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Thread: Leslie, speaker inventor, dies at 93

  1. #1
    Senior Member Steve's Avatar
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    Apr 2003

    Leslie, speaker inventor, dies at 93

    In case it was missed.

    One of the speakers that is still on my list to own....someday.
    One of the great speaker inventions....
    In my opinion.


    "Device gave organ music new sound"

    By Marshall Allen, Staff Writer

    ALTADENA -- Donald James Leslie invented the speaker that made the Hammond organ famous in jazz, blues and rock 'n' roll music, but the instrument's creator never appreciated his contribution.

    Leslie, who had more than 50 patents in his name, died Thursday night at his Altadena home. He was 93.

    The Hammond B-3 is still heard every day on the radio in rock 'n' roll songs like "You Shook Me" by Led Zeppelin and "Smokin" by Boston. Jazz greats like Joey DeFrancesco also highlight the organ's sound.

    But according to Bob Mitchell, 91, who has been a professional organist since 1924, the Hammond sound was originally only good for church music and comedy. The Hammond was missing vibrato when it was introduced in 1935, Mitchell said.

    When Laurens Hammond introduced his organ it sounded a "perfect electronic tone," said Jim Leslie, 40, one of Donald Leslie's sons. The sound was dull, shrill and still, he said.

    Mitchell recalls that he was working as a staff organist at KHJ radio in Los Angeles in 1937, when Donald Leslie introduced him to his invention, now known as the Leslie Speaker. The speaker had a distinctive "heart-throb sound," a vibrato that a pipe organ also featured, Mitchell said.

    "He revolutionized the electronic organ," making it possible to use for entertainment, Mitchell said. "He was certainly a wonderful genius."

    The speakers were unique because they projected sound into two rotating horns, one for treble, another for bass. The rotating horns could spin at slow or fast speeds and caused sound to be projected 360 degrees.

    Leslie offered to sell his speakers to Hammond, but the organ maker refused.

    "Hammond was very personal about his invention of the Hammond organ and he didn't want any outsider fiddling with the sound," Jim Leslie said.

    In the mid-1940s, Leslie started his own company in Pasadena, Electro Music, and began selling his speakers. Leslie and Hammond's inventions had a symbiotic relationship. The Leslie Speaker was designed to be used with the Hammond organ, but the items were sold separately.

    Hammond tried to shake the connection, Jim Leslie recalled. He installed speaker connections that were incompatible with Leslie speakers, which Leslie then matched. And Hammond did not allow his dealers to sell Leslie Speakers, Jim Leslie said.

    Hammond's attempts to ditch Leslie only made the speakers more popular, Jim Leslie said. Leslie never had to advertise.

    "Everybody loved it and they wanted the Leslie speaker along with the Hammond."

    Leslie sold his company to CBS in 1965 and stayed on as a consultant until his retirement in 1980.

    It was not until 1978, after the death of Laurens Hammond, that the Hammond company honored Leslie's contribution, Jim Leslie said.

    Leslie also was a pilot and held patents for radio control of model trains and control and chlorination systems for swimming pools.

    Leslie also is survived by his wife of 50 years, Carolyn, 73; a son, Scott, 47; a daughter, Jeanine Sherlock, 48; and six grandchildren.

  2. #2
    Senior Seņor boputnam's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2003
    northern california



    Thanks for posting that. I was not otherwise aware.

    The Leslie is one of the formative sounds of R&B, and R&R, but most (and I mean most...) listeners have no idea what it is until you point it out to them. The texture and emphasis added by playing the Hammond-Leslie combo proper cannot be understated. Santana's sound, as well as early (and late...) Grateful Dead, Blind Faith and Traffic (Steve Winwood), Aretha, Cream, Allmans, current Rolling Stones (Chuck Leavell), etc. would have much less dynamics and complexity without that Leslie sound.

    The sound has never been well emulated - I've tried the Hughes-Kettner downstream footpedals, and as soundguy have lived through all the on-board iterations that Korg, Yamaha and others can engineer - poorly (IMO). The closest I've found is Motion Sound's products. I personally use the Pro-3T and Low-Pro in combo with a Hammond XB3, but the cabinets are second to the Leslie.

    Luckily, there are sufficient faithful that haul around B3's and Leslies to treat us audience to the "right" sound. They are commited to the mainenance and back strain - they know the importance of the real thing.

    Thanks, to DJLeslie, and his following.

    "Indeed, not!!"

  3. #3
    Senior Moment Member Oldmics's Avatar
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    Apr 2003
    Between Venus and Mars

    Bo Says

    "Luckily, there are sufficient faithful that haul around B3's and Leslies to treat us audience to the "right" sound."

    The Beatles "Let It Be" Hammond sound comes right to mind.

    Personally,I would help haul a Leslie and a B3 any day of the week!!!

    Usually if a guy has that gear- He can play.

    And for yet another treat - Plug a guitar into one as proven by Jimi on "Little Wing", Clapton on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and George Harrison on "Here Comes The Sun"

    Yes Mr.Leslie-Thank You

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2003
    New York City
    Sorry to hear of his death. Had 3-Leslie's at one time, 2 with JBL2482, it could kill you, beautiful sound as loud as you could want. Only have 1 original stock 147 and B3 now. If Einstein ever heard one I'm sure he would have appreciated it and the theory behind it. The two rotating horns that are driven by compression driver, one is a dummy, no sound, for rotational balance. General music, like from a pre-amp, properly coupled(input not like hi-fi amp) same thing really, does not sound very good, not it's intended purpose.
    Last edited by Lawrence HF; 09-08-2004 at 08:30 PM.

  5. #5
    Junior Member
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    Mar 2008


    I hauled one of the B3's and a Leslie for 3 years but couldn't play it. Setting up and tearing down was a chore but enjoyed the music.

  6. #6
    Senior Member JBLRaiser's Avatar
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    Jan 2006
    Columbus, Ga.

    Not a true Leslie, but.......

    Quote Originally Posted by roadiemanchild View Post
    I hauled one of the B3's and a Leslie for 3 years but couldn't play it. Setting up and tearing down was a chore but enjoyed the music.

    it's a fun piece of gear. A '67 Fender Vibratone. Based on a Leslie model 16.
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