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Dr. Lonnie Smith performs at the 53rd annual Monterey Jazz Festival, in Monterey, Calif., on Sunday, Sept 19, 2010. (John Green/Staff)

It's the sound of Jimmy Smith's "The Sermon" and Santana's "Soul Sacrifice" -- the sound of the Hammond B-3 organ, powerful like a pipe organ. It's as big as a casket, and weighing in at 425 pounds, it's not easy to schlep around.

"I'm too old to be doing this," said Pete Fallico, 66, the longtime Bay Area jazz radio DJ and a regular at KCSM-FM.

He is the heart of the region's thriving B-3 organ scene, a B-3 promoter and historian, a friend to organists far and wide -- and a full-service B-3 schlepper. "I would like to find somebody to match my enthusiasm. I don't want to sound pompous, but who the hell else is going to do it?"

When B-3 organist Wil Blades performs Wednesday in Oakland, and when Hammond specialist Wayne De La Cruz performs Thursday with singer Pamela Rose in Santa Cruz, they will play organs delivered by Fallico, who lives in San Jose's Willow Glen neighborhood. Though he isn't himself a musician, he owns six vintage B-3s and has devised his own dolly system for carting them around. "It's a lot of huffin' and puffin,' " he said.

The Santa Cruz show is a benefit for the Jazz Organ Fellowship, Fallico's nonprofit foundation, dedicated to upholding the B-3's legacy -- in the black church, in blues and jazz, in rhythm 'n' blues, even country and rock, too. The B-3 organ "sits there in that sweet spot where jazz and blues kind of meet up, and that's a happy thing," said vocalist Rose. "I love having that big lush sound behind me. It just kind of sets my nerve endings on fire."


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Power center

The Bay Area is one of the power centers for B-3 activity, from young turks Brian Ho in Sunnyvale and Blades in Berkeley to veterans John Turk in San Francisco and Roger Smith (of Tower of Power) in Sacramento. Gregg Rolie, who played the B-3 behind Carlos Santana on "Soul Sacrifice" and "Evil Ways," lives in the Bay Area, as do his key successors with Santana's band, Chester Thompson and Dave Matthews. (Thompson and Matthews also have played in Tower of Power.)

Fallico knows them all. Over 40 years, he has interviewed scores of B-3 organists on his radio shows and podcasts (at www.doodlinlounge.com). Through his Doodlin' Productions company, he has recorded 16 albums (for Doodlin' Records, his own label) and produced many concerts, often flying obscure B-3 artists to the Bay Area at his own expense and with little recompense.

His friends have included jazz organ legends: the late Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and "Brother" Jack MacDuff, who once tried teaching Fallico to play the B-3. (No luck.) When current B-3 master Dr. Lonnie Smith comes to town, he stays with Fallico and wife Joanne; he'll do it again this month.

"I've been there a million times," said Joey DeFrancesco, another B-3 legend. "We need about a hundred guys like Pete."

Fallico grew up in the South Bay and attended San Jose State University, where his father, Arturo Fallico, was a philosophy professor. Pete Fallico studied speech pathology and audiology, receiving a master's degree in 1971. He became a speech pathologist in the public schools by day, and played B-3 records on the radio at night, first on KKUP-FM in Cupertino, then on KUSP-FM in Santa Cruz, where his show "The Doodlin' Lounge" was a fixture for 28 years.

Sitting in his home office, Fallico expounded on the B-3's history: "The Hammond organ is an electromechanical device and it was invented by Laurens Hammond, who was a clockmaker. He also invented things like card shufflers and 3-D glasses."

How it works

The organ contains 91 "tone wheels" that spin past magnetized rods, generating an electric current, much like what happens in an automobile's alternator. The organist controls the volume of individual pitches and the strength of special effects -- vibrato and the throbbing "chorus" setting -- with banks of metal sliders, known as drawbars. He or she plays bass lines, too, by "kicking" at a rack of foot pedals.

The first Hammond organ, the Model A, went to market in 1934. Fats Waller bought one for his Manhattan apartment. In 1955, the B-3 was rolled out: hail to the chief! (Production ended in 1975.) It unleashed another crucial effect: the "percussion" feature, which adds overtones to sustained notes and chords, creating sounds that percolate, flutter and let the organist fly straight up to the mountain top, assisted by the B-3's partner, a giant Leslie speaker. (Housed in its own cabinet, the size of a small closet, it weighs another 200 pounds; more to schlep.)

When Jimmy Smith got hold of this instrument, a jazz revolution began, Fallico said. He sounded excited, but looked exhausted, having been up for nearly 24 hours. The night before, he had driven a B-3 to the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz for a gig by Booker T. Jones. Yes, as in Booker T. & the M.G.s, the man who composed and recorded "Green Onions" in 1962.

"It's the No. 1 organ hit of all time!" Fallico had shouted during the sound check before the show.

Later, Booker T. and his band played "Green Onions" for the crowd, making the organ simmer and burble. He nibbled at notes, teasingly, building his groove, then wailed on a series of sustained high notes to excruciating effect. And, oh, the cruelty of it, as he ramped the intensity up still more, clustering his chords to create that big throbbing B-3 sound explosion. Now, Jones was rocking behind the organ. His band was rocking, too, and so was the audience, which included Pete Fallico, who would rather listen to B-3 music than to any other music in the world.

Why? "Because it's the people's music," he said.

Contact Richard Scheinin at 408-920-5069, read his stories and reviews at www.mercurynews.com/richard-scheinin and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/richardscheinin.

B-3 organists' Shows
Duende: Wil Blades, 9 p.m., Feb. 5, Duende, 468 19th St., Oakland, $10, duendeoakland.com
Kuumbwa Jazz Center: Wayne De La Cruz with vocalist Pamela Rose, 7 p.m., Feb. 6, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz; $22; www.kuumbwajazz.org (a benefit for Pete Fallico's Jazz Organ Fellowship Foundation)
Also: Tony Monaco, Feb. 13, Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz, www.kuumbwajazz.org. Dr. Lonnie Smith, Feb. 16, Douglas Beach House, Half Moon Bay, www.bachddsoc.org, and Feb. 17, Kuumbwa Jazz Center. Joey DeFrancesco, Feb. 20-23, SFJazz Center, San Francisco, www.sfjazz.org. Wil Blades, Feb. 27, Cafe Stritch, San Jose,www.cafestritch.org.