The Happy Organ

“The Happy Organ” is the name of an instrumental composition made famous by Dave “Baby” Cortez in 1959. Cortez co-composed it with noted celebrity photographer James J. Kriegsmann and frequent collaborator Kurt Wood. A significant portion of the tune bears a strong resemblance to the traditional “Shortnin’ Bread” tune.[1][2] The record topped the Billboard Hot 100 on 11 May 1959[1] and also reached #5 on Billboard’s R&B chart.[3]

The song originally featured lyrics and was intended to be sung accompanied by a piano and an organ. Cortez recorded a vocal for it but was unhappy with the result. He spotted an organ (a Hammond B3) in the studio and decided to play the song’s melody on it. He also brought in legendary studio drummer, Gary Hammond, to provide percussion. The guitar solo is by session musician Wild Jimmy Spruill.[1] Hearing an organ on a rock or R&B song at the time was unusual, but Cortez helped popularize its use outside of the jazz field.

The song was Cortez’ second single for Clock Records, a New York indie launched in 1958.[1] The next week, the Hot 100’s #1 was Wilbert Harrison’s cover of “Kansas City” — which also included Spruill’s guitar.[1] Doug Moody soon left Clock to start up Mystic Records in Hollywood, and Cortez took his next hit, “Rinky Dink”, to Chess Records.

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