When was the last time you listened to a song by Booker T. and the M.G.’s? Thanks to infectious piano grooves, flowing bass lines and plucky guitar riffs that just make you want to boogie, Booker T. dominated the ’60s with his group’s instrumental soul jazz.
Now 50 years later, it’s worth getting to know the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, a group that’s developing its own modern brand of soul jazz—and making it funky. The group will be performing at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace this Thursday, Sept. 19.
The trio’s first album, Close but No Cigar, was released in 2016 and reissued in 2018. Live at KEXP! was also released in 2018. While the DLO3’s drummer slot has been in a state of flux, every song released by the DLO3 features Delvon Lamarr’s lightning fingers on the organ and fast feet on the bass-organ pedal, and Jimmy James shredding the guitar like it is going out of style.
“The trio came to be thanks to my wife and manager Amy Novo; she actually started the band. I never wanted to run a band, but she said if I got the cats together and wrote some music, she’d handle all the rest,” Lamarr said during a recent phone interview. “I met Jimmy James when he wasn’t even old enough to get in the bars. I was playing with a group called A.D.D Trio, and we had a weekly residence at the Central in Seattle. One day, this kid came in with a guitar on his back, so we invited him up to play a tune. He busted out that guitar and wowed that whole room. I was looking at my bandmates like, ‘Who the hell is this dude?’ But we only played twice throughout a 10-year period, only at random one-off gigs. We didn’t play extensively with each other until DLO3 formed.”
I asked Lamarr how the trio manages to sound so tight.
“It was pretty much right out of the gate,” said Lamarr. “Jimmy James always says ‘music is a language,’ and we just happened to speak the same language. Our musical influences and the stuff we grew up listening to was dang near all the same.”
The trio’s live shows are always filled with glorified jam sessions.
“We hardly ever rehearse. We write most of our music onstage, or me and Jimmy will sing stuff into our phones,” Lamarr said. “Most of the time, we’ll make a tune during soundcheck before a gig. We actually started off that way. We didn’t really have any music, so we just made stuff up as we went along. All of the original tracks on the Close but No Cigar album were written onstage just from jams. The only fine tuning we’d do was when we’d record.
“We actually weren’t looking to record; we just got a random phone call from Jason Gray, who has a studio and is the bass player of the Polyrhythmics. He wanted to record us, but we didn’t have that many songs that were record-worthy. We went anyway, and that turned into the Close but No Cigar album. We actually finished some of our songs in the studio when we recorded.”
That album made from jams wound up at No. 1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Charts.
“That was a trip. I thought it was fake! Me and Amy were out that day, and when we got home, I went to the bathroom, and she came busting down the door. She screamed, ‘Guess what?!’ and I said ‘I’m busy,’” Lamarr said with a chuckle. “She said we made it to the Billboard charts, but I didn’t believe it. I had to Google it!”
The trio’s song titles are one of the more interesting aspects of the group. Examples include “Al Greenery” and “Between the Mayor and the Mustard.”
“All of the song titles for our original music mean something to us. It’s either something that’s happened, or something that’s said, or it’s about somebody,” said Lamarr. “I like it that way, because it tells a story without our music needing to have lyrics. For example: ‘Raymond Brings the Greens.’ When we started out, we had a residency every week at a place called Royal Room in Seattle. The bartender’s name was Raymond, and every week, I’d ask for some greens. It eventually got to a point where as soon as I’d show up for the gig, there’d be a plate of greens onstage for me. ’Little Booker T’ is our dog’s name, and he’s actually the dog on the album cover.”
“Raymond Brings the Greens” features a tribute to David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World.” Its placement in the song shows off the trio’s love of all things music.
“Jimmy James is an international man of quotes. He will quote anything in any song,” said Lamarr. “We were recording it, and he just threw it out there, very random. I honestly don’t really remember him playing that bit before we tracked it. It wasn’t even until we listened back to the tracks that I noticed it. It’s dope.”
The Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio will perform at 8 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 19, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Admission is free. For more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit pappyandharriets.com.