Teenage boys in the 1950s were not that much different from now in at least one respect — risqué double-entendres usually made us snicker and dig an elbow into our friends’ sides. That might have helped explain why a relatively unknown keyboardist named Dave Cortez rocketed to the top of the charts in 1959 with a song called “The Happy Organ.” (Video below.)
Not that Cortez wasn’t talented — the Detroit native (whose real name was David Cortez Clowney) had spent most of the decade as a pianist and vocalist, first for an R&B group called Ember, and then for a very good one called the Pearls. But even though the band had a following, real success eluded him until the day he sat down to noodle around on a Hammond organ in the Clock Records studio. So the story goes, he’d lost his voice earlier so ended up recording a catchy and clever instrumental based on the old song “Shortnin’ Bread.”
When “The Happy Organ” began to climb the charts, Cortez was on tour with Little Anthony and the Imperials. It didn’t take long for the record company to pull him back and begin promoting him as a new star, and his record soon shot to number one on the pop charts.
Over the next couple of years Cortez followed up with a number of recordings, some on piano but mostly on organ. Included among them were obviously similar pieces such as “Whistling Organ” and “Organ Bounce,” but even though many of his tunes were infectious and fun, he didn’t have another real hit until 1962’s “Rinky Dink,” which did slip into the top ten.
Cortez’s only other recording success was “Someone Has Taken Your Place” in 1973, and he pretty much faded from the spotlight after that. There doesn’t appear to be much info about him in recent years but hopefully he’s still around — and still happy.
(Video no longer available from source, but I’ve added another version in the ‘comments’ below.)