Photos by Lou Montesano
Being a John Hammond fan is like being into vintage cars. Lots of newer models have come along, but there’s something about a classic that’s impossible to duplicate.
The Hammond family saga traces the arc of American music: from father John H. bringing jazz and blues to mainstream audiences to son John P. (occasionally mistakenly referred to as Junior), a performer capable of holding his own with the legends he grew up admiring. John Hammond the musician took his guitar on the road in the early 1960s and crossed paths with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson and other giants of the original blues scene. Rather than refining their raw sound the way so many rockers of the decade did, Hammond sought to master the blues as its creators intended it to be played. Hammond is a one-man blues band: finger-picking, strumming and slapping his guitar, wailing on harmonica and singing with full-throated joy.
Hammond shares his love of the blues as much through his stories as with his music. Working in a gas station outside of Chicago in his early twenties, Hammond met Big Joe Turner as the band was on its way to a gig. As young John pumped gas and admired the guitar gleaming on the back seat of the car, Turner asked, “Do you play, kid?” One can only imagine Hammond displaying the chops that had him opening for Big Joe that night.
Now, back home in New York and appearing at City Winery, Hammond walked the audience through a history of the blues. Blending original compositions like “You Know That’s Cold” and “Heartache Blues” with classics from Lightnin’ Slim, Blind Willie McTell and Sleepy John Estes, Hammond has clearly not lost any passion for what he does. Warm, gracious and genuine, he’s a living connection to the soul of American music.
Opening for John was Marcia Ball, another authentic performer who’s been at it nearly as long as Hammond. Born in Texas and raised in Louisiana, Marcia’s New Orleans-style piano and vocals combine elements of blues, zydeco and boogie woogie. She can rock and she can roll with original tunes like “Clean My House” and “We Fell Hard,” and her mournful cover of Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927” was straight from the heart.
Happily, John Hammond will be back at City Winery on September 12th with Jackie Greene.