Don Shinn’s Light Ceased To Shine

Don Shinn might have never been referred to in the same breath and with such reverence as Brian Auger, yet the former used to be as adept on Hammond organ and other ivories as the latter. However, even though Shinn was up with the best of them, he allowed himself to get overshadowed by peers, and while his light has shone brightly for decades, Shinn’s passing on February 18th at the age of 77 didn’t register with too many a listener.

The late keyboard player came to prominence as part of THE SOUL AGENTS, a tight rhythm-and-blues unit that not only frequently backed Rod Stewart but also pitched proto-prog in their stage performances, and quite a few of Don’s concert antics adopted by Keith Emerson – who replaced Shinn’s screwdrivers with knives as his public-impressing weapon of choice – before briefly forming a combo called SHINN that saw Paul Newton and Brian Davison – who would in time join, respectively, URIAH HEEP and THE NICE – and then joining THE ECHOES to tour with Dusty Springfield. All this experience led to a solo contract with Columbia and a couple of brilliant platters issued under Shinn’s own name: “Temples With Prophets” and “Departures” – both instrumental efforts.

Then, there were sessions – and Don’s various ivories are well heard on several songs of James Taylor’s self-titled debut LP, on “Past Orbits Of Dust” from RENAISSANCE’s "Illusion" and other records of cult appeal, like IGUANA’s eponymous album – and, of course, DADA, the ensemble where the great Paul Korda exercised his talent and Elkie Brooks started to turn into a star. Still, if co-penning material for their first longplay and playing with them after Robert Palmer had come on board, slimming down the line-up for what would become known as VINEGAR JOE didn’t sit well with Don, and he quit. More so, he quit the music business for good and moved to Norway in 1974 – to return to England, due to family situation, in 1995, but not to the studio, preferring performing live to recording for the rest of his life.

Unsung hero, Don Shinn deserves to be warmly remembered.

March 8, 2023

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