John Hammond

Date and Venue 26June 2008 @ 8pm | Capilano College Theatre, North Vancouver

Reviewer Patricia Fleming

Last Thursday’s performance was number 4,000; a milestone for John Hammond, in his singing/playing the blues and now song writing career that has spanned over three decades. Many critics have described him as a white Robert Johnson and the very intense evening at Capilano College Theatre, of vintage blues, with Hammond playing acoustic guitar, steel guitar and harmonica, plus story telling, validated their opinions for this reviewer.

Hammond, who owns a wonderfully intense vocal style, but has a very calm and relaxed stage presence, said he would play whatever he felt like, which would include a few of his own songs. In the past few years he has started to write, and in the first set we were treated to his own composition, “Heartache Blues,” “You Know That’s Cold” and “Come to Find Out”. The crowd loved Heartache Blues a tune with great acoustic chords and blasting harmonica.

He played eleven songs in that first half and switched back and forth from acoustic guitar to steel guitar. We loved “If things Don’t change” and an early Howlin Wolf number where his steel guitar riffs where great. “You know That’s Cold” one of his own songs, in a Robert Johnson vein, was a real rocker – very bluesy,

A Blind Willy McTell tune was soft and plaintive, and Hammond talked about working with Tom Waits a few years ago and how that collaboration had been critically and financially successful selling more CDs than any other of his previous work. He ended the first set with “Get Behind the Mule” (after numerous requests from the audience) and an old Jimmy Rodgers tune.

The second half of the concert was different. We experienced more of John Hammond the troubadour, who regaled us with tales of all the Blues/Folk legends he has worked with over the years. There was much story telling in between numbers as he has met and worked with most of the great bluesmen. A great opening story was his introduction, to musical great Hoyt Axton in LA in 1962, where, as a gas jockey at a Shell station, Hammond saw a Martin D 45 guitar on the seat of a Porsche, but didn’t know Axton was the owner; to make a long story short, Hoyt Axton got him his first job.

He played one of his own tunes, “Who knew you needed eyes behind your head,” written he said, à la Mose Allison, who has been a big influence on him.

He talked about the thrill of meeting Michael Bloomfield in Chicago in 1961 and being invited to play with Sonny Boy Williamson. He played a Big Joe Williamson number on his steel guitar, and it was a crowd favourite as was the Elmore James number “It Hurts me too”. Great guitar work and that interesting, intense voice.

He has toured a lot with Muddy Waters and played a great Waters tune. A real crowd pleaser. His last song was a Skip James tune but of course, he came back for an encore as the audience loved the music. The only downside to listening to John Hammond play and singing in a concert venue is that it’s hard to stay in your seat - you want to get up and boogie!

Hammond made himself available to meet and greet his audience – a great thrill for a couple of future 12 year old bluesmen who were there with their guitars for signing. It was a great night for blues lovers.

© 2008 Patricia Fleming