By Michael Swanger
Des Moines Cityview
The best musicians seem born to play a particular instrument. Their skill set is above average, their knowledge of the instrument is second only to their willingness to explore its possibilities, and when everything is cooking onstage, their equipment becomes an extension of their body and soul.
Sam Salomone is one of those musicians. He is without question Des Moines’ finest B3 Hammond organ player of the past 40 years – a fact that is punctuated on his new solo album, “VooDoo Bop.”
Reared on R&B during the ’50s by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Ray Charles, Salomone began his storied career in jazz and blues in the early ’60s, which included tours with Del Shannon and The Duprees. He purchased his first Hammond B3 organ in 1965 and after studying jazz theory and harmony at Grand View College and soaking up the influences of B3 players Jimmy Smith and Larry Young, became one of the most sought-after jazz musicians in town.
“It’s nothing like piano; it’s more dynamic,” Salomone says of the B3. “I can make it sound big or soft. It’s pretty on the ballads and the sustained chords. It’s just a sound I fell in love with.”
Over the years, Salomone has spent some time playing in New York, Los Angeles, Kansas City and Chicago (where he was born), but has always returned to Des Moines (where he’s lived the longest). And it is Iowa’s capital city in which he has made his biggest musical contributions, playing nine years with the Des Moines Big Band, holding down weekly gigs and playing for the past five years with The Blue Band. For his contributions to the local musical landscape, Salomone was inducted into the Iowa Jazz Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame in 2002.
It is the breadth of these experiences, combined with his love of jazz, blues, R&B, soul, early rock and New Orleans styles of music that effortlessly stirs the pot on “VooDoo Bop,” a brilliant collection of instrumentals. Salomone recorded it over the course of a year beginning in the summer of 2004. Instead of rushing through the recording process, he chose to cut a handful of songs at a time to assure quality control. At the age of 62, Salomone says nothing’s worth doing unless it’s worth doing right.
“Some guys like to do a whole album in one day, but after 10 hours you’re totally whipped,” he says. “I took my time so I had a chance to listen to tunes and redo them or add horns. If I didn’t do that it would have been sub-par.”
“VooDoo Bop” typifies Salomone’s commitment to getting the music right. Though he decided to re-record a few songs with new arrangements, no overdubs were used and each track was captured live in two takes or less at Don Jaques’ Neon Blue Studios on the South Side with some of the city’s finest jazz musicians, including Jim Oatts, Nathan Peeples, Rob Ankum, Rod Leaverton, Danny Nicholson, Rob Messer and Mike Pfaff. Salomone produced the album and recruited Jaques, who plays tenor sax and flute on several tunes, to engineer, mix and master it.
The album’s 10 tracks include covers of songs by Earl King (“Big Chief”), Wes Montgomery (“Road Song”), Miles Davis (“Miles Tones”), Young (“Tyrone”) and Jaques (“Push”), as well as four originals, including “Allison Wonderland,” which Salomone wrote for his granddaughter. “Miles Tones” and “Blood Alley” were recorded live at the 2003 Iowa State Fair.
“I’m not a prolific writer,” Salomone says. “They kind of have to come to me when I have a project in mind. I work better under pressure.”
“VooDoo King,” however, sounds anything but forced and is merely Salomone’s second solo offering, a follow up to 1998’s “It’s Never Too Late.” He says he plans to record a third album in the next two years and dreams of recording a tribute album to Young. He’s even offering free downloads of his music, new and old, on his Web site (www.samsalomone.com) and hopes fans will enjoy the fruits of his labor on “VooDoo Bop.”
“I hope people like it,” he says. “I just felt like I had to do it. I wanted to make a statement.” CV