Born: November 13, 1942 in New York NY
Born the son of noted label A&R legend John H. Hammond, Jr. and a descendent of the Vanderbilt family, it might seem strange that John P. Hammond (not "Junior" as some have labeled him) would become a bluesman. Although he didn't grow up with his father, he did spend time with him, and the influence of the man who discovered talents like Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Ray Vaughan and promoted artists like Billie Holiday and Robert Johnson certainly had a hand in the younger Hammond's career choice.
Although he began his career following in the footsteps of the legendary Robert Johnson, performing blues standards of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s with his acoustic guitar, Hammond has since become a respected elder statesman of the blues, credited with keeping the flame alive for his favored country-blues style and renewing interest in the work of early-era blues artists from the Mississippi Delta and the Piedmont region. With almost three-dozen albums under his belt, Hammond has forged a distinctive career and a body of work that rivals that of his musical idols.
Singing Country Blues
Hammond began playing guitar and harmonica while in high school by listening to old blues records, especially those of Robert Johnson. After witnessing Jimmy Reed perform at the Apollo, the die was cast...Hammond would become a blues artist. After attending Antioch College in Ohio for a year, Hammond returned to New York City to play acoustic country blues music on the coffeehouse circuit. By 1962 he had built up a significant following, and would sign a contract with Vanguard Records.
Delivering raw, energetic covers of classic blues material, Hammond was perfectly situated to take advantage of the early-1960s interest in folk-blues artists that would make stars of talents like the Rev. Gary Davis, Skip James, and Mississippi John Hurt. Hammond's self-titled debut album for Vanguard was released in 1963, shortly after his acclaimed performance at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival, while a tour of England would expand his audience in the U.K. The albums came quickly, and Hammond recorded Big City Blues and Country Blues both in 1964.
Going Electric With Hendrix
Using his hometown of New York City as a base, Hammond's sound would occasionally include forays into electric-blues. When guitarist Jimi Hendrix came to town looking for a job in 1966, it was Hammond who hired him for his band, and encouraged him to pursue stardom in England when Hendrix was approached by Chas Chandler of the Animals with a management and production deal. In 1965, Hammond would record So Many Roads with harmonica wizard Charlie Musselwhite and future members of the Band Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson, and Levon Helm, who would also accompany Hammond on 1967's Mirrors.
While Hammond would take advantage of the thriving folk and blues festival scene of the late 1960s and early-70s, he would continue to expand his sound. Traveling to Muscle Shoals, Alabama in 1969, Hammond recorded Southern Fried, a collection of blues and R&B that included a Chuck Berry cover, with musicians like guitarists Duane Allman, Eddie Hinton, and Jimmy Johnson. In 1973, Hammond would be paired by his label with keyboardist Dr. John and guitarist Mike Bloomfield in the short-lived blues-rock trio Triumvirate, a collaboration that resulted in one album with mixed returns.
Return To Acoustic
After recording a lone album for Capricorn Records, 1975's Can't Beat The Kid, Hammond would return to his acoustic blues roots. 1978's Footwork, recorded with pianist Roosevelt Sykes, marked a reunion with Vanguard Records, while Hammond would scratch his blues-rock itch the following year with Hot Tracks, recorded with roots-rockers the Nighthawks. Throughout the 1980s, Hammond would record sporadically, usually with a small band. At the dawn of the 1990s, however, he would experience a career revival after signing with the newly-formed, blues-oriented Virgin Records imprint Point Blank Records.
Hammond's debut album for Pointblank, 1992's Got Love If You Want It, was produced by J.J. Cale, Hammond backed by members of Chicago blues favorites Little Charlie & the Nightcats. The legendary John Lee Hooker, also signed to Pointblank at this point, would make a guest appearance. Hammond's subsequent Point Blank releases would see him once again recording with the Nightcats as well as with talents like guitarists Duke Robillard and Roy Rogers, as well as pianist Mitch Woods.
Hammond was still rolling strong into the new millennium, the handful of Point Blank albums cementing his place in the blues firmament and winning him a new audience. Paying homage to his friend, songwriter Tom Waits, Hammond recorded Wicked Grin, a collection of Waits' songs, in 2001.The critically-acclaimed album would become one of Hammond's best selling efforts and won praise for its unusual slant on Waits' unique music.
Hammond has never done more than dabble in songwriting, usually including no more than a single original song amidst the classic covers he performs on record. Working with producer/musician G. Love for 2007's Push Comes To Shove, however, he explores his songwriting chops with fair results, delivering five originals alongside covers of Junior Wells, Little Walter, Tom Waits, and Dion Dimucci songs. The live Rough & Tough, released in 2009, would earn Hammond his second Grammy Award nomination.
Recommended Albums: With three-dozen albums under his belt over the past 45+ years, choosing the "best" John Hammond album is a futile exercise. Acoustic blues fans would enjoy any of Hammond's early recordings that remain in print, while those who enjoy a more electric blues sound would be well-served by Long As I Have You. Those who are looking for a more adventuresome and experimental blues sound should check out Wicked Grin while anybody that just wants a solid live performance would find Hammond in fine form on Rough & Tough.
John Hammond – Select Discography
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- John Hammond (Vanguard Records, 1963)
- Big City Blues (Vanguard Records, 1964)
- Country Blues (Vanguard Records, 1964)
- So Many Roads (Vanguard Records, 1965)
- Mirrors (Vanguard Records, 1967)
- I Can Tell (Atlantic Records, 1967)
- Sooner Or Later (Atlantic Records, 1968)
- Southern Fried (Atlantic Records, 1969)
- Source Point (Columbia Records, 1971)
- I'm Satisfied (Columbia Records, 1972)
- Triumvirate (Columbia Records, 1973)
- Can't Beat The Kid (Capricorn Records, 1975)
- John Hammond Solo (Vanguard Records, 1976)
- Footwork (Vanguard Records, 1978)
- Hot Tracks (Vanguard Records, 1979)
- Mileage (Rounder Records, 1980)
- Frogs For Snakes (Rounder Records, 1982)
- John Hammond Live (Rounder Records, 1983)
- Nobody But You (Flying Fish Records, 1988)
- Got Love If You Want It (Pointblank Records, 1992)
- Trouble No More (Pointblank Records, 1993)
- Found True Love (Pointblank Records, 1996)
- Long As I Have You (Pointblank Records, 1998)
- Wicked Grin (Pointblank Records, 2001)
- Ready For Love (Back Porch Records, 2003)
- In Your Arms Again (Back Porch Records, 2005)
- Push Comes To Shove (Back Porch Records, 2007)
- Rough & Tough (Chesky Records, 2009)
- Timeless (Palmetto Records