Jazz-funk organist Charles Earland, who helped revive interest in the traditional Hammond B-3 organ, died Dec. 11 of a heart attack in Kansas City, Mo. He was 58.
Earland was found dead in his hotel room just hours after an appearance at the Blue Room jazz club in Kansas City.
The Philadelphia-born Earland began his musical career in a high school dance band, which included future teen idol Frankie Avalon. Earland later took an interest in the Hammond B-3 while playing tenor and baritone sax in a band with legendary organist Jimmy McGriff. He made the switch to organ in 1963 and initially made his mark on that instrument in saxophonist’s Lou Donaldson’s band, where he stayed until 1969 before forming his own trio.
His first album, “Soul Crib,” got relatively little notice, but his second release, “Black Talk!,” was a commercial success that made him a star organist and landed him a long-term contract with Prestige Records.
As synthesizers and electric pianos gained popularity in the 1970s, Earland was instrumental in keeping the organ alive as a jazz and blues instrument. His albums ranged from burning funk to adaptations of pop songs to straight-ahead jazz.
Notable recordings from later in his career include “Front Burner” (1988) on the Milestone label. His music was also featured on the soundtrack of the landmark animated film “Fritz the Cat” (1972). Earland is survived by his wife, Sheila, and three children.