We recently received a CD entitled Brewed In Buffalo by a guitar / organ / drum trio called Organ Fairchild. I am betting the title might give you a hint as to where they hail from. It only took a few emails (one with an attached teaser track) sent by guitarist Dave Ruch to get me interested in what they do. When we finally aired the whole CD a couple of weeks ago, I sent him a brief ‘Thanks for the great CD’ email. Dave responded by sending yet another link, this one to an article about them by Jeff Miers from The Buffalo News (October 14, 2021). Miers has been The News’ Music Critic and columnist since 2002 and also runs the paper’s monthly live music / discussion series, Gusto Vinyl Happy Hour. Miers’s article gave me a nice introduction to Organ Fairchild and there is nothing I love more than new music coupled with the backstory of how a band came together.
Organ Fairchild’s origin story begins when Ruch, drummer Corey Kertzie and keyboard player Joe Bellanti performed together as the Wild Knights while in high school. Ruch and Bellanti attended Williamsville South while Ketzie came out of Sweet Home HS. According to Miers, “[The White Knights were] a virtuosic jam-based ensemble … who became a popular draw in the late 1980s and the early ‘90s, but eventually, the band members drifted into other areas of musical interest.” Ruch spent the next twenty years performing as an acoustic muisician immersed in folk and roots music. In 2017, he found his passion for the electric guitar again, almost by accident.
Ruch told Miers, “I hired a band for my wife’s 50th birthday and at the last minute, the guitar player couldn’t make the gig. The band was about to cancel, so rather than disappoint her, I pulled my old Fender Stratocaster and Deluxe Reverb amp out of the closet and filled in for the night. My love for playing electric guitar and rock ‘n’ roll music was rekindled that night, and I haven’t stopped since.” So how did the former White Knights reconvene as Organ Fairchild?
Fellow musician and friend Dave Thiel hired the three veterans of the local music scence to support him for a gig. Thiel left the stage after they had done their soundcheck. The three old bandmates hung around, jamming and improvising some tunes. This was the seed from which Organ Fairchild sprouted, a band which Mier describes as, “One of the most vital new bands on Buffalo’s original music scene.” Ruch said, “The three of us just fell into playing something instrumental. It just sounded so good. Both Joe and Corey are strong players and are so easy to work with and such old and dear friends that it made me wonder if just the three of us could do something that would sound ‘complete’. I texted everyone the next day and proposed the idea.”
That was three years ago. They began jamming more or less just for the fun of it but soon segued into writing original material. Always a fan of bands in the old ‘organ trio format’ where the keyboards handle the bass line with the left hand and the right hand adds chords and top lines, the band has been going strong ever since. The line up, “Just came from the desire to do a trio project with these two particular guys and the instruments they play are keyboards and drums,” according to Ruch. He admits to having a fondness for organ trios headed by the legends like Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff, names I am not yet familiar with.
Watching some clips on their website, I found all three to be excellent musicians and their music well structured. Ruch is a dexterous guitar player and Kertzie has quick wrists and an impecable sense of time. Bellanti’s dual role brings back my first memories of seeing Ray Manzarek with The Doors and thinking, “How does he do that and make it look so easy?” When we were emailing back and forth, I mentioned Organ Fairchild’s sound is similar to Massachusetts based Ron Levy (who fronts Ron Levy’s Wild Kingdom) and one of my favorite B-3 players, Australian Lachy Doley (though both often perform with groups larger than an organ trio).
Ruch explained their game plan: “Right from the start, I was thinking much broader than the blues-based jazz sound that tends to be associated with the classic organ trios. We all come from a rock background, as well as extended jamming situations, a la Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, and Santana, and making danceable music was another important criteria right from the start.”
Inspite of the gap in live performances caused by the you-know-what pandemic, the band was able to work on recording even when there were periods when they were wary of getting together to work in close quarters. Brewed In Buffalo was tracked at Kertzie’s home studio in Amherst and mastered by another Buffalo native, Alan Evans (of Soulive), at his Iron Wax Studios in Massachusetts. An album release celebration performance was held on October 22.
With their audience spreading far and wide via streaming and air play, the band plans to tour the New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio markets in the near future. Ruch is excited about the buzz the album is generating: “We have tremendous support locally, but we are building a fan base from scratch in each new town we play. And yet, the really interesting thing is, at age 56, I’m more willing to do that grind than I was when I was half this age, and the same is true for the other two guys. We’re seeing that people really need this right now, in light of everything we’ve been through as a society these last two years. Music comforts, heals and uplifts, and audiences seem really ready for what we’re offering. So we’re really enjoying the ride and can’t wait to see what comes next. This band has been nothing short of a rebirth for all three of us.”
There are some great live clips posted on their website (www.organfairchild.com) and on their Facebook page. Voted #1 out of 64 bands competing in the NYS Music 2021 March Madness event, it is a good bet this will not be the last time we hear from them. Perhaps we will get the opportunity to see Organ Fairchild come our way when the Porcupine Mountain Music Festival is revived in August of 2022. We have been able to book bands from as far away as the Carolinas, California, Colorado, Detroit, Milwaukee, and overseas, so never say never.
I really enjoyed hearing from Dave about their album. I mentioned my drumming background so he has made it a point to single out (good naturedly) the contributions his drummer, Kertzie, makes to Organ Fairchild. I liked their groove immediately and Ruch’s guitar playing is a perfect match for this type of trio format. Bellanti’s work on the Hammond organ brings me back to some of the best musical moments I have experienced since my earliest days as a gigging drummer. Perhaps I owe my fascination with keys to my own lackluster paino studies when I was eight and nine years old. My folks bartered piano lessons for my older sister when my dad built a fireplace for our up the street neighbors. Mrs. Bowers happened to teach piano but when Barb didn’t stick with it, I became the beneficiary of this brick for keys deal. I did okay but did not progress well when it became apparent that reading music was not one of my skills. Once a tune had been plunked through, I could replicate it without exactly following the music so my score reading skills didn’t progress.
The background helped me a lot when drum lessons entered the picture in fifth grade. Piano was laid to rest until my freshman year in college. My first introduction to the sound of a Hammond Organ came the summer before my senior year in high school. We spent the summer working up enough songs to start playing actual paying gigs as a guitar / bass / drum trio called The Twig. Near the end of July, my next door neighbor dropped by with a couple of his students from the Northern Michigan University band program. My neighbor was a drum instructor and the guys who came with him had a combo (The Larry Henry Trio, but they rarely played as a trio) in need of a drummer for a wedding reception the next weekend. Once assured I could play a polka beat (no wedding reception can happen without at least a couple of polkas), they told me to be at the Holiday Inn by 7 PM Saturday. It was a fun introduction to getting paid to play. That night they had a small keyboard, bass, guitar, trombone, and me in the line up, but not a Hammond organ. Once the horn player told me I nailed Spinning Wheel by BS&T, I relaxed and had fun.
The next week, the same neighbor called and said, “Rex Bignall is playing at the Diamond Club and needs a drummer for eight nights in August. He plays a Hammond Organ and his drummer quit in a huff about something. I told him you would be there Friday night and you would be fine. He will pay you forty bucks a weekend.” I showed up, met Rex at the bar and then proceded to set up on the bandstand without ever hearing him play a note. The first night, he would introduce a song, tell me what the time signature was. and count it off with me gamely following along. By the second night, I could recognize what we were going to play just from the titles so I brushed and soft sticked my way through eight nights listening to Rex coax some amazing sounds from his Hammond B-3.
It was fun and Rex was an interesting fellow. When he found out I was 17, he said, “When the guy from NMU said you were a senior, I thought he meant in college. Whatever happens, do NOT tell the club owner how old you are and for God’s sake, do not order anything but pop!” On another night, he told me, “Hey, the owner told me to tell you not to wear black anymore – it is too depressing,” after I had performed with my black slacks, black turtleneck and maroon sport coat (which I thought was kind of a classic cocktail lounge musician look). The second weekend, Rex showed me a 24 inch Zildian cymbal on a stand and asked if I would be willing to take it in place of one night’s pay. He had purchased it for his drummer and said, “I am not giving back to him, so if you want it . . .” at which point I said yes, yes, and yes! The going rate for a 24 inch Zildjian Cymbal these days is nearly $500 and back then they were three times my nightly $20 pay. It sounded so good compared to my ‘almost like a trash can lids’ cheap cymbals, I ended up buying a new16 inch Zildjian crash to go with it.
It wasn’t rock and roll, but it was a paying gig which The Twig used in part to finance our new PA system. We jokingly refered to the joint as ‘Menopause Manor’ in reference to the age of the patrons, but it was good training. It was the only drumming job I ever took where I didn’t even break a sweat. Rex got a big smile on his face when I performed my ‘drum solo’ during a song called Patricia; it consisted of four bass drum beats in the pause between the verse and chorus. It may not have been my kind of music, but Rex made the B-3 sing and that stayed with me.
After making the concious decesion to not jump back into a band when my high school band broke up after graduation, I found a used organ and began to reaquaint myself with reading music. It was still slow going for me, but it did improve my ability to work out songs for my next band. The note and chord recognition also helped me with my guitar playing. When I joined an established group (called Cloudy and Cool, soon to be renamed Knockdown) at the beginning of my sophomore year, they had a better version of the reedy sounding organ I had been tinkering on. The other three guys in Knockdown were all in the Air Force stationed at K.I. Sawyer AFB so when the original keyboard player got transfered to Thule, Greenland, we went through a couple of fill ins while searching for a permanent replacement. We auditioned a new guy named Rich in a dank basement where he had been working with a band that never got off the ground. He accepted our offer on one condition: Could we put his Hammond B-3 in the back of my truck and bring it to my folks house before his other band found out he quit? Done and done.
Rich was also in the Air Force so between gigs, the band equipment lived in our basement. I spent the better part of the next fifteen months tinkering with the real deal – a Hammond B-3 with Leslie speaker. It was fun learning how to coax ‘real’ organ sounds from the beast, so I put my reedy sounding keys on the market. Using the time to also figure out songs to learn with the band, I knew I was on to something when my mother would call down the stairs, “Play that one again.” The organ was so heavy we had to load it to the front of my pickup to keep the front wheels on the road. Six months in, Rich came down with an affliction similar to a stroke that left him partially paralized on his left side. He played so well one handed we kept him with us until the other guys mustered out and the band disolved. Rich was a big man but when he could no longer help carry equipment, I was designated the guy who had to always be toting the organ from the bottom when we went up and down stairs. Sure, there were more portable organs, but the Hammond sound made it worth the extra effort. Standing a B3 on end in the small elevator used to move food from the kitchen to the second floor dining room at the Ramada Inn was one of our most ingenious ideas….until the gig was done. The kitchen closed and the elevator locked up for the night, so it was back to toting all of the equipment to the lobby by the front stairs when the gig was done..
During this time period, all kinds of bands were performing concerts at NMU arranged by Brass Ring Productions. Brass Ring became very good at convincing bands playing the Detroit / Chicago / Milwaukee circuit to come to Marquette for one-off gigs. With my background, the drummer was always my focus, followed closely by whom ever was playing the Hammond B-3. Two organ / drum duos came through town (Teegarden & Van Winkle from Detroit and The Whiz Kids from Ann Arbor) and my immediate thoughts on both were, “Wow, wouldn’t that be fun!”
Teegarden & Van Winkle landed in Detroit via Tulsa and had a minor hit with God, Love, and Rock and Roll in 1970. When they appeared in Marquette, Bob Segar opened the set as an acoustic solo act, followed by a T&VW set. The trio topped off by the evening doing a joint set of originals and a lot of covers. Teegaden would go on to play the drums with Segar’s Silver Bullet Band, recording four albums and touring in 1972-1973. The guitar / organ / drum format was the springboard from which Segar wrote many of the songs that would propel him to superstar levels. Notably, Turn the Page was penned about an incident in Wisconsin (not outside of Omaha) on the same tour that brought them to NMU. Some people complained when Grand Funk Railroad started writing more radio friendly tunes, but the first time I heard the grinding Hammond sound on Foot Stompin’ Music, I told anyone who would listen, “Oh, they are going to be bigger than ever now!” Mark Farner is one of those rare individuals who can bounce from a Hammond organ to guitar and back again without missing a beat.
Many thanks to Dave Ruch and company for the great music. Keep tuned to WOAS-FM 88.5 (or www.woas-fm.org) as we will be spinning Brewed In Buffalo regularly in the weeks to come.
Top Piece Video: Organ Fairchild with Amateur Night at the Apollo