Laurens Hammond: The Non-Musical Genius Who Changed Popular Music

    enAugust 31, 2023

    Podcast Summary

    • The Inventor of the Electric Organ: Lawrence "Larry" HammondDespite not being able to play an instrument, Lawrence "Larry" Hammond's expertise in electrical engineering led him to create the groundbreaking Hammond B three electric organ, which influenced rock and roll, jazz, and other genres.

      Lawrence Hammond, also known as Larry Hammond, was the inventor of the electric organ, particularly the Hammond B three. Despite being tone-deaf and never playing an instrument, Hammond's expertise in electrical engineering allowed him to create a groundbreaking musical instrument that made its mark in rock and roll during the sixties and seventies. Hammond's invention was also used in jazz and other genres. He was born in 1895 and grew up in Evanston, Illinois. After his father's death, his mother, an accomplished artist, took him and his three sisters to Europe for a more artistic and educational experience.

    • From Child Tinkerer to Independent Inventor: The Journey of Larry HammondLarry Hammond's natural curiosity and determination, combined with his early success in mechanics, led him to become an independent inventor rather than working for established companies.

      Larry Hammond, from a young age, had a natural curiosity and inclination towards tinkering and understanding how things worked. His time in Paris during the early 20th century, where the first cars were being designed, allowed him to indulge in his passion for mechanics and eventually develop a crude version of an automatic transmission at just 12 years old. This early success, along with his family's support and his own determination, led him to pursue a career as an inventor. Despite facing some setbacks, such as accidentally attending the wrong class in college and still acing the exam, Larry Hammond recognized his intellectual abilities and made the conscious choice to become an independent inventor rather than working for established companies.

    • Larry Hammond: From Boat Engines to Invention FactoryPursue your passion, take risks, and find innovative solutions to common problems for personal and professional growth.

      Larry Hammond's journey as an inventor involved taking risks and following his passion. Despite being successful as a chief engineer at a boat engine company, he realized that money alone would not satisfy his spirit of invention. He struck out on his own, working on his own inventions while still employed. One of his innovations was the tickles clock, a silent clock that addressed a common annoyance many people faced. This invention served as a stepping stone for him to open his own invention factory in New York. Furthermore, his creation of the synchronous motor, which synchronized with the new 60 hertz electrical current, allowed for the electrification of previously non-electrified devices. Larry Hammond's story highlights the importance of pursuing one's passion and finding innovative solutions to everyday problems.

    • The Synchronous Motor: A Catalyst for InnovationThe invention of the synchronous motor enabled the development of electric clocks, hidden object manipulation, and early forms of 3D movies, ultimately leading to advancements in visual effects techniques.

      The invention of the synchronous motor paved the way for various innovations. The motor's precise spinning capabilities allowed for the creation of electric clocks and the manipulation of objects without people noticing. One notable invention was the Tel View, an early form of 3D movies, where two slightly different perspectives were projected onto a screen. By using synchronized shutters in viewers' glasses, the brain perceived depth and a parallax effect. Although the 3D experience was so realistic that it was initially off-putting, the concept was later refined using colored lenses, leading to the Shadow Graph technique. This technique projected backlit shadows of actors onto a screen, creating the illusion of depth and movement.

    • Innovations in sound technology and scientific understanding have revolutionized music, enabling the creation of artificial sounds and the reproduction of musical tones from various instruments.The development of sound technology and scientific research has led to the ability to recreate the frequencies and sounds of different musical instruments, enhancing the richness and depth of musical compositions.

      Innovations in sound technology have played a crucial role in the development of musical instruments. From Thaddeus Cahill's electromechanical Telharmonium to Herman von Hel Holtz's exploration of harmonics, these pioneers paved the way for the creation of artificial sounds that could reproduce the frequencies of various musical instruments. Cahill's invention of the tone wheel, which generated specific electrical frequencies, allowed for the reproduction of musical tones. This breakthrough, coupled with Hem Holts' scientific roadmap of harmonics, enabled the recreation of sounds from instruments such as violins and cellos. These advancements show how technology and scientific understanding have contributed to the evolution of music and the ability to create rich, fuller sounds.

    • Building on the Ideas of Others: The Story of Larry Hammond and the Hammond OrganInnovation often stems from learning from the failures and successes of previous inventors, collaborating with talented individuals, and having a dedication to creating practical solutions and job opportunities.

      Inventors often build upon the ideas of others, standing on the shoulders of giants to bring their own innovations to life. Larry Hammond's work on the Hammond organ was made possible by the failures and successes of previous inventors like Cahill and his tele harmonium. Hammond was able to make the instrument more practical and compact, revolutionizing the industry. Additionally, Hammond's dedication to creating jobs during the Great Depression was a driving force behind his inventions. He surrounded himself with talented engineers like John Hanard, who helped bring his ideas to fruition. Ultimately, the collaboration between Hammond and Hanard led to the creation of the Hammond organ, capable of reproducing the sounds of a pipe organ.

    • The Evolution of Musical Instrument Simulation: From Pipe Organs to Modern KeyboardsPersonalization and choice are essential in musical expression, as demonstrated by John Hammond's breakthrough in creating customizable sounds on electronic organs.

      Pipe organs are capable of mimicking the sounds of various instruments by recreating the timber and harmonics of those instruments. This was achieved through the use of compressed air and mechanical components in traditional pipe organs, and later through electronic systems developed by John Hammond. Similarly, modern keyboards like Casio simulate different instrument sounds, albeit in a less authentic way. Hammond's breakthrough included the use of stop knobs and tone bars in his electronic organ, enabling musicians to customize their own combinations of sounds. Unlike preset buttons, this approach allowed for individual creativity and expression. Hammond's analogy to a painter mixing their own colors underscores the importance of personalization and choice in musical expression.

    • The Hammond Organ: A Game-Changing InventionThe blind listening test in 1937 validated the Hammond organ's ability to replicate the sounds of a pipe organ, securing its place in the music industry and various settings.

      The Hammond organ revolutionized the music industry in the 1930s. Despite facing backlash from the pipe organ industry, John Hammond, the creator of the Hammond organ, took a bold step by suggesting a blind listening test to settle disputes with the FTC. This test, held in 1937 at the University of Chicago Chapel, involved hiding Hammond speakers among the pipes and having professional musicians judge the sounds of both organs. The success of the blind test not only proved the Hammond organ's ability to replicate the sounds of a pipe organ but also allowed Hammond to continue using the name and word "organ." This victory had a profound impact on the organ market and solidified the Hammond organ's place in churches, baseball stadiums, and other musical settings.

    • The Rise of the Hammond Organ: From Legal Challenges to Musical SuccessThe Hammond organ's versatility, marketing strategies, collaborations with famous musicians, and the invention of the Leslie Speaker contributed to its prominence in the music industry.

      The Hammond organ became a significant musical instrument due to its ability to produce a wide range of tones and its association with famous musicians. Despite facing legal challenges, John Hammond found success by highlighting the organ's ability to reproduce fine music and beautiful sounds. Marketing played a crucial role in popularizing the instrument, with the calculation of 253 million different tonal sounds used to impress potential buyers. The collaboration between John Hammond and Ethel Smith further contributed to the organ's popularity, leading to the success of her song "tko tko" and her admiration for Hammond's creation. Additionally, Jimmy Smith and the invention of the Leslie Speaker played vital roles in elevating the Hammond organ's prominence in jazz music and live performances.

    • The Leslie Speaker: Overcoming Ego and Enhancing Organ SoundDespite initial dismissal, the Leslie speaker's unique vibrato effect brought the Hammond organ to life and became a valuable tool for replicating great sound, eventually embraced by the company.

      The Leslie speaker is the secret behind the amazing sound of the Hammond organ. Don Leslie invented a speaker that significantly improved the organ's sound, but Hammond, who was egotistical and tone deaf, initially dismissed it. This led to a decades-long cold war between Hammond and Leslie's company. However, authorized Hammond dealers would secretly recommend the Leslie speaker to their customers because it made the organ sound much better. The Leslie speaker is electromechanical and uses rotating cones to create a unique vibrato effect. It can bring the organ to life even in small spaces and is a valuable tool for replicating great sound. Unfortunately, Hammond's ego prevented him from fully embracing this genius invention, but after his passing, the company started using Leslie speakers in their setups.

    • The Legacy of Laurens Hammond: Musical Innovations and Entrepreneurial SuccessLaurens Hammond was a prolific inventor who made significant contributions to the field of musical instruments, founded a successful company, and prioritized the growth and development of his employees.

      Laurens Hammond, the inventor of the automatic bridge table and the Nova chord synthesizer, was a prolific and innovative inventor. Despite not being widely recognized as the inventor of the synthesizer, Hammond made significant contributions to the field of musical instruments. He had a total of 110 patents to his name and built a successful company that employed and promoted employees from within, even producing two company presidents who started at the bottom. While the original Hammond B3 organs are still highly sought after, there have been attempts to recreate their sound, such as the XK3 by Suzuki. Overall, Hammond's legacy is one of ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and a commitment to his employees.

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