Although well regarded by aficionados of space age pop, Hammond organ virtuoso Eddie Layton was even more beloved by visitors to the House That Ruth Built, serving close to four decades as the official organist at baseball's landmark Yankee Stadium. Born October 19, 1925, in Philadelphia, Layton studied music as a child, but majored in meteorology in college. After enlisting in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he first encountered the Hammond in a Naval air station in Linhurst, NJ, and his fate was sealed. After the war Layton studied under the legendary theater pipe organist Jesse Crawford while working the theater circuit himself, eventually landing a steady gig at Radio City Music Hall. From there he worked at CBS, first in radio and later in television -- Layton was also on the Hammond payroll for over 50 years, touring music stores around the world to demonstrate their organs. (By his own estimate, he visited and performed in over 700 stores on five continents.) Inevitably, Layton became a recording artist as well, signing to Mercury to release a series of jazzy easy listening LPs, including Organ Moods, No Blues on This Cruise, and Better Layton Than Never.
In 1967, two years after CBS purchased the New York Yankees, Layton was offered the chance to serve as the ballpark's organist. Knowing nothing about baseball and unable to drive back and forth to the team's 81 annual home games, he initially turned down the invitation, but Yankee brass responded by promising that a limousine would drive him to and from the stadium each day. Layton finally agreed, and was first asked to play only between innings; during one Yankee loss, however, he pulled out the old military trumpet call "Charge!," and the galvanizing melody was such a hit with fans and execs that he earned a raise the following day, with instructions to play at various times throughout the game. He originated several other now-common ballpark musical cues in the decades to follow, among them "The Mexican Hat Dance." Ya Gotta Have Heart, Layton's final album, features many of his greatest Yankee Stadium hits. During the 1970s, he also agreed to provide accompaniment for the NBA's Knicks and the NHL's Rangers before whittling his schedule exclusively to the Yankees. He retired from the team in 2003, passing away in New York City on December 24, 2004. ~ Jason Ankeny