A breakthrough in the Freddie Roach story

The Soul Book Cover

Great news! Regular readers will know that I have made it my business over the last few months to try find out what happened to Freddie Roach, an undeservedly underrated Hammond organist. His Wikipedia entry records that he stopped recording in the late 1960s, went to live in France and was never heard of again.

I felt that there had to be more to it than that. FR (an abbreviation I will take the respectful liberty of using) had recorded no less than eight albums as leader, including five that were issued on Blue Note.

From reading album sleeves I discovered that, sadly, FR passed away in 1980, aged 49 years. RIP. There were also references to his work as a writer, a plausible line for exploration given FR’s inventive sleeve notes on albums such as Mo’ Greens Please, Brown Sugar, Mocha Motion and, in particular, The Freddie Roach Soul Book (I can’t comment on Down to Earth, All That’s Good and My People, Soul People, as I haven’t yet heard them yet. The notes for Good Move were written by jazz critic, Nat Hentoff).

At the turn of the year I decided to see if a couple of references to FR working in Newark, New Jersey would lead me anywhere. I came across a website dedicated to The Newark Jazz Elders and was excited to discover that artists who had played with FR were celebrated on there. I contacted them but there is still no word as yet. I hope that their archivist is in good health.

The end of 2013 arrived and my disappointment at not being able to update things by the end of 2013 only made me re-double my efforts to find out more. I would see if anything would turn up through searches of French websites. I chased a wild goose briefly, when I read of a Hammond organist who lived outside Paris, but that turned out to be Lou Bennett.

My French digging did uncover something that was more promising though. On 25 May 1974 there was a performance in Paris of ‘Africa Is Calling Me: A Modern Day Black Opera’. This was composed by Bob Reid and featured a vocal recitation from one Freddy Roach, who has to be our man. The performance was recorded and was later issued on Kwela Records in 1975. So there was substance to the references to FR being involved in dramatic performance.

The next jigsaw piece was on YouTube where in a comment on a Freddie Roach track where a respondent stated that he had lived in a house owned by FR on Clinton Avenue, Newark from 1971-72 and that he had heard FR playing the Hammond. So the disappearance to France was not to be the finale then.

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On Wednesday, I was whiling away my lunch break in a regular Brixton coffee shop haunt. I read of a twitter link to the Mosaic Records website and made a visit. Mosaic licence and re-package classic modern jazz sets on high quality vinyl and preset them with excellent and informative packaging. Their website, which I have yet to fully explore, features short films. It was there that I learned of a growing Hammond organ scene in San Francisco and of DJ and Hammond organ historian, Pete Fallico, which you can read here.

I was sure that if anybody could move this story on then it would be Pete Fallico, so I crossed my fingers and emailed him. He responded and I picked up his reply yesterday. I was not the first person to strike gold in California but Pete’s eloquent article, which he forwarded to me, was the Freddie Roach Mother Lode.

Pete has very kindly allowed me to reproduce his excellent article on Freddie Roach. You will discover that FR did not disappear to France; that he is fondly remembered by fellow musicians from the Newark NJ area and that he was:- ‘…an actor, storyteller, playwright and jazz organist’.

Pete mentioned that he hopes to publish a book about the Hammond organ and the jazz artists who embraced it. I am confident that you will agree that if his article is a taste of what it would be like then he will be offering up an exquisite, treat filled feast.

Pete hosts a superb webcast, the doodlin’ lounge, which I am beginning to explore. It includes artist themed podcasts featuring interviews with some of the greatest living Hammondistas. You can visit doodlin’ lounge here.

My recent introduction to Pete Fallico means that I can only note a couple of things about him and runs the risk of missing much. But I will say that he hosted a radio version of Doodlin’ Lounge for 29 years; that he actually owns no less than six Hammond organs, which are made available to organists performing in California; that he is the driving force behind the Jazz Organ Fellowship and the Doodlin’ Records label (which we will return to) and that he has been kind enough to allow me to reproduce his article on Freddie Roach here.

Without further ado, it’s time to hand over to this Master wordsmith and get the answers to some questions about FR and read some great comments from musicians who knew him. Select to read on. Some questions remain, particularly about FR as a writer and actor but Pete’s work reveals truth previous obscured by mystery.

There’s one more thing on this post. It’s about Freddie Roach, so here is some of his music. Nada Bossa From Mo’ Greens Please appears from YouTube courtesy of Funkgarciab

To listen click on or touch the arrow

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4 thoughts on “A breakthrough in the Freddie Roach story

  1. Hey there again. I found out that recently Pete Fallico unraveled even more pieces of the Freddie Roach puzzle, as he talked to his son. A great podcast: https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/doodlinlounge/episodes/2016-09-26T13_25_38-07_00. I remember finding your blog when searching for Freddie on the web. Really love Freddie Roach!

    Cheers, Francois

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    1. Francois, I'm very grateful to you for letting me know about Pete Fallico's podcast, which I just listened to. I'll write a post to give readers a full update over the next day or so. I'm absolutely delighted that one of Freddie's sons, Gregory Paton Roach, felt able to fill in the gaps and turn a mystery into a tale of a man who should be celebrated. Happy listening and keep up the great work at Flophouse Magazine.

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        1. Hi Francois, Once again, thanks for tipping me off re Pete Fallico's podcast. I've just published a new post about FR at: http://downwithit.info/2016/11/25/whatever-happened-to-freddie-roach/

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