Wil tells his story
how he came to the organ:
I grew up just outside of Chicago in Evanston, IL. As a kid I got into music at a pretty early age.
Initially, I was interested in playing drums and after many put together drumsets, made out of pans,
boxes and film trays for cymbals, my parents bought me a Sears drumset. It was part toy/part real.
I was 8 years old then but, after a year or so I was really playing, so my parents stepped up and
bought me my first real drumset. From there, I studied in school and played in the school band. I also
tried to put my first band together in 4th grade. It was funny because I was really serious about it
and trying to get the other 9 year olds to take it seriously wasn't easy.
By the time I was 13, I had gotten into the electric guitar. I kept studying and playing the drums,
but I also began guitar lessons and was very serious about that. In high school I started listening to
a lot of "classic rock", mainly Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. I remember one specific time when I was 15,
my friends Bru, Tweedie and I were playing a gig. Bru was on keyboard and I was on drums. Bru put on a
sound that was supposed to be like a Hammond and I remember thinking how killin' that sound was. After
that I really started to notice the organ in music I was listening to ... Pink Floyd, The Doors, Santana
and all those people. Also, growing up in Chicago, I was always hearing the B-3 sound unconsciously via
the Blues bands that played there.
I became obsessed and I had to have a Hammond. So my senior year of high school, I bought my first Hammond.
The summer before, I had scraped together a little cash from some fence painting that I had done. I had
just enough to get a Hammond M-3 (a baby B-3 with no bass register), no leslie speaker. I was still seriously
playing the drums and guitar and planned to go to college for the guitar. And I keep hearing about some
cat named Jimmy Smith that people were telling me to check out. After finally hearing him, I was the
knocked the hell out. It was completely different from the stuff I had been hearing.
When I was 18, I moved to San Francisco where I was studying with the great bassist Herbie Lewis at New College
of California. My second year there, I was asked by a friend of a friend to play a Saturday happy hour set
at John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom Room. The club had a B-3 and two leslies! I was so excited and ended up
doing it every Saturday. It was the Boom Boom where I really learned to play the B-3 ... The guitarist
and drummer forced me to play my own bass. Having to do this every week really made me pick the instrument
up fast. Within a couple years I could hold my own.
It was Herbie Lewis who asked me to choose one instrument to focus on. I think he felt like I was juggling
too much by trying to play three instruments. I didn't have to waste much time to choose the organ! Also
around this time I met Dr. Lonnie Smith. When I told him I was playing on an M-3, he got real close and
said, "throw it away!" Within a month or two, I got myself a Hammond C-3 (identical to the B-3). By that
time, the phone was ringing and gigs were coming along ... I had also picked up tuesday nights at the Boom
Boom with trumpet player, Oscar Myers. Still under age, I was playing the Boom Boom two to three nights
a week illegally.
As write this, I'm 27 and have been playing B-3 for 8 years or so. I've never regretted choosing this instrument.
It has such a beautiful sound and it makes me feel good just thinking about it. I am completely self-taught
on organ with the exception of the mentorship that Dr. Lonnie Smith has so graciously given me. Playing
drums gave me the coordination to play organ and playing guitar gave me the melodic ear. I just put the
two together and applied it to the organ. In the years I have been playing, I have been fortunate enough
to play with some musical greats including John Lee Hooker, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Melvin Sparks, Idris Muhammad
and many others. I hope to continue doing this for as long as I possibly can and maybe a little beyond that!