(Blue Note Records)
Date of Release: April 1960
Back at the Chicken Shack, Jimmy Smith’s deliciously soulful and bluesy album recorded and released in 1960—and also featuring Donald Bailey (drums), Kenny Burrell (guitar), Stanley Turrentine (Tenor Sax)—is to this day, one of Smith’s most revered bodies of work. This was a period when Smith was most inventive, most daring and enthusiastic, known for his striking and energetic techniques. Smith’s use of the organ successfully satisfied the role of multiple instruments, utilizing the lower register as a walking bass, and the right hand for playful and jovial melodic spurts. Smith’s playing was always tastefully colorful.
The Hammond B-3 organ produces a laid-back groove and a sound so distinct that it is almost essential to jazz, blues, soul, and hip-hop as we know them today. It’s comfort food. That particular standard was introduced to the common psyche by Jimmy Smith, the new Blue Note’s signee of the late 1950s. Blue Note’s Alfred Lions always had a knack for picking up would be influencers, and having heard Smith introduce a highly lucrative instrument, he produced some of his most famous works during his short but crucial stint on Blue Note Records that would greatly impact popular music for the next few decades. Urban set nightclubs were quickly employing organists as almost a standard to keep up with the Hammond movement. Smith’s influence would ultimately directly impact later acts ranging from Medeski, Martin and Wood, Isaac Hayes, to D’Angelo. The Hammond would become, by de facto, a necessity for post-bop era recordings of almost any genre.
Back at the Chicken Shack, the roughly 40 minute collection of a perfect moment in music, was followed by Midnight Special, another live recording that utilized the same musicians in the same studio on the same day. On Chicken Shack, you hear the real humors of gospel and blues get introduced to bebop, somehow creating party music. Smith’s popularization of the Hammond seemed almost to single-handedly bring a new level of fun to Bebop, as is felt on the first quirky notes on the title track, “Back at the Chicken Shack.” His style served as a precursor to the huge soul and funk acts of the next several decades.
The synergy that Smith had with the fairly fresh-faced saxophonist, Stanley Turrentine, as well as Kenny Burrell on guitar is what really makes the album’s groove so cohesive. The call and response of Turrentine leading, and Smith following on “When I Get too Old to Dream” is a perfect example of their playful style that is so prominent throughout the rest of the album. In “Messy Bessie,” Smith’s laid-back handling of the keys is effortlessly carried out by the minimalism of Burrell, Turrentine, and Bailey’s playing. The song crescendos into a lively party anthem, picking up momentum, and showcasing a few lively sax solos from Turrentine both in the beginning and end, as well as a compelling guitar solo from Burrell. Smith’s own playing is majestic, with the song concluding in a soft fade out. Bailey serves as the unrelenting backbone on Chicken Shack, but the real highlight is Turrentine’s visionary melodic playing to complement Smith. The connection of the four musicians is one of the most organic groupings that Smith orchestrated, a truly authentic recording, and a staple album for any organ lover.
By Boyuan Gao