History of the Organ in Hockey
Pictured is the author/managing Editor of Blues Rants, Tim Hirsch with current Blues organist, Jeremy Boyer.
There have been many different stories written about the use of organ music at ice hockey games. I have read bits and pieces of those articles and will most likely repeat some of the same facts and stories here. But it is my goal to offer up something different than others have written before. My aim is to share some of the answers to questions that I have had regarding the St. Louis Blues organists over the course of my fandom.
I was fortunate to have met with current Blues organist, Jeremy Boyer last season (2018-19), and to have interviewed Kim Cramer Conway, daughter of the Blues’ famous original organist recently. It is from their answers to my questions and a bit of outside material that I have read, which I will use to compile my story.
We’ve all heard the organ played at the games. As the team gets ready to take the ice you hear the “bomp, bomp, bomp, bomp” and watch the video screen for those doors to open and the Blues to take the ice. After a goal by the home team you hear “When the Blues Go Marching In.” It’s widely accepted by Blues fans as the way it’s always been. If you go to a Blues game, you’re going to hear the organ.
A lot of my questions revolved around the early days and why the organ was the instrument of choice. For that, you have to go back to the very beginning, not to the Blues’ beginning, but the NHL’s beginning.
Apparently, it was our rivals to the north, the Chicago Blackhawks who first installed an organ when they opened the then-new Chicago Stadium in 1929. The stadium was huge, the crowds were huge, and they wanted an organ to match. It was big and provided enough sound to fill the stadium and inspire the crowd. Thus, the tradition began.
Blues Choose Their Man
When the St. Louis Blues joined the league in 1967, they hired a man named Norm Kramer to tickle the ivories and he put the organ on the map in the old arena.
Norm Kramer, the Blues original organist. (Louis Phillips/Post Dispatch photo)
Not only did he put organ playing on the map, but he also established some traditions that are still used today. For example: “The goal song,” as its known today is the song, “When The Saints Go Marching In.” Mr. Kramer got the idea to play that song when Frank St. Marseilles scored a goal. It was a novel idea for the times, considering how players in other sports now have their “walk-up” songs.
Anyway, Mr. Kramer would play that song after a St. Marseilles goal and the crowd started singing along. The Solomons, owners of the Blues at the time, liked it so much that they insisted that he play it after every Blues goal. Tradition established.
“To hear an entire arena, 19,000 plus fans signing a song directly about the team, gives you chills.” Kramer’s daughter, Kim Kramer Conway told me recently. “The players heard it and it was a feeling that was indescribable.”
To back up what Kim told me, Barclay Plager once said, “to hear the fans sing When the Blues Go Marching In would make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.”
Blues head coach in the early years, Scotty Bowman thought Kramer’s influence in the arena was so significant that it was worth half a goal per game. It turned out to be a statement that created some controversy regarding Kramer’s pay. The statement also caused Kramer to be recruited by other teams. Who wouldn’t want an organist that could get you an additional half goal per game?
When the NHL All-Star game was held in St. Louis in 1970, some of the league owners argued that it would give the Western Conference team an unfair advantage if Kramer were allowed to play. Sid Salmon III, the Blues owner said, “It’s an All-Star game and he is an All-Star organist.”
Kramer stayed with the Blues through the ’72-73 season, and came back midseason in the ’74-75 season and stayed through the end of the ’76-77 season.
INTERVIEW WITH KRAMER’S DAUGHTER, KIM KRAMER CONWAY
I asked Kramer Conway about some of her memories regarding the games. Here are some of her responses.
BR: Did your dad take you to the games? If so, what are some of your favorite memories?
KKC: Yes, I went to almost all of the games from the time I was 7 until I was 17. So many memories, but by far the crowd singing the goal song along with the organ is the best. The atmosphere back then was electric. The interaction with my dad’s organ playing was something I will never forget.
BR: Is it true that he used the statement by Scotty Bowman to negotiate for more pay?
KKC: I remember that he had a couple of other offers to play for different teams, but he ended up staying in St. Louis and did negotiate a better deal, partly because of Bowman’s belief in his value to the team. In other articles, some have stated that he demanded too much money and that is what led to him not staying with the Blues. However, it was actually the selling of the franchise to Ralston Purina in 1977 that led to his demise. From what I remember, Ralston informed him of what he would be paid per game and being a union musician, it was under scale so my dad declined to come back.
BR: What would you like to see happen with the use of the organ today?
KKC: Give the organist more time to play the “Goal Song.” Slow it down a bit and let him repeat it so after the celebration of the goal is over, maybe people will be able to sing along. Maybe the singing of it would catch on again. It seems that when young marketers come into their positions, they are quick to want to change things. It has been apparent through the years in St. Louis that the fans want the organ AND the goal song to stay. It’s a tradition established in 1967. Let it be.
BR: Is there anything you’ve seen that isn’t accurate about the organ and the songs your dad played in the early years?
KKC: Yes. Periodically, people will post on social media that they remember when the goal song was played as the Blues took the ice and everyone would sing along and clap. To set the record straight, the goal song was only played when the Blues scored a goal or during the game, dad might play it to get the crowd going. There is a video online that shows the Blues taking the ice and the crowd singing ‘When the Blues Go Marching In,’ and clapping. But, if you look closely they aren’t clapping to the beat of the music and they aren’t singing. Someone has dubbed the audio over the video, and it is not accurate.
I was there and I can tell you that he always opened and closed with Mr. Lucky. It was his theme song as he said he was the luckiest man in the world to be playing for the Blues. He also played “Three Blind Mice” when the officials took the ice. One of them took offense and he later changed it to the theme song from the Three Stooges.
OLDER FOOTAGE FEATURING THE GOAL SONG
INTERVIEW WITH CURRENT ORGANIST, JEREMY BOYER
Current Blues organist, Jeremy Boyer has been playing the organ since he was 11. He’s been with the Blues since 2008. After Kramer, Ernie Hays played for almost 20 years. He was well-known in St. Louis also playing for the Cardinals for a long time. There were then two other organists for a short time after Hays and prior to Jeremy.
Jeremy took some lessons from Ernie Hays and says he enjoyed every minute of it. He’s friends with Ernie’s family as well as the Kramer family. “Both are like an extended family to my wife and me,” Boyer said.
We asked him some questions last season (2018-19) prior to the Stanley Cup about his time with the Blues.
BR: Tell us what a game day is like for you. How long do you have to stay after the games? You probably can’t leave early if the team isn’t playing well.
JB: I have to be at Enterprise Center two hours and fifteen minutes before the game for a pre-game production meeting. I definitely don’t get to leave early. I usually don’t get home after a 7 PM game until around 11 PM.
BR: The PA announcer, Tom Calhoun has quite an ‘iron man’ streak going without missing any games. Have you missed any games? Is there a backup plan if you can’t make it?
JB: I had never missed a game that I was scheduled to play until this year. I missed one game this season (18-19) because I was inducted into the inaugural class of my high school’s Hall of Fame. It was a very special honor for me and I didn’t want to miss it. Thankfully, our two DJ’s were able to cover the few things I play for one game. No one will match Tom’s record, but missing only one game in 12 seasons is still pretty good.
BR: Do you ever get to meet players or coaches?
JB: I see the players and alumni all the time. However, I usually let them do their thing and I try to fly under the radar. I did have the fortune of running into the Great One, Wayne Gretzky during my second season. He was still the coach of the Phoenix Coyotes at the time. He was getting out of a cab when I was coming into the security entrance. I decided to wait for him. When he came through I asked if he would care to take a photo with me. He was very kind and said yes. I asked a young concession worker walking past to take the photo. He agreed but on one condition. I had to tell him who I wanted my picture with. Gretzky said, “I’m Brett Hull. It’s nice to meet you.” The kid took the photo and never knew the difference.
BR: Do you have a current favorite player or all-time favorite?
JB: My favorite current player is Jordan Binnington! I love what he’s done for this team. Of course, growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, it was Brett Hull who really got me hooked on hockey. Chris Pronger was another all-time favorite too.
BR: Are you a big hockey fan? Do you get excited when they score? (His reaction to a goal in the video below will answer that question)
JB: I am a big hockey fan. I’ve watched Blues hockey since I was a young kid and always love to fire up the organ when they score. As you can see in the video below. Coincidentally, that was the same day I met Gretzky and whose team we had just scored on! LOL!
BR: Why do you think the use of the organ is so prevalent in hockey? What do you think is so special about it compared to some other instrument or recorded music?
JB: I feel the organ is prevalent because it is capable of so many things and can convey a wide range of emotions. It’s the king of instruments and is capable of producing soft sounds and also thunderous, earth-shaking sound. The thing that is most special about organ music is that each organ and organist are unique. When you have organists who have been in a city for a long time, you can identify where a game is being played by the organ music if you watch enough hockey. I could play the same song as 4 or 5 other organists around the league and we would each likely have a different sound. Conversely, a recording of a song is going to sound exactly the same in every NHL, MLB, NBA or any other venue. The organ brings uniqueness and an ability to connect and interact with people on an emotional and personal way that canned music just can’t do.
Although the use of the organ has changed throughout the years, it’s still been a part of hockey since the early days and probably will always be a part of it. We have a great tradition of amazing organists in St. Louis. They add a lot to the experience of watching a hockey game and have contributed to many of our great hockey memories. Next time you’re at the game and you hear the organ maybe you’ll think of all those who have played and the one who is playing now. We appreciate what they’ve given to St. Louis Blues hockey.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to Kim and Jeremy for taking the time to speak with me. It was a pleasure meeting each of you and learning about the great tradition we have in St. Louis. Thanks also to the Blues organization for allowing me access to Jeremy.