Featured Musician - December 2009

Name : Louis Pain

Louis Pain

Instrument:  Hammond organ

Early Years/Education: I grew up in San Francisco, the youngest in a pretty musical family. Lincoln, my oldest brother, never actually played professionally, but he sang folk music with my other brother, Duncan, who became a professional songwriter. They'd sing folk music together (that was the days of the Kingston Trio). They were five and seven years older than me. My brother Duncan Pain played guitar, was in bands and wrote songs. He had an organ player in one of his bands that looked really cool. [Because of] the fact that both my brothers thought the organ was cool, I thought it was cool, too. My mom played classical and would accompany us at family sing-a-longs. She and my step-dad (Mark Linenthal) were really supportive of my music. They bought me my first Hammond. My mom (Frances Jaffer) was a feminist poet and my step-dad was a professor. Duncan wrote a few hit records. His tune “C'est La Vie” was number one in the early '80's. When Paula Abdul had her multi-platinum album, Duncan wrote two songs on it. 

I started taking organ lessons in a store in downtown San Francisco in my late teens. My teacher was Norm Bellas (still active in the blues scene in Seattle). He would get you improvising blues on the first lesson. He'd give you a simple bass line with your left hand and restrict your right hand to three notes for improvising. I use this technique myself on my students. There are a lot of great musicians out there who know every scale and harmonic substitution in the book but can't really construct a coherent solo. They never really learned how to “tell a story,” which is what the old musicians used to strive for.

My first band was “Top 40,” then I was in “soul bands” for about 10 years. After that I got to play with a great saxophonist, Jules Broussard. He had played with Ray Charles, and being in his band was like an apprenticeship. We had a “sit-down gig” at a Black nightclub. He made me learn “After Hours,” which he called the Black National Anthem. That's really where I became the player I am now. I eventually got fed up with the music scene, though, and decided to go back to school; that's what brought me to Oregon. I received my BS in History from PSU, graduated with high honors and won the undergraduate Historical Writing Award. I tried the job market for about six months as a writer, and thought that music thing wasn't that bad after all! A golfing buddy played bass with Paul delay, so I started working with Paul. This is just after he got busted. I played with Paul for three years, then, when Paul was jailed I played with “The No Delay Band” for another three years. When Paul got out, I played with him again until 'O3. Beginning in '97, I also began playing Thursday nights with Mel Brown. I loved Paul's songwriting, but Mel's music was much closer to the music I grew up playing in the Bay Area with Jules Broussard. Mel also had played with Jules, and we played a lot of the same tunes so it was like old home week working with Mel.

King Louie and Sweet Baby James: Guitar player Jay Koder started calling me “King Louie,” and then Paul deLay got wind of it and he called me “King Louie,” too, because he knew I hated it. Baby James and I met at the old Jimmy Mak's. He and his buddies would always be at the same table, the one you'd have to pass by to get to the bar. They were like the “Amen” corner, encouraging us all through the set. They were really vocal, and Baby James was always saying this stuff “... Louis Pain, baby maker, bed shaker.” I'd think, did I hear this right? I talked to him one night, and he told me he was a singer. Later on, Jay Koder asked me to do a gig with him and Sweet Baby, and I did. I also play with Linda Hornbuckle occasionally, and with Soul Vaccination pretty regularly.
Hammond Organ: Every instrument is different, and so are organs. I happen to have a really nice one, and everyone who plays it offers to buy it from me, including Joey deFrancesco and Lonnie Smith. It was the house organ at a club in San Francisco where one of my great influences, Chester Thompson (Tower of Power, Santana), played. At the time Chester and all the other organists who played there tried to buy the organ, but the club owner refused to sell it. Many years later I heard this club owner had passed away, and I made inquiries and got it.

Musical Influences: Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff, Don Patterson, Larry Young, Chester Thompson, Billy Preston, Booker T Jones, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Tommy Flanagan, Charlie Parker. I could go on and on.

Most Satisfying Experience: It has to be playing at Jimmy Mak's in Mel Brown's group for twelve years and running. If I had played with them for one year I'd give you the same answer. Dan Fahnle, Dan Balmer, Thara Memory, Stan Bock, Curtis Craft, Renato Caranto, and Mel ... playing with these guys is by far my best musical experience. When people ask me how long have I've been with these guys, I say twelve “jazz years,” which is really like one hundred years.

Most Influential Recordings: Rock: The Beatles, natch. Blues: “The Best of the Spencer Davis Group.” I didn't even know this was blues; I was barely into my teens, but I loved it. “A Man & the Blues,” Buddy Guy. By this time, I was playing a little bit and I loved the Otis Spann piano playing and general vibe of the record. Soul: “Respect,” Aretha Franklin. I didn't even know this was soul music. I bought the single and hid it because I didn't know if it was any good, then came home to find my older brothers dancing to it. “I'm In Love,” Wilson Pickett, and “Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay,” Otis Redding. I was crazy about this music partly because of the way Stax & Atlantic soul records were mixed. I could listen on headphones and hear all the parts (guitar, horns, keys, etc.) and how they fit together. Jazz: “Smokin' at the Half Note,” Art Farmer. For the first time, I discovered I liked jazz—particularly one long, swinging blues with walking bass. Organ jazz: “Blues for J,” Jimmy Smith. I didn't like this at first, I was into Booker T. Jones. I thought Smith played way too many notes. I eventually came around. Jimmy McGriff's “The Worm”. Gospel: “More Church in the Home,” Inez Andrews. I gradually fell in love with the music, then the spirit and spirituality (though I'm not a Christian). This record really had an impact on me personally as well as musically. For a few years there, I listened to more gospel music than any other kind.

Discography: King Louie & Baby James: “Around the World: Live At Jimmy Mak's” (2008; self-released) The coolest thing about this recording is James on stage is always saying stuff off the microphone. He's singing along with the band when we're soloing, telling jokes, he's never quiet up there, so we kind of tricked him and had the sound guy put mikes all over the stage to pick up on some of this. “Live At the Waterfront Blues Festival” (2005; self-released); The Mel Brown B-3 Organ Group: “Smokin' At Jimmy's” (2006; JM Records), “Live At the Britt Festival” (2004; self-released), “Live At Jimmy Mak's” (1999; Karmenpolicy Records); The Paul deLay Band: “Heavy Rotation” (2001; Evidence Records), “Nice & Strong” (1998; Evidence Records), “Ocean Of Tears” (1996; Evidence Records), “Take It From the Turnaround” (1996; Evidence Records); “Purdie's Powerhouse” (w/Bernard Purdie): “Purdie Good Cookin'” (2003; self-released); Soul Vaccination: “Souled Out At Jimmy Mak's” (2009; self-released); “The No Delay Band”, “Soul Diva Meets the Blues Monsters” w/Linda Hornbuckle (1994; Criminal Records); Curtis Salgado: Wiggle Outta This (1999; Shanachie Records) and w/Tom Grant: “Reprise” (2001; Doubleplay Records). Most of these are available at Music Millennium or cdbaby.com.

Upcoming Gigs: Every Thursday night at Jimmy Mak's in Mel Brown's “B-3 Organ Group”; Other notable gigs - also at Jimmy Mak's: Friday, December 11 w/Linda Hornbuckle; Saturday, December 19 w/Soul Vaccination;  New Year's Eve w/Mel's organ group (Mel's Wednesday group w/Tony Pacini opens); Saturday, January 2, King Louie Soul Revue, featuring LaRhonda Steele & Tahoe Jackson. Future gigs can be found at these websites: myspace/melbrownb3organgroup, myspace/kinglouiebabyjames and www.soulvax.com.

Future Plans: I would like to do some touring ... I haven't quite got that out of my system. The issue is having to rent an organ wherever you go. Every touring organist has horror stories about rental organs! In addition to playing, I intend to continue teaching organ & piano. In my teaching, I emphasize blues & jazz improvisation and the secrets of playing the Mighty Hammond. Also, my wife and manager, Tracy, and I plan to continue renting out B-3s. The website for our organ rental business is www.myspace.com/painorganrentalservice.

Other Comments: Fats Waller and Count Basie experimented with it, but Jimmy Smith revolutionized the instrument. When Miles Davis first heard Jimmy, he called him the “8th wonder of the world.” He was playing bass and sounded like a real bass player, and he was doing horn-like lines with his right hand. He's also accompanying himself playing chords with his left hand, sounding like a piano or guitar player comping with him. He was a one-man bebop band, it blew everyone's mind, and that was around 1955. Oddly enough, Lawrence Hammond, the inventor of the B-3, was not very friendly to Jimmy Smith.

Interviewer's note: You can contact Louis Pain at tracylouis@comcast.net

-- by Rita Rega


Copyright 2009, Jazz Society of Oregon