Even before the pandemic kept bands apart, the members of the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio were already living all over the country. They also had to deal with no longer having a permanent drummer. So, when they went on a 31-day European tour in 2019 with fill-in drummer Grant Schroff (from Polyrhythmics), they squeezed in songwriting time during soundchecks, focusing on getting some solid grooves and riffs in the bag. They fleshed the grooves out into full songs during a four-day recording studio session later that year.
They also wrote some new songs in the studio from scratch, getting inspiration wherever they could. At one point, when Schroff took off to get some food, bandleader and organist Delvon Lamarr hopped on the drums. Guitarist Jimmy James grabbed the bass and wrote a tune. When Schroff came back, Lamarr showed Schroff the beat, and James showed their engineer Jason Gray how to play the bass part.
“We’ll play one song, [then] I’ll be like, ‘Remember that groove.’ We’ll start trying to figure out what to do with it. That’s pretty much how most of that session went,” Lamarr says.
They recorded 28 songs, but only nine of them landed on their record I Told You So, which was finally released in January, after getting pushed back several times due to the pandemic. Some of those remaining tracks became standalone singles.
Coming out of the pandemic, they’ve been gigging with their now-permanent drummer Dan Weiss from the soul/funk group the Sextones. He joined the band in February, quitting his job and gearing up for life on the road. But he only played four shows with the group before live music was shut down.
“I kind of felt bad, but he’s a trooper. He hung in there, man, and we’re back at it,” Lamarr says.
The group’s style, soul-jazz, is a little tough to explain. Lamarr says that it sounds more like soul than jazz—it is very groove- and melody-oriented—though the instrumentation of organ, guitar and drums is more in line with jazz.
“We’re an instrumental trio. It’s hard for people to connect to music without words,” Lamarr says. “That’s why I try to play as if somebody is singing it. That way people can latch on to it. I like the simplicity of it. I’m not an organist that plays 10 million notes. I try not to—sometimes I get carried away. But my goal is, I like it simple. That’s why our grooves are simple.”
Before starting the group, Lamarr had been gigging in Seattle with several bands in the jazz, soul and funk scene. He played drums and trumpet as a kid, but fell in love with the organ at 22 when he played drums at a gig with Hammond organ player Joe Doria.
“I’ve never seen that organ before. I’ve seen the organ in church and the pastor’s wife played it. But I’ve never seen anybody play it like that,” Lamarr says. “When I saw him do that I was like, ‘Man, that is sick. I want to try that.’”
For years, Lamarr became Seattle’s go-to organ player. Soul, funk, and jazz bands would call him up for gigs, in part because there weren’t many others doing what he did.
“I was dragging around an actual Hammond organ, so people used to call me all the time,” Lamarr says.
It was his wife that nudged him to start his own group in 2015. He was playing all the time, but wasn’t making much money. She understood that that could change if he was leading his own band. In the process, he’s produced some interesting, unique music that draws fans from different scenes.
“Organ trios nowadays, it’s almost like we do something different,” Lamarr says. “We’re not the quietest band in the world. We’re a loud band. People will push their seats right to the edge of the stage. And they will just be in it. Then we play these giant rooms, with people dancing and getting down. We fit everywhere. We’re always on the road. I do miss that sometimes, getting together with cats and just jamming.”
The Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio will play at 8:30pm on Thursday, Dec. 30, at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. $20/adv, $25/door. (831) 479-1854.