The Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio is fast becoming one of the city’s hottest groups. Featuring guitar virtuoso Jimmy James and steady-handed, prolific drummer David McGraw, the band is fronted by Delvon Lamarr, the charming songwriter and fantastic organ player. Capable of getting a whole room to shake while also sparking the collective thought, “Who the eff are these guys???” the trio, which recently signed a record deal with famed soul label Colemine Records, is an instrumental powerhouse. With a release show planned for the end of the month, we wanted to catch up with Lamarr and see what’s up in the world of one of the most exciting bands in Seattle.
How did you first start playing the organ?
I played trumpet and drums – well, I played a lot of instruments – throughout junior high school. But my high school didn’t have a band so I played trumpet with my little combo around Seattle. Eventually, I just kept it to trumpet and drums, sticking with those. And one night I got a call to play drums with Joe Doria, the organist. Man, I’d never seen anybody play organ like that before. I’d been in church and heard people play organ but I never paid any attention to it really. So I played drums with Joe. And eventually I watched Joe long enough that when another drummer came in to play with us, I asked Joe if I could play the organ. I sat down, played the blues and got it right out of the gate. Bass lines, pedals and all just from watching Joe. I got a really good visual memory.
Really? All that coordination just from watching?
I think playing the drums helped that out a lot. I learned separation. And the melodic side came from playing the trumpet. I had the best of both worlds with the organ.
What were you doing when the original Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio got together?
I was predominantly playing with another band, Rippin’ Chicken and I was freelancing a lot. I played a lot of straight-ahead jazz with the band Kareem Kandi at that time, too. But it got to the point where none of these bands were really going anywhere. Amy, my wife and manager, she’s been telling me for years to start my own band but I don’t want to run a band. I see other people running bands and they don’t have any hair. So I said no for years and then finally she said just start your band and I’ll take care of everything. So, I called up David McGraw and our original guitarist was Colin Higgins. We were the original trio. But things didn’t work out with Colin; he started getting busy with Cecil Moses and the SG’s. So I called up Jimmy James.
How did Jimmy get integrated into the group?
I’ve known Jimmy for a long time but we’d never really played music together. I remember when he was barely old enough to get into a club. I was playing in a band back in the day called the ADD Trio and he came in. He was this little kid with his guitar and I got him up on stage and, man, he tore it up. We were just like, “Who is this guy?” We kept seeing each other here and there but never really playing together. I’ve known him since he was dang near out of high school. So that was my first thought, what if I call Jimmy James? I knew he was super popular, he’s super busy all the time, he is in the True Loves and so was David McGraw [Lamarr often plays with the True Loves, though is not an official member].
How do the songs come together for the trio? In my head it’s this effortless construction by geniuses…
We all write tunes. How it works when I have a tune, I have it in my head and I bring it to our rehearsals – our rare, annual rehearsals (laughs). I’ll lay down the foundation but I don’t write anybody else’s part. I let people play what they play. I don’t want to write everything. I will come and show the foundation. Sometimes other people have input to do this at this section or that at that section. It morphs into a thing. But I lay down a groove and we’ll jam that groove. Whatever sticks, go with it.
Why no vocals?
What I like about doing an instrumental thing is that we have such strong chemistry together as a trio. It’s like we’re the same person, which is one of the things that makes the music special. Me and Jimmy’s musical repertoire is like one and the same. We’ll be playing something and I’ll hear him play a line from an old Motown tune and I’ll go with it because I know where he’s going. We’re so interlocked. Adding vocals would be difficult. Same with adding a bass player. What I like about playing as an organ trio is I can shape the music how I want it to be. And Jimmy can throw out a line, quoting something and I’ll quote it too. We know a lot of stuff in common. I can her him doing these things and I just jump right on it. And David has such a strong pocket. He doesn’t even have to know it, but he’s right on it anyway. That’s why I like David McGraw a lot.
Is your intention as a band to get people to dance, have fun or experience a range of emotions?
I don’t really give that much thought. But what I do want is people to be engaged. This happens sometimes, we’ll be running a set and people aren’t dancing but they are in awe of what we’re doing. That’s far more important than people dancing. People dance to damn near anything, that doesn’t mean it’s good. What I want is people engaged on a deeper level. As long as they’re in awe, I’m doing my job.
What do you feel or think about when you consider the band’s potential for growth or touring success?
Our goal is that we want to make sure we’re a really strong trio. Then in the future we can add a thing or take things out. We can do a quick tour with a singer, though they won’t be a full time member. We can go on the road with horns, as another example, as long as our foundation is strong. We definitely want to be a strong trio and be established.
What can fans expect coming up?
We have a 45 coming out November 24th and there’s going to be a big show with the Polyrhythmics at the Tractor Tavern. And our next release is going to be in February. After that, we got some things we’re not supposed to talk about.
You just signed a record deal, right?
Yup, Colemine Records. I’ve known about Colemine for a longtime now. You’ve got Daptone Records with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, then you’ve got Colemine up there with them. They release nothing but soul music. They’re very particular about the music they put out. And, man, they’re on it.