The Funky Organ Sounds of the Koch Marshall Trio
The deep blue electric guitar and satin black sound of the Hammond B3 organ transports listeners back to the organ trios that entertained in hip bars back in the 1940s. But then guitarist Greg Koch reaches beyond genre expectations, hitting at sharp angles against the solid groove laid by his son, drummer Dylan Koch. Organist Toby Lee Marshall envelopes the song in swirling little solos on the title track of the new album by the newly minted Koch Marshall Trio, Toby Arrives.
It’s Greg Koch’s 16th album, a lengthening résumé for the Milwaukee musician who debuted on record in 1993 with his band, The Tone Controls. Koch’s CV also includes numerous guitar instruction manuals for Milwaukee-based music giant Hal Leonard and clinics for Fender Guitars across North America and Europe. He’s recorded with jazz guitarist Robben Ford, Little Feat guitarist Paul Barrere and blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa. He’s written songs with John Sieger and has become popular on YouTube through an ongoing series of guitar videos recorded at Wildwood Guitars in Louisville, Colo.
And despite all that, one suspects the gregarious Koch would buttonhole any passerby and insist that Toby Arrives is his best ever. “It’s all instrumental,” he says. “Groove-oriented—melodic but groovy things! Joyous music!”
He had been performing and recording in recent years with various lineups, including a reunited Tone Controls. “Then out of the blue came the situation,” Koch begins. His son Dylan had been playing with Marshall, a veteran Twin Cities musician, and began bugging dad to jam with his friend. “Dylan wanted Toby to bring his B3 over to the house, push aside the living room furniture and leave a big scuff mark on the wooden floor,” he recalls. “Instead, I called [producer] Steve Hamilton at Making Sausage Music and asked if he had a B3 at the studio. He said, ‘Come on over. I’ll have the B3 and a drum set all mic’d up. And I’ll record the thing!’”
Thus began Toby Arrives, whose first tracks were recorded live at Making Sausage Music the first time Koch Sr. met Marshall. “I said, ‘Let’s do a shuffle in G.’ I made up the melody on the spot,” says the guitarist. It became the title tune on Toby Arrives.
The album crosses more borders than expected. “Heed the Boogaloo” fast forwards from ’40s organ trio to ’60s soul with a Booker T & The MGs groove. Koch’s blues-drenched guitar sketches a melody in broad strokes; and then, demonstrating the agility of his imagination, he works out new patterns with the old format. The track begins to rock. “Mysterioso” goes in a different direction altogether, ethereal yet powerful, touching the space where prog rock overlaps with fusion jazz.
“It’s not a traditional organ trio, even though it has aspects of those great Jimmy Smith, Kenny Burrell and Melvin Rhyne combos,” Koch says. “It’s got Booker T and The Meters, but there’s Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin in there as well. We can play the Jazz Estate or a public park. We can play for blues people and jazz people and jam band people. We can play for guitar fiends and keyboard fiends.”
Koch is negotiating a deal for his new trio with a national label known for its roster of blues guitarists. “It’s all about the congregational energy that can happen when band members are in sync with each other and the audience,” Koch says. “It’s pretty scary! It’s a once in a lifetime union!”
The Koch Marshall Trio performs Saturday, Sept. 9 at Tosa Fest.