Dave “Baby” Cortez was born David Cortez Clowney in Detroit, Michigan in 1938. He started playing the piano at a young age and became something of a prodigy. He wrote “The Happy Organ” with a different title, “A Dog and a Cat.” And the original song had lyrics, but when he sang the lyrics, it just didn’t work and so he dropped them. Without lyrics, there didn’t seem to be a melody and so, he made another change. He saw a Hammond organ sitting in the studio and thought, “Why not use an organ/”
So, “The Happy Organ” was born. When people first heard the song, they thought it sounded a like the classic American song “Shortnin’ Bread.” I had never thought of this myself, but now after reading about it, I can heard “Shortnin’ Bread” in my head when “The Happy Organ” is playing.
Dave started out as a session musician, playing piano and touring for many of the big groups of the late Fifties. He worked with people like Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Isley Brothers and Little Anthony and the Imperials. In fact, he was touring with Little Anthony when “The Happy Organ” was released.” He heard on the radio from a disc jockey that the song was headed for number one. After that he did not have to play with other groups, he was his own man and had his own group,
“The Happy Organ” was Dave Cortez’s first charting record. He would have only one more, “Rinky DinK” which hit number ten in 1962. Dave “Baby” Cortez is still alive at age 78 and the organ that was used to record “The Happy Organ” today sits in his father’s house (I’m not sure if he is still alive) in Detroit “gathering dust.”
“The Happy Organ” debuted on the pop chart on March 30, 1959 and spent just one week at number one, but it was enough to make history.