Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Robert Walter's Special Talent Skilled at Playing Difficult B3 Organ

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Robert Walter's Special Talent Skilled at Playing Difficult B3 Organ

Article excerpt

Byline: Nick Marino, Times-Union music writer

Robert Walter can play piano, but so can a lot of people.

What he's known for, what makes him special, is his prowess on the Hammond B3 organ.

The B3 is notoriously difficult. It has the temperament of a 2-year-old and weighs as much as a baby elephant. In order to produce noises resembling music, the B3 player must possess a certain combination of skills, something like simultaneously playing piano and driving a stick shift.

The reward for all of this labor and contortion is a fat, bluesy, church-grown sound that morphs from ragtime to jazz to soul to rock, sometimes all in the same song.

Since the '60s -- when organ king Jimmy Smith was at the top of his game -- most musicians have avoided the B3. But Robert Walter is keeping the instrument alive, lugging it from gig to gig with his road-warrior jazz-funk band, Robert Walter's 20th Congress, which will play Jack Rabbits tomorrow with Mofro.

"[Walter] is the best I've ever seen," said Mofro frontman John Grey. "I think he and John Medeski and maybe one or two other cats are the best of this whole young generation. I don't think anybody else can touch 'em."

Walter himself is pretty modest, simply saying, "I want to be true to the history of the instrument," and he has no false hopes about becoming a famous organ-playing pop star.

"I'm not looking to get rich off of record sales," Walter said. "I just want people to hear my music."

As a result, the 20th Congress tours incessantly and supports audience taping. If people want to tape and circulate bootleg recordings of the shows (or, if they want to download unlicensed MP3s), that's fine with Walter -- when you're in a hard-working, non-commercial band, you do whatever gets the music out.

"People who are doing something different have to do things outside the music industry," he said. …

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