Recording period between
Born in Buffalo, New York in 1942, Smith had an early musical influence in his mother who sparked a love of gospel, blues and jazz music. As a teenager he was introduced to the Hammond organ and began immersing himself in the records of Wild Bill Davis, Bill Doggett and Jimmy Smith as well as paying rapt attention to the church organ. Smith’s first gigs were at the Pine Grill, a Buffalo club where he came to the attention of Lou Donaldson, Jack McDuff and George Benson, eventually joining Benson’s quartet and moving to New York City.
After releasing his debut album Finger Lickin’ Good for Columbia, Smith joined Lou Donaldson’s band and made his first Blue Note appearance on the saxophonist’s hit 1967 album Alligator Boogaloo. Two more Donaldson dates followed (Mr. Shing-A-Ling and Midnight Creeper) before Smith was offered his own Blue Note deal, making his label debut with Think! in 1968. Smith went on to record another four Blue Note albums over the next two years (Turning Point, Move Your Hand, Drives and Live at Club Mozambique) all of which are regarded as soul-jazz classics.
After his first run of Blue Note albums Smith recorded for many labels, most recently his own label Pilgrimage, and his wide-ranging musical tastes have found him covering everyone from John Coltrane to Jimi Hendrix to Beck. Many awards have followed since 1969 when Down Beat named Smith the “Top Organist” of the year, including honors from the Jazz Journalists Association, Buffalo Music Hall of Fame and more.
Smith helped celebrate Blue Note’s 75th anniversary in 2014 by appearing with Donaldson at the historic concert Blue Note at 75 at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. Some of Smith’s early tracks for Blue Note are collected on the playlist Intro to Dr. Lonnie Smith including standout cuts like “Spinning Wheel,” which was famously sampled by A Tribe Called Quest for their songs “Can I Kick It?” and “Buggin’ Out.” Smith's return to Blue Note, Evolution, is released in 2015.