All photos by Mark J. Smith
It has been said that John Hammond is a great force of nature, and sounds like a big train coming at you. Well, having seen him live, I can tell you that it’s true, but that his performance style showcases the flip side of his personality as well: his stage presence is that of a true gentleman. Speaking quietly, just slightly above a whisper, Hammond tells riveting stories that you might expect to hear from a legendary bluesman. The audience was so into hearing him speak, you could hear a pin drop. Hammond would tell a story about time with Michael Bloomfield, Tom Waits, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, or many of the other blues greats, and the story would lead into a song– usually one of theirs. Then he would totally rip it up. He even told how Hoyt Axton and his Martin D45 helped him get his first gig in Los Angeles.
Hammond has been recording and playing live for over fifty years, and in that time he has created a niche for himself that is completely his own: the solo guitar man, harmonica slung in a rack around his neck, reinterpreting classic blues songs from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. Boy does he sound great doing just that. His guitar playing is superb– using both an acoustic and a vintage National Reso-Phonic guitar, his fingering and slide work is incredible. Not to mention, his harmonica work is there with the best blues harmonica playing I have ever heard. Hammond has been described as a white Robert Johnson, and he certainly has the voice, power and skill to carry off playing the blues of and along with the greatest. Close your eyes and you might think you are in the Mississippi Delta… unless of course he’s playing some old-school Chicago blues.
I am not going to go into his playlist, because anything can happen at a John Hammond concert as he selects tunes from his vast repertoire like buckets of water from a well. Ok, I stole that line, but it is true. Black, White, Delta, Chicago, Hendrix, Clapton, even Philly’s own G Love, John Hammond makes it happen with feeling. You might say he is always on tour, so check out his schedule. If you like the blues, John Hammond is truly one of the great artists singing and playing today.
– Mark J. Smith