Blue Note Records have announced the death of Dr. Lonnie Smith, a master of the Hammond B3 organ and collaborator of George Benson and Iggy Pop. He was 79 years old.
Smith had been active since the 1960s. Early in his career, Smith played with jazz guitarist George Benson and saxophonist Lou Donaldson. He then signed with the influential jazz label Blue Note and started leading his own ensembles. His early releases Think (1968) and Drives (1970) made their way into the Billboard R&B albums chart.
The B3 organ went out of style in the 1970s, but Smith kept working. He adopted the moniker “Dr.” to distinguish himself from his peers. Over the next couple of decades, he performed with the likes of Marvin Gaye, Etta James, Richie Hart, Jimmy Ponder and Melvin Sparks, while also reconnecting with Benson.
Smith’s career underwent something of revival in the 1990s and 2000s. He released four critically acclaimed albums for Palmetto Records before eventually returning to the Blue Note roster in 2016. Towards the end of his life he worked with contemporary artists like Norah Jones and The Roots and recorded with Iggy Pop.
In sharing the news of his death, Blue Note described Smith as “one of the funkiest & most inventive organists to ever walk the earth.”