R.I.P. Bobby Hebb

bobby hebb

Although the organ lessons I took at the Yamaha School turned out to be valuable – I could never have taken up the accordion and reaped its benefits without them – they were a dreadful experience at the time. I liked the instrument and didn’t have any issues with the teachers; I just hated the music. The tunes Yamaha licensed for lessons back in the eighties were a mix of some of the blandest “adult contemporary” pop to come out of the sixties and seventies, copyright-free traditional songs that any beginning guitar player who’s suffered through a Mel Bay lesson book will recognize and the “Largo” movement from Dvorak’s New World Symphony, which every organ lesson book seems obliged to ruin with a cheeseball arrangement. Adding to this misery was the book for the upcoming year’s lessons: the Barry Manilow songbook, featuring 16 of his “hits”.

In my three years at the Yamaha School, I studied only a few good songs, one of which was Bobby Hebb’s soul classic, Sunny. A song that Hebb described as being about having “a sunny disposition over a lousy disposition”, many music critics believe that it was written in response to a couple of events in late 1963 that affected him deeply: the assassination of President Kennedy and the death of his brother. Sunny’s success led to his becoming an opening act for the Beatles when they toured in 1966.

Sunny is a timeless song that’s equal parts pop, R&B and jazz, and just begs to be covered on the organ. I played it during my last organ recital before quitting the Yamaha School, adding an extended break where I dropped the bass pedals and lower manual, set the drum machine to play jazz rock fills and improvised on the upper manual with the Leslie effect kicked into high gear, riffing with licks I stole from Jimmy Smith. That deviation from the sheet music, along with the stunt I pulled with the next number (Barry Manilow’s Weekend in New England, a story for another day) annoyed my teacher to no end and got me kicked out of the program.

Everyone has covered Sunny:

Jamiroquai almost always include it in their live shows. Here’s a particularly nice rendition with Jay Kay from Jamiroquai on vocals and Squeeze’s Jools Holland on piano:

Here are Pat Martino and John Scofield, tearin’ it up jazz style, with Joey DeFrancesco on the mighty B3:

I’m glad to see that even the young folks like Sunny:

And not even Boney M. can ruin the song, try as they might:

Bobby, for Sunny, and its valuable lessons of optimism and knowing when to throw away the rulebook, I thank you. Requiescat in pace.

3 replies on “R.I.P. Bobby Hebb”

Funny. This song went *completely* under my radar for the first 40 years of my life, even though it’s right up my alley. I had never heard it until a couple days ago. Ever.

It is a good one, although I have to say that the truck driver’s gear changes through the original are a little cheesy.

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