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The doctor is in the house! Today is Lonnie Smith’s birthday, born July 3rd, 1942, for those that are counting, that makes Lonnie a tender 78 years old.

I have a special place in my music pantheon for Lonnie, his track, Afrodesia was a dance floor classic in 1975 London. Lonnie’s only leader album for Creed Taylor was the 1971, Kudu release, Mama Wailer, but he is featured on many others as a sideman. Smith was a longtime co-collaborator with George Benson, to the point that Benson recorded on Lonnie’s Groove Merchant album Afrodesia under the nom de plume “Compliments of a friend”, one assumes for contractual reasons. (if you know the back story, leave a comment below).

Born in Lackawanna, New York, part of the Buffalo, Niagara Falls metro region, Lonnie sang in various vocal groups including the Teen Kings, among whose members was Grover Washington Jr. He played trumpet and other instruments and became a featured player in his school band.

It was at the encouragement of Art Kubera, who owned a local music store that Lonnie would visit daily, that Smith took up the Hammond organ which would come to define his musical career. He went on to join the George Benson Quartet, move with the group to NYC, and the rest as they say is history.

He recorded two albums with the George Benson Quartet in the mid-60’s, It’s Uptown and Cookbook, Smith recorded his first solo album Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ in 1967.

The fourfer above features the following tracks

  1. The Sideman – Written by Lonnie Smith, the version featured here is from the 2001 re-issue of the 1966 Benson Quartet It’s Uptown with the George Benson Quartet. It sounds the suspiciously like the same version and edit featured on the Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ album.
  2. Mama Wailer – The title and lead track from his 1971 Kudu album of the same name. The track though had also been recorded as part of the Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ sessions on November 22nd 1966 in New York City. That track was eventually released on the Benson Burner compilation released shortly after Benson’s Breezin’ album hit the carts. The version here, minus Benson, is a smother, more vibrant recording than the 1966 track. What makes this even more interesting is that Smith plays Clavinet rather than Hammond organ.
  3. Afrodesia – Title track of the album of the same name. A simmering dance floor track in the UK. The full length version is used here, it runs 9:18. The edit myself and the UK jazz/funk community is the 5:00 edit on the B-side of the Groove Merchant single. Yes, that’s Lonnie Smith on vocals.
  4. Flipside – The final track of the fourfer has Lonnie recording for Blue Note, and again back on Hammond Organ, this time from Norah Jones 2016 album Day Breaks.

Hopefully once this whole COVID-19 pandemic is over, Lonnie Smith will be able to return to live performances as he was at the end of 2019.

Oh yeah, Lonnie Smith didn’t write and record that other UK dance floor classic, Expansions, that was Lonnie Liston Smith.

Happy Birthday Lonnie!

More Information

Dr. Lonnie Smith bio [via his website]
Lonnie Smith music credits, releases etc [via discogs profile]
Mama Wailer [via discogs master release]
Mama Wailer album streaming [via music.youtube]
Benson Burner review [via dougpayne.blogspot]

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