Hammond of the Gods

Eugene Hawthorne ditches his bass and goes barefootin' with soul-jazz

"I had a family when I started playing, and around this city, you didn't make a living playing music back then. So you had to have a full-time job if you have a family and are a dedicated family man. My family was the most important thing to me, so I never took a chance going on the road, even though I was offered many opportunities," says Hawthorne. But the family's grown now, and Hawthorne is drawing a GE pension. There's plenty of time to concentrate on playing organ.

Back at Local Charm, Hawthorne plays standards like "Moonlight in Vermont" and "Willow Weep for Me," jazz classics like "Song for My Father," and hard blues tunes like B.B. King's "Three O'Clock in the Morning" and Junior Parker's "Next Time You See Me." The music that emerges is a mixture of soul-jazz and something more identifiably local and bluesy. Hawthorne channels decades of Texas blues into his organ playing, a Space City vibe you just won't get from the likes of Jimmy Smith.

Hawthorne stamps Jimmy Smith's sounds with a Houston Proud logo.
Hawthorne stamps Jimmy Smith's sounds with a Houston Proud logo.

When Hawthorne finishes his lengthy set, he picks up his Stacy Adams shoe and slips it back onto his left foot. Hawthorne has seven pairs of Stacy Adams shoes. They're rotated so that any night, you might see a black, brown, burgundy or tan pair, depending on the rest of Hawthorne's sartorial ensemble. But that left shoe will always be parked by the side of the organ when Hawthorne gets ready to play.

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