Thursday, November 16, 2006

John Hammond - American Masterpiece

Back to music - I had the great, great opportunity to spend time with John Hammond. Not only is he a tremendous talent, inspiring player and heartfelt singer but he works pretty damn hard on stage. His foot stomping blues picking, slide shredding, harmonica wailing is a time machine back to the authentic days of Sonny Boy Williamson, Willie Dixon, Melvin Jackson and Blind Boy Fuller. Never heard of those guys? That's okay John Hammond is not the type to lord that over you. He just wants to share their music and lyrics as the legacy of knowledge and power it is and present it authentically.

Well what do I mean by authentically, note for note? Nope. More like from the heart. It doesn’t get anymore authentic than that. We are speaking true love here people, true love of his craft, of the performers that went before, and of playing.

John Hammond is a must see. I've played his music on the air before but never saw him perform. Let me tell you I will never listen to his music the same way again. His live performance enhances his recordings three hundred fold. You get an understanding, a clearer understanding of what the John Hammond experience is all about. I was fortunate enough to sit twenty feet away - right down front in a cozy listening room and just was amazed at the energy and passion he brought to bear on the audience. Touring and recording for almost 35 years you might have thought this was his first gig. Even to a small crowd he let us have all that he had to offer. I got the feeling that this is how he would have played for one person. In fact that may be the point; John Hammond loves what he does so much that he just closes his eyes and plays transporting himself and those lucky enough to be there back to (not in time) but back to the vibe (complete and intact) of the rawest of blues, piedmont or otherwise.

Versatile, informed, educated and a man who bore witness to the 60's revival of the Country Blues tradition John Hammond met, studied and experienced the originators of the blues. John is an American treasure and living history book, a re-enactor who makes the blues his own. In so doing lays his own claim to authenticity that can not be denied. On top of all that he is a wonderfully unassuming guy, a complete gentleman, soft spoken and wise. I witnessed him nurture the 21 year old opening act taking time to converse as an equal to this young man. The poor guy was obviously stunned and intimidated to be opening for John Hammond. I learned a lot from watching John and how he handled himself as the elder statesman of the blues in his own right. He spent ample time with everyone sincerely conversing about our collective passions and histories. He actively listened and that may be the key to his success, and why he can stand in the shoes so accurately of those who went before him. It is his ability to listen actively and see things from your point of view. It's a skill in short supply these days.

On that note new recordings (his back catalouge is enormous) of John's that are worth listening to and buying include: Wicked Grin where he sits down with Tom Waitts and records Tom's material by blending the blues folk style with whatever the hell you call what Tom is doing (New Orleans Wash Tub Street Jazz and Fog Horn, Mumble Grunge) (Hey I gave it a shot). Another current disc recorded with Little Charlie and the Night Cats bounces and rocks right along and I think I like it better than Wicked Grin. It is called Long as I Have You and has been living in my CD player this week. There's an album that he did with Duke Robillard called Found True Love that is on my buy list. Other favorites include Frogs for Snakes, I Can Tell and So Many Roads. He also did the Matewan Soundtrack (great movie). John Hammond is all that is right in this Country. Check his schedule and go listen to him play his blues!

Hey Kennedy Center I have another nomination for you – get with the program already!

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