In a way, John Ginty has come full circle in his musical journey.
Shortly after he began playing the Hammond B-3 organ after high school
in Morristown, he realized his late grandmother, Honore Ginty, who
died before he was born, had also been an organist – at St. Margaret’s
RC Church in Morristown. Ginty now leads a rock band that plays an
artful blend of blues, jazz, and gospel-infused rock,. The John Ginty
Band will perform at the Black Potatoe Festival in Clinton on
Saturday, July 15, the third day in the festival’s four-day schedule.
Ginty says his parents, now a retired Morristown fire fighter and a
retired dental assistant, were not musical. He is quick to add that
both parents were "extremely supportive" of his desire to pursue a
musical career. "I played drums for a number of years and then I
started playing vibes with the high school jazz band," Ginty says,
crediting Morristown’s school district with giving him a thorough and
efficient musical education. The Morristown High School even had its
own radio station.
"One day I was playing vibes, and I realized, hey, this would work on
organ, too," he says of the revelation he had as a 17-year-old. "I’m
not really sure what attracted me to the organ in the first place but
once I started playing it, it just felt so natural." So perhaps there
was a genetic link in Ginty’s subsequent success as an organist.
In 1995 he was hired by Neal Casal, a singer-songwriter based in
northwest New Jersey, who landed a major label deal with Zoo
Entertainment in Los Angeles. Next thing Ginty knew, he was flying out
to Los Angeles to record with Casal and doing shorter tours with the
Ginty caught his first big break in the summer of 1997, when one night
Alaskan singer-songwriter Jewel called to ask if he could play organ
on a slew of her upcoming TV appearances, including "MTV Unplugged,"
"Saturday Night Live," and "Late Night with Conan O’ Brien."
"I got a call on a Tuesday night to do `MTV Unplugged’ that Friday and
`Saturday Night Live’ on Saturday. I ran to the record store and
bought Jewel’s record and learned 12 songs in a couple of hours," says
Ginty. "After we did those two shows, she kept me on for a couple of
years." Those appearances made it easier for his parents to understand
his career choice. "Your parents can really understand what you’re
doing for a living when they can see you on TV," he says. Later on,
his parents also saw him perform at Madison Square Garden in New York,
with Robert Randolph and the Family Band.
It was at Wetlands, an environmentally and socially conscious club on
the lower West side of Manhattan, where he first played with Robert
Randolph, an incredibly talented pedal steel guitarist who rose to
prominence performing his own brand of religious and secular music in
the 1990s with the Family Band.
At Wetlands Ginty also got to perform with Warren Haynes and Allen
Woody, who were founding members of Government Mule, a band that still
draws arena-sized crowds, despite Woody’s deathfrom a drug overdose
several years ago.
After Randolph’s continued successes, drawing overflow crowds to
Wetlands, he had a deal in the works with Warner Bros. Records, and
the pace of touring got even more hectic. Ginty decided to leave
Randolph’s band in the fall of 2003. "It was a mutual decision," he
says. "I couldn’t keep up with the touring pace they had at the time,
because I had already been there and done that, so one day I got off
the plane from Helsinki and was in a car going to `Conan O’ Brien,’
which I had done before with Jewel, and I realized that was it. So I
passed the gig off to Jason Crosby, who I’d known from hanging out at
Although Ginty enjoyed success at the Wetlands leading his own band,
it wasn’t until the fall of last year that he felt the band had jelled
enough as a unit to record his own album. The result, a two compact
disc set, "Fireside Live," recorded at the Fireside Lounge in
Denville, is a mighty first effort. Ginty and his manager released the
album on Ginty’s own label, Shark Attack Records. At the Black Potatoe
Festival Ginty will lead his own band in the afternoon, accompanied by
most of the same musicians who are on his record, and he will also
accompany guitarist Matt Angus with his band, the Matt Angus Thing.
Ginty’s band prominently showcases his crafty, tasteful, sometimes
meaty Hammond B-3 solos, but it also includes vocalist Paul Gerdts,
bassist Mike Buckman, drummer John Hummel, percussionist Dave Hedden,
and guitarist Tom Feehan. All are from the Morristown area, except
Feehan, who lives near Atlantic City.
"I could have gotten some real studio pros to be in my band, but I
wanted to access local talent," Ginty says. "These guys are great, and
for whatever reason, they didn’t get into the full-time musician
thing. So now we are as much a social hang as we are a band."
There are just three cover songs on Ginty’s "Live at the Fireside."
They include Carlos Santana’s "Savor," Elmore James’ "Done Somebody
Wrong," and a traditional, which he calls "Gospel Jam." All of the
other songs are Ginty’s own compositions, which he writes on piano, by
himself, and then takes to his band mates for rehearsal and fleshing
out. "I have this songwriter side but I only like to write on a piano
by myself, and what I end up doing is bringing this Barry Manilow
sounding thing to the band," he says.
As for inspirations on the Hammond B-3, one would expect Ginty to name
the great soul jazz and blues players who helped bring the Hammond B-3
into fashion in the late 1950s and early ’60s, people like Jimmy
McGriff and the late Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff. Instead, he
says, "I was listening to the session guys who were a little under the
radar, people like Benmont Tench from Tom Petty’s band, Chuck Leavell
[from the Rolling Stones], and Gregg Allman. But Brent Mydland from
the Grateful Dead was my absolute hero."
Ginty’s sessionography – a list of albums he has played on by other
performers – includes such notables as Citizen Cope, a bevy of albums
from Casal, Carlos Santana, Bad Religion, the Blind Boys of Alabama,
Matthew Sweet, country singer Amy Allison (Mose’s daughter), and
Randolph’s Warner Bros. debut, "Unclassified," as well as his earlier
independent album, "Live at Wetlands."
But playing as part of an ensemble and being in the background goes
with the territory when one plays Hammond B-3 organ for rock artists
like Santana, or even vocal gospel groups like the Blind Boys of
Alabama. "I felt like the organists I listened to all had a common
thread, and it came from Jimmy Smith’s organ settings. It’s hard not
to hear [Tom Petty’s] `Refugee’ as a great song, but you’d be
astonished how great a song it is, and how fat the organ tones are on
Although Ginty has paid for his art by suffering debilitating back
problems – but no hernias, oddly – he says he was always blessed "to
have some big friends" who were able to help him out. "There are guys
around here who are willing to help and believe in the sound. I’ve
carried Hammond B-3’s everywhere you can carry them, up fire escapes,
up six flights of stairs, I’ve helped get them through windows and
I’ve done all sorts of crazy stuff to get the Hammond B-3 into the
gig," he says. "I’m the guy who’s going to bring you the real thing,
even if we’re just playing a 40-minute show at Ace of Clubs in New
York, I’m bringing in 1,000 pounds of gear."
At the Black Potatoe Festival, the audience can expect to hear a set
from Ginty’s band that is both melodically rich and rhythm heavy,
complemented by Paul Gerdts’ passionate vocals. "It’s blues, it’s
rock, and it’s rhythm," says Ginty, "and even though we’re all white
Irish guys, we play Latin rhythms quite well, and our final element is
gospel. You’re going to get the gospel, because this band is led by
Just the way Ginty’s grandmother would have liked it.
Black Potatoe Festival, Thursday through Sunday, July 13 to 16, Red
Mill Museum, 56 Main Street, Clinton. Performers include John Ginty
Band (Saturday, July 15, 3:45 p.m.), South Austin Jug Band, Kathy
Phillips Band, Swampadelica, The Holmes Brothers, Days Awake, Jeffrey
Gaines, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Patrick Fitzsimmons, Caren
Kennedy, Gregg Cagno, and others. For the full schedule visit
www.blackpotato.com/schedule. For more information on John Ginty visit