The B-3 Kings Fashion A ‘Musical Church’ Out of The Plough and Stars

B-3 KingsThe B-3 Kings perform in The Plough and Stars. Photo by Evan Sayles.

Aside from the piercing glow of a Sox game on the TV, The Plough and Stars is a dusky scene late on a Tuesday night. A date winds down in the corner, and the after-work drinkers close their tabs.

The members of the B-3 Kings seem like late patrons themselves until a thud from the doorway heralds the hulking Hammond B-3 organ.

A residency on Tuesday nights starting at (roughly) 10:30 p.m. shouldn’t normally bring a second wind to a weeknight, but there’s a reason The B-3 Kings have not one, but two framed pictures of their pigeon mascot on the wall. Guitarist Johnny Trama issues a polite greeting from his post virtually behind the bar and issues a stomping, bluesy riff, provoking a booming instrumental hello from the rest of the band. The room begins picking up as each member works a solo in. A couple shuffles in front of my table to get a front-row seat. J.Geils Band vocalist Peter Wolf takes a chair a few spots over, quietly absorbing the atmosphere without acknowledging the occasional stare in his direction.

The band name is a giveaway, but the B-3 Kings’ intersections between blues, soul, boogaloo, and rock ’n’ roll are tied together by organist Rusty Scott, who’s dwarfed by his B-3 and its accompanying Leslie 122 amplifier. Scott’s semi-anonymity adds to the experience, though—the organ maintains its near-timeless star power long after Booker T. penned the iconic “Green Onions.” Scott humbly serves as an animator, bringing the instrument’s eternal coolness to life every Tuesday night.

Surprisingly, Scott came along later in the band’s arc; the Kings originated with Trama.

“The B-3 Kings has been a project of mine for about 10 years,” Trama told Scout in an email. “It started as a group strictly playing ’60s organ boogaloo-type music.” Trama believes the Kings have endured thanks to the strength of the players’ love for their big influencers—Dr. Lonnie Smith, Jack McDuff, and Lou Donaldson—and various musicians adding their own personal flairs to the sound.

“[We’ve] been through tons of players throughout the years,” he adds. “I’ve always looked at this project as a gathering of great local players paying homage to that genre of music.”

Coincidentally, Scott’s introduction to the Hammond B-3 happened around the same time as the Kings’ formation. “My old roommate, a guy named Gus, brought me to a Jimmy Smith concert at the old House of Blues in Cambridge,” he recalls. “After that, I went searching on Hammond forums online and, within a few months, I had my first rig for about $1,500.”

Six months later, Scott had acquired a second one, which became his go-to organ for gigs. He initially crammed it into his living room by having a piano moving company use a crane and pop a window out.

“It’s a commitment,” he says with a laugh. “I was more of a bebop piano player at the time and I’ve been making a living as a pianist since 1995, but I hadn’t really seen a jazz organ played live before that [Jimmy Smith] concert. After that, I just caught the bug.”

The “bug” manifested fully in The Rusty Scott Organ Group, a “more jazz-oriented” organ quartet that gigged around while Scott continued taking work as a pianist over at The Wonder Bar. When those gigs ran their course around 2005, Scott saw his future with The B-3 Kings at Matt Murphy’s in Brookline.

“I played with them on and off starting over there,” Scott says. “They had different organ players, but right around 2011, we had this gig down at this restaurant in Quincy. It was a trio; myself and Johnny Trama [with a] drummer. When we started the restaurant gig, we started to really gel and change the direction of the group. We started writing, did that gig for about a summer, then hooked up with The Plough and Stars.”

Weekly gigs in July and October of 2011 eventually led to the narrow Central Square bar and restaurant asking if the band wanted an indefinite weekly residency starting that December.

“Like all residencies, it started pretty slow,” Trama remembers. “They take a moment before they gather some speed.”

Six years later, their Tuesday night show is a well-oiled machine. The band’s current lineup, which is filled out by Thomas Arey on drums and Marc Hickox on bass, is bordering on half a decade together. Trama started inviting guest performers two years ago, ranging from vocalist Nephrok! of Boston funk group The Nephrok! Allstars, to modern soul singer/guitarist Jessie Dee, to venerated session guitarist Duke Levine, to the “extreme sax” player “Sax Gordon” Beadle.

“When we first started, it was more of a soul, jazz sit-in-type of vibe,” Trama says. “Now, it’s almost like stepping back in time [to a] rock ’n’ roll soul revue show you’d find in the late ’60s and early ’70s.”

“It’s really turned into a great residency and one of the great things about it is the fans,” Scott continues. “The people that come out to hear it are really into it and there to listen. Other gigs we’ve done might even be packed, but they don’t have quite the energy that the [Plough and Stars] crowd has.”

Scott says the band is currently working on recording original material alongside the Tuesday night residency, trying to capture the unique energy that emanates from their live shows without betraying the “smaller, cohesive vibe” the band has sans guests. In terms of the residency’s place in their lives, Trama affirms that it remains the purest manifestation of The B-3 Kings.

“I can’t really say there’s one Tuesday that sticks out, because the beauty of Tuesdays is that they’re always different. Everyone brings their own special magic to the gig when they come to play. That’s why this place is more of a musical church than just another bar gig. It’s the perfect size and place to do what we’re doing. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

This story originally appeared in the November/December issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available for free at more than 200 locations throughout the city or by subscription.

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