I too hate websites and blogs that think the world really cares what some ham n egg' r (like me)  likes and dislikes.  But please consider this more of a “thank you” to some wonderful inspirational musicians and mentors (who I incidentally think haven't gotten enough kudos in their lifetime).   A great teacher once told me: “ you are your record collection, find out why”  ... If any of the folks below have become even the tiniest part of my musical consciousness, I’m forever grateful.

In no particular order or reason here goes:

Ramsey Lewis:  My all time favorite piano player with chops and soul for days.  Most folks think "Hang on Sloopy"  or " In Crowd"  was  the only thing Ramsey had going.  Trust me, he's a jazz (and classical) monster.  Plus his Rhodes playing was perfect.  Unlike a lot of jazz guys who did  the Rhodes as a gimmick he swung on it big time.   We got to work with Mr. Lewis in Hawaii a couple years ago and he was having a bad night with a crappy piano and sound issues.   After his abbreviated set he bolted off the stage and headed out the door, I still regret not chasing him down for an autograph.  It was indeed my sisters 45 of "Sloopy" that first got me hooked on him.  As a big mouth teenager,  I learned that record note for note, only to find my Mom's ancient piano was tuned a 1/2 step off.

Ray Bryant: a players player.  Oh Man what a player!   Another one of those guys you first think is just about funky soul piano. He started with Miles and Dizzy and could bop with the best of 'em.   The real jewels are in the subtleties of his playing.  Plus Ray's use of dynamics is wonderful.   The lines he plays are just so singing and memorable- and he has this powerful command that jumps right through speakers to let you know who’s driving the boat.  To me he is the textbook piano trio sound I aspire to . . Like Ramsey he's got the perfect balance of  swing-soul and  jazz.  He just gets better and better with age.  He still gigs; So next time I get home to NY I'm going to find him and kiss his ring.  Trivia alert:  His  nephew Kevin Eubanks, was  the equally awe inspiring  guitarist and MD for Jay Leno’s Tonight Show.

Junior Mance: I once read a  review that described Junior as “criminally underrated”- I couldn't agree more!   For some reason early critics loved to lump Junior as just a “blues pianist”-   he’s got a strong element of  boogie and blues in his ultra wide style,  but in reality he’s got that wonderful  gumbo stew of blues, bop, jazz, soul, and oh so much more.  Another  former Gillespie sideman, one look at his bio tells you just how rich and diverse he truly is.   His lines are innovative and pure perfection.  But where he also delights me is his choice of voicings and chord substitutions.   Especially with a cover tune or old standard;  he’ll sneak something in where you’d least expect it and your ear just goes- “yum! what was that?!”   Along with Joe Sample (below) Mance IMHO paved the way for the contemporary jazz sound.   If you were to  take any of Mance’s  earlier recordings and replace the drums  ( that were fashionable then) with our current loopy grooves thing-  you’d have today’s modern smooth jazz.

Herbie Hancock:  What's to say. If I could play as well as one of Herbie's fingers I'd be a happy man.  I know Herbie is way beyond his early stuff, but Watermelon Man still kills me. Probably cause it's got  that Ramsey vibe.  When I want modal, Maiden voyage is it.  When I think Jazz funk- Headhunters. One of my favorite lesser known  Herbie records is Sunlight- he "sings" vocoder  on it, but it's also got some really funky stuff.  Herbie’s sound from day one was and is unique and innovative, whether he’s electronic or unplugged.   Like Bird, Hendrix, or Billie Holliday,  hear  just a few notes and you immediately know who it is.  Even when he's doing  infomercials for Bose I can't stop listening to that touch. 

Groove Holmes: When folks think Jazz organ they naturally think Jimmy Smith, who I love,  respect, and continue to be humbled by.   But Groove  had this accessible  funky greasy vibe (and killer chops) that spoke right to me.  Still to this day.  His organ tone was just incredible-even if wasn't always a B3!  He'd never let you lose the melody, but he'd put that unmistakable touch on it and make it all his.

Nicky Hopkins: Nicky made it cool to be a keyboard player, and his melodic ideas and hooks always inspired me. He just always seemed to find the perfect part.  Truly one of Rock's true great losses.  I still look to his style for inspiration.  Favorite example: She's a rainbow- Rolling Stones.  That "Ye Old English compressed piano" sound and his super tasty part just hypnotize me.

Benmont Tench  If there were every a modern day version of Nicky Hopkins.   Benmont (of Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, and others) would most definitely be the guy.   Another quiet monster,  he’s never afraid to lay down a simple tasty single organ note.   Often times in the Studio, when I start going off into unneeded excess,  I have to ground myself  and then silently ask  “what would Benmont do?”  (Thanks to Erik V for reminding me of that!.)

Ann Ruckert:   Ann was  an incredible vocalist , educator, former NARAS president,  true legend in NYC, and an absolutely genuine higher being with a heart of gold.   She had a recording and performing resume as big as Texas.   I  was very fortunate to study arranging, theory, composition and plain old “music life” with her.   If we are lucky in our lifetime-  we meet that one teacher  that makes a life changing impact in our quest to be a better musician.  She was mine.  In the year or so I studied with her,  she gave me  skills,  knowledge, and a new  way of  learning them that was not only inspirational,  but groundbreaking too.   In her legendary Saturday afternoon classes on the upper West side, you never knew what celebrity might drop by for visit....yet Ann would never hesitate to introduce you as “her friend”.   I’d never represent myself soley as just a vocalist... I’ll never forget the sheer terror of Ann making me sing for  legendary jazz vocalist Diane Schuur when she dropped by on a Saturday.  (Ms. Schuur was of course a sweetheart, and did a private acapella version of “God bless the child”  for  the class that was simply amazing).   To Ann,  I will alway be forever grateful, and miss you dearly.

Joe Sample: Crusaders and solo.  Another guy I could listen to all day.  A  killer writer too.  When I think  Funky Rhodes it's Joe.  But his later stuff on Acoustic is flawless.  His piano touch can speak volumes with just one note.  Plus any of his sideman work is priceless.   Every single thing about his writing style is gorgeous.   I can probably live without hearing "Street Life" ever again, but give me any funky instrumental Crusaders, or Carmel and I'm there.   A while back I had a gig back  home-  and on a day off, my ex-wife and I  caught Joe’s trio show at  the Blue Note- through sheer luck the only seats “left”  were  about 4  feet away from the stage,  just behind the RH side of the piano.  I craned my neck watching him work his magic for his entire killer show.   When he came off stage he actually accidentally stepped on my foot (and apologized profusely)  Truly spellbound,  I could barely utter a word back -  my wife said  “ I looked like I just saw a Beatle.” :)

Richard Souther : I first heard Richard in the late 80’s with his Narada recordings -  his cool mix of jazz, new age and other elements immediately spoke to my eclectic inner voice.   He’s an incredibly gifted composer and player I  always find myself turning to both his style and sensibility for inspiration.  The New age tag doesn’t do justice for his diverse talent.   He’s got an enviable mix of jazz chops, synth wizardry, gifted composition and production.  I was incredibly flattered (and shocked) when out of the blue,  he contacted me on myspace a few months back and equally delighted to find out what a great human being he is as well, and look forward to talking with him some more!   As a side note:   During the early 90s- I had some extended  dialog with Narada, as they showed some interest in bringing me on board, -  but it unfortunately happened during my Dad’s illness and I had to divert  priorities.

Bob James: Another Rhodes hero, but his Acoustic style is near and dear to me too.  An absolute monster player & another wonderful composer.  A true innovator- I’ve devoured all of his newer recordings as he continues to take his style into new territory.   His Rhodes tone is still the quintessential electric piano sound for me.     Most folks might think of Bob's more popular tunes: Angela (theme from "Taxi"), but he's got an incredible catalog of stuff any of which is great.  His early music is truly pivotal and pure “comfort ear food” to me.   It makes me miss CTI records, speaking of which my next guy:    

Deodato : a Brazilian with a hard case of funk. Killer arranger and pretty hot Rhodes player.  Along with percussionist  Airto, and guitarist John Tropea ,  he help create that intoxicating late 70’s funk jazz sound I couldn’t get enough of.    I remember taping his version of 2001 off my  AM transistor radio onto cassette (see kids this was downloading- doh! I'm old) and listening to it over and over again until my disgusted big brother  {see below} actually took the tape out and destroyed it. 

Rich Corso/Dianne Corso : As a guitarist  My brother never aspired to be a full time musician, as his calling was baseball.   But he turned me on to some wonderful albums, whether he knew it or not-  I snuck a lot of them from him when he wasn't looking.   We used to jam to  John Mayall  blues albums- Rich would play electric guitar while I noodled on my Wurli.  Got to love Mayall  for listing the keys!    It was the Jamey Arbesold of blues.  Early on,  my  dear sister Diane gets credit . Her 45's were never safe as I was constantly rummaging through and digging out  her Motown and Beatles.  More importantly, She had tons of non- mainstream stuff that was wonderful- including the ditty below.  

"Little" Frank Rodriguez:  Huh? Who?:  One  number One word: 96 TEARS.  The band:  ? and the Mysterians.  Perhaps myself and the band Smash Mouth would immediately recognize this cool keyboard player’s name.    I loved this record as a kid. (and I still P -off every band I've ever  played in by playing the signature intro organ line at the most in- opportune moments.  Next to Louie Louie, it's still one of the coolest recognizable keyboard licks in the world.    From the sound of it, I think he played a Farfisa.  Or as I call it a farcheeza.  My first organ was some awful no- name Italian Farfisa knock-off I paid $35.00 for .(see the B3 page for a picture) Guess what the first thing I played on it was? It was actually the only thing that sounded good on it.   Though a totally different animal; I bought a mint Vox Jaguar a few years ago  and once a year I fire it up and play 96 tears just to pay tribute. . 

The "Funk Brothers": Motown Keyboard players Joe Hunter and Johnny Griffith, vibes player Jack Ashford. I was elated that these guys are  finally getting their  due. It was always hard to know who did what on those classic Gordy grooves, and tunes like "Reach out I'll be there" and any of those Four Tops or Supremes tunes had such smoky memorable parts. They still bring a shiver up my spine.  To me,  Asford's vibes in particular was the "glue" in those timeless tracks.  Anytime I hear a Supremes track  his vibes playing  time travels me back to 1966. 

Mike Finnegan:   Probably best known for his work with Crosby Stills and Nash.  It's ironic that I had been a long time fan of Mike- I had some mighty big shoes to fill following him in the Dave Mason band.  I was lucky to fill a toe.   Mike is a consummate B3 player, as well as pianist.    Plus he's a damned fine blues  singer.  One of my back- burner projects is to get a web page up to give the guy his due.  Pull up any 70’s rock CD in your collection and Mike is probably on it. 

Ken Hensley: Uriah Heep 70's art/prog rockers.  I liked Yes and Rick Wakeman/Tony Kaye  but for some reason I found myself more drawn to Uriah’s  earthier Deep Purple meets prog vibe.  Even though their ever changing drummer lineup seems to have  been the inspiration for Spinal Tap,   I wore the Demons and Wizards album out.  Ok I was 15 yrs old but whoa... Ken (also a great guitarist)  had the typical distorted B3 tone, and his parts were always tasty, melodic and memorable.... And it started my Hammond lust for the king of all organs....

Greg Rolie: Another unsung monster-  In Santana he always came up with innovative and just plain cool organ lines.  Not to mention totally co-inventing the Latin Rock sound.  Incredible singing voice and that dirty  Rolie B3 percussion sound still makes me smile.  Whenever I feel like doing "Rock Organ Homework" Rolie is always the first place I look.  ( I skipped Greg's  whole Journey thing,  but I really love later keyboardist Jonathan Cain's solo jazz stuff. ) The way Rolie interacts with Carlos should be textbook teaching on how guitar players and keyboard players should work together.  I was way too young for Woodstock,  but 3 bands I would of killed to see there : Santana, Sly Stone,  and Hendrix.

Mike Bloomfield and  Al Kooper: These guys had a live album in the 70's (the Live Adventures Of Michael Bloomfield & Al Kooper)  that had a little bit of everybody and everything on it.  For some reason I really grokked that thing.  Kooper's organ  tone (which  he admits he found accidentally) on any early electric Dylan track is like butter. Plus his early work with Blood Sweat and Tears is monumental to say the least.  Add that to being a top notch producer  (Lynyrd Skynyrd), and the best sense of humor in the biz.   Kooper's  Backstage Passes & Backstabbing' Bastards, and The Real Frank Zappa book are two books I think should be required reading for any musician. 

Peter Nero: My ever supportive Dad (see below)  thrust a Peter Nero album on me when I was in my early  teens and I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it- it was the epitome of "square piano" to me.   A little time passed and I gave it another listen and it took me in. Peter had a touch and way of singing the melody that was just incredible. He could swing hard but in a very accessible way.  His version of Don't get around much anymore is righteous.    Plus he did this thing every now and then of playing the melody in the bass register that was totally cool. 

Erroll Garner  A truly amazing player and innovator.  It’s sometimes easy to take for granted  that Erroll invented that incredibly cool “four on the floor”  left hand that so many piano players keep in our box of flavors.   My father owned just about every record  Garner ever recorded - even on those early 78 recordings it’s mind blowing as to the texture and sound  Erroll was creating with just his two hands.  Self taught and self reliant, he could groove with or with out a band,  and from the very first note it was always pure magic.  EG had that  ultra rare mix of  virtuosity, soul,  swing,  humor and heart - yet  he’d never lose the listener or the melody.    That signature  “elastic time” phrasing plus his own take on the Nat Cole block chord style was  a wonderful hybrid of vocalist, horn and band all in one.

Dave Brubeck: Chops, Tone, and different!   Besides being innovative, he could still swing (in five-four no less) and come up with very catchy compositions to boot. I still remember first digging  Time Out from my Father's record collection firstly because the cover caught my eye.  I'll never forget how utterly mesmerized I was the first time I heard it and Paul Desmond’s  hypnotic sax tone.  From the very first note the mood it creates still does it to me to this day.   It is a desert island recording for me. 

...Speaking of Desert Island albums: Like the rest of the world,  my other most favorite Jazz record would have to be Miles Davis:  Kind of Blue. I can never spend nearly enough time studying pianists   Bill Evans, or  Wynton Kelly  When CD's first came out, it was the first thing I bought.   It’s  amazing to think it was recorded just a month or so  before Brubeck’s  in the very same 30th st Columbia studios in NY- what a magical time! (1959)  Kind of Blue has a vibe that just is too perfect.  Miles of course was insanely brilliant- and  both pianists  had  equally brilliant ideas, brilliant touch, and incredible solos.  I  was recently pleasantly surprised to find out that Evans did a bunch of records on Fender Rhodes, I'll be hunting those and more of Wynton's stuff  down very soon. 

and Speaking of Fender Rhodes: Harold Rhodes deserves the most reverent mention. Harold not only invented one of my all time favorite instruments he was an incredible Human being.  In a story you just have to read to understand,  the Rhodes piano was born from Harolds' quest to build a better piano to help recovering wounded soldiers.   The more I've learned over the years about him and his life, the more respect I have every time I play that incredible instrument. Do yourself a favor and visit the link to learn more about this incredible man.  My short paragraph can hardly do him justice.   My parents bought me a Wurlitzer electric piano for my high school graduation. I still have and love my Wurli,  but I always lusted after that sound- the Rhodes sound.  Looking back it was probably better I had the Wurli because I was doing so much rock and roll back then.  Fast forward to now, and I'm the proud owner of two  Rhodes pianos: a 1973 mark I and a later 1983 mark II prototype. Some people buy  sports cars when they turn 40- I went for the electric pianos I couldn't afford in the day. Hot Synths and Audio toys may come and go but give me a  real Piano, a Rhodes, and a B3 and I'm in Heaven. (and if they can let me bring the Wurli along,  I'm standing right next to God!)

Charles Corso.  My late Dad was an avid Jazz fan with an awesome eclectic record collection - with everything from Coleman Hawkins to Jackie Gleason , Errol Garner, Billy Eckstine, Benny Goodman and more.  He was crazy for Maynard Ferguson as well as Garner.   As a native Italian he of course had the required Dino, Sinatra and Mario Lanza  too :)

  He was incredibly supportive, and always tried come to my gigs (even the lousy ones).  Not a musician himself, he was a successful commercial artist.   Although he was pretty humble about it, in my obviously non-objective opinion he created somewhat of a pop period icon with the Eveready Cat ™ battery logo (50's and 60's and still in use today)   Based on a Frances Tipton Hunter picture of 9 kittens, it was originally created for a company trade show back when they were known as Union Carbide (who’s art department he worked for from the end of  WWII  thru 60’s.  The company of course is now known as Energizer ( owned by Purina).   I'm working on getting permission to post a page with the logo and some other trivia behind it.    The company was wonderfully gracious enough to send my sweet wife a copy of some of  my Dad’s original black and white artwork that she then had framed for me as an incredible surprise birthday present.  My Dad also did tons of Reader's Digest and New Yorker illustrations and cartoons that I'm trying to get online too. 

 

artist photo: Kathy Richardson

 

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