Wil Blades is at the top of the local music scene as a Hammond B3 organ player. The B3 is that big warm sultry, funky tone that provided the groove to many of the 1960s and 1970s R&B recordings. The B3 is experiencing a revival today, particularly among jazz saxophonists who find it a nice complement to a trio.
Blades is only in his 20s but plays like a veteran, and his knowledge of the instrument is encyclopedic. He has accompanied the greats, including good friend and B3 legend Dr. Lonnie Smith. Their relationship is based in part on their love of music, but also Smith has been a mentor to Blades.
There aren’t a lot of places besides the Boom Boom Room that have a B3, so Blades owns three of his own organs. For many of his performances, Blades lugs his organ around the Bay Area in his van — as Spark witnesses. As he says, “It’s like a piece of furniture.” Imagine taking a 400-pound desk around with you, and you begin to get the idea.
Originally from Chicago, Blades began playing and studying drums at the age of 8, guitar at 13 and organ at 18. He studied at New College of California. He teaches at Berkeley Jazz School and plays in a number of different groups, including the Wil Blades Trio, O.G.D., Steppin’ and BluesBeat. Blades can be seen performing regularly as the house organist at John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom Room.