a remarkable career in the early twentieth century. A critical part of his inventions was a type of synchronous motor which I as a humanities major have trouble understanding; I direct you here for a partial explanation. Among his other noted inventions are a soundless clock, the profits which allowed him a life of stability even during the Great Depression, and the world’s first 3D glasses.

Despite not being a musician, Hammond nonetheless turned his attention towards musical instruments, creating an early electronic instrument in the Hammond Organ in the early 1930s. The express aim was apparently to create a more economical version of a church organ. The tone, meanwhile, was apparently designed to be as clear and pure as that of a violin.

An early hammond organ mainstay.

Hammond managed to combine some of the mechanics of his clocks, especially his synchronous motor, with the study of electrically-produced musical sounds and an investigation of the structure of a piano to create a totally original instrument. This Hammond organ came into wide use in popular music in the 1950s, and has become a mainstay of jazz and rock ‘n roll since.

Noted players such as Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Booker T, Don Airey, Jon Lord, Tony Kaye, Steve Winwood and others have made the Hammond central to their sounds. The versatility in the instrument can be well-demonstrated by the four songs I have included in this post, each by a different Hammond player. Besides being some of the more famous examples of the instrument in action, they are some of my personal favorites!

One of the most famous Hammond solos of all time.

What Les Paul is to modern guitar, Hammond is to modern keyboards. Without him, music would be totally different. I’m of the opinion that it might not necessarily have sounded quite so good.

One last song for the road!

Many happy returns and thank you for turning your attention to music, Mr. Hammond!

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  • Edit on 2021-01-11: Fixed Karn Evil 9 link. Optimized for new site.

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