TAMPA — It all started at a dive bar in Riverview.
Former television newsman Murv Seymour went to hear friend Shawn Brown perform his magic on a bulky, two-layered Hammond B3 organ and was blown away.
“He was working his feet, singing up a storm and moving in all kinds of directions. He had pretty much morphed in to an octopus,” Seymour recalls. “And that’s the first time it came to me: This is a pretty cool instrument.”
First designed for churches as an alternative to high-ticket pipe organs, the Hammond got its exposure to the rest of the music world when a guy named Jimmy Smith took it into nightclubs. Now the 425-pound “Beast,” as it’s called, has worked its way into nearly every genre: gospel, jazz, blues, rock, country, reggae.
And it has a familiar sound heard in countless venues, from Bruce Springsteen concerts to skating rinks and TV commercials.
His reporter’s curiosity got the best of him. Seymour wanted to know more about this instrument and the musicians who made it great. He approached colleague Joe Bamford, a cameraman who worked with him at WFLA-TV and WTSP-TV in Tampa. How about we do a documentary on this instrument? he posed.
Bamford didn’t hesitate, though he admits that back then, “I couldn’t have picked an organ sound out of a lineup.” The two always worked well together when it came to developing a story. How could this be so different?
Turns out, producing a documentary is a world of difference from a two-minute television package.
“I’m thinking, oh, maybe this will take us about two years,” Seymour says. He was off by about seven years.
After extensive research, production on their self-funded “Killer B3” project began in 2005. It was completed shortly before its premiere at the 2013 Gasparilla International Film Festival. And their friendship is still strong as ever.
They agree it’s been an exhaustive and exhilarating journey. And they did it while maintaining their paying jobs — Bamford is a freelance cameraman, Seymour is a life skills coach with a prison diversion program and a stand-up comic. Now that the film is making the rounds at festivals, they can reflect on memories that will last a lifetime.
Among them: Seymour writing the script while working on a cruise ship; traveling to more than a dozen cities to shoot more than 140 hours of content; and raising more than $11,000 in funds through the Kickstarter website.
“I’ve never cried tears from happiness until then,” Seymour says. “All the support we’ve gotten is so incredibly humbling. If we had any doubts this instrument had a worldwide following, they were erased.” Even a fan from Beirut ordered one of their fundraising T-shirts.
Besides donations, he estimates he and Bamford invested as much as $45,000 of their own money to make “Killer B3.”
Three of the four subjects they interviewed for the film have since died. And a fourth — the legendary Jimmy Smith — died before they were able to nail down the interview. He does, however, appear in the documentary through archived film clips.
“This just told us what we thought in the beginning: that someone needed to tell this story before it was too late,” Bamford says. “This was never about us making money. It was about creative fulfillment and preservation of something very cool.”
Of the five film festivals where it’s played, it has picked up three honorable mentions. On Thursday, “Killer B3” opens the Tampa Bay Blues Festival with a screening at The Palladium in St. Petersburg, followed by a Hammond concert featuring Shawn Brown and Tony Monaco, who both are in the film.
“That’s the direction we want to take it,” Seymour says. “Watch the film, then hear the organ live. What better way to introduce it to people?”