Acoustic Blues Musician John Hammond to play in Harrisburg, PA February 24, 2013

TJohnHammondConsidered one of the world’s premier acoustic blues artists, John Hammond was a 1985 Grammy Award winner and has been nominated an addition six times in the past 20 years. In 2011 he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

During career spanning more than half a century, John Hammond has performed or recorded with Jimi Hendrix (discovered while playing in John’s band), Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Duane Allman, Mike Bloomfield, JJ Cale, Tom Waits, The Band, John Lee Hooker, Dr. John and many more.

John Hammond will perform in concert Sunday, February 24, 2013 at 4:00 pm at the Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron St in Harrisburg, PA. Ticket are $30 General Admission, $26 BSCP Members, $10 Students and are available here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/303040

I had a chance to chat with John about the blues, his career and what his life is like now.

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FOLKMAMA: Have you ever played in Harrisburg, PA before?

HAMMOND: I did. I played a show with Buddy Guy, probably about five years ago or so. It was in an old, really beautiful theater. (The Forum?) And I had a great show. And it turns out that it was the 4,000th show that I played for the agency that books me, so it was a big deal.

FOLKMAMA: I’m curious about this Mid Atlantic tour (i.e. a current tour sponsored in part by the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation). How has it turned out for you and where have you been?

HAMMOND:  I’ve been all over the Mid-Atlantic; Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania. It’s been really wonderful; nice theatres and nice audiences. I’ve enjoyed it very much.

FOLKMAMA: Has it been all solo work for you?

HAMMOND: Yes. I would say 99% of my shows are solo. It’s only on occasion that I’ll put a band together.

FOLKMAMA: I’d like to talk about the genre of blues music with you. I think of it as a little bit like opera or poetry; it really catches you in the gut but to gain a broader appreciation of it, you really need to understand where it comes from. For the uninitiated, I’m wondering if you can give us a little “primer” of what the blues are all about.

HAMMOND: Well you know it’s hard to describe in words a musical genre that has evolved so much. Basically, blues started to be recorded in the early 20s and there were artists like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Bessie Smith that got recorded and sold a lot of recordings so it made a genre that was pretty obscure more visible. There were artists in the 30s especially that became virtuoso players, artists like Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Son House, Willie Brown and Blind Willie McTell. Songwriters…and just outrageous guitar players. So they set a standard. When the electric guitar was invented in the mid thirties it sort of brought the blues into its next phase. Now you have a bass and drums and a piano. A new blues style developed in Chicago—the Chicago blues. Artists like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters who had come from the early country blues reality moved to the big city, put bands together and set a whole new level of what blues is all about.

I’ve remain sort of in that place between country blues and the big city blues. I still play the old style but I have recorded with bands over the years and dabbled in that Chicago sound. I think the very basics of the blues is that it always has its finger on the pulse of the human condition. It’s an honest look at life; the sadness, the happiness, the ironies, the complexities of things… but boils it down to the basics. Does that make any sense?

FOLKMAMA: Yes, it sure does. And this cleared up some things for me too. You talked about the evolution of the blues, you know the Country Blues evolving into the Chicago Blues—but it seems like the two types are definitely still being performed. Although they have turned into two distinct styles, they have their roots in the same place.

HAMMOND: Exactly, very well put.

FOLKMAMA: I’m curious about the guitars that you use. What do you generally bring with you when you tour?

HAMMOND: I have two guitars that I go on the road with. One is a hand-made guitar that I got over in England about 22 years ago. It’s just a great acoustic guitar. The other is a 1935 steel-bodied National guitar which is old-school. Before the electric guitar this was the loudest guitar that you could get. And it’s got a really unique sound. I have many songs that I do on it that this guitar enhances. I play the harmonica at the same time; sort of a one man band kind of thing. I’ve been playing the harmonica since I started playing the guitar which has been a long time now.

I love to play. It’s one of those things—I’ll go into “the well” and play whatever I feel like. I know hundreds of songs. And I’ll just play what feels right to me.

FOLKMAMA: So, it sounds like you are still touring quite a bit, I’m curious what your days look like. You are doing the touring, are you doing some recording, are you doing some songwriting?

HAMMOND: I plan to record this year. There is a deal in the works right now probably within the next three months or so. It will be my 36th album! So, I’ve still got my hand in it. My wife and I have sort of pared down my extensive touring schedule; we do five or six shows a month as opposed to 20 shows. There were times that I was just out there all the time.

FOLMAMA: Does your wife tour with you all the time?

HAMMOND: Yes, she does. We go everywhere together. Her name is Marla and we’ve been together for about 24 years now. She’s not a musician but she’s a very good critic, she keeps me on my toes.

FOLKMAMA: And if you don’t mind indulging me a little bit; I’m a child of the 60s and I’m really curious what it was like playing with musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman  and Eric Clapton . What was that time period like for you?

HAMMOND: It’s very hard to describe but it was a time when people my age were all kind of on the same page; interested in blues, interested in where it all came from. I got to know artists like Michael Bloomfield and Duane Allman, The Band, I was hanging out a lot with Bob Dylan. Phil Oaks—everyone was kind of equal, there were no big bucks then—no hit records. It was just guys with the same love of music collaborating, getting together—bands were formed, recordings were made that eventually put some people in the upper echelon.

I was just so into what I did and so into hanging out with the guys who did the same thing. It was just an amazing time. I had a chance to record with a lot of the older blues artists—artists like John Lee Hooker, Roosevelt Sykes and Charles Brown, just to name a few. I was so rabidly into the music and just seeing what I could do. There was a kind of thread that held us all together.

FOLKMAMA: Was this in New York City mostly?

HAMMOND: No, I began my career in Los Angeles of all places. Played some shows out there for seven or eight months, got my confidence together and came back to New York in the fall of 1962. And I got my first gig in New York at a place called Gerde’s Folk City which was THE place to play. And I was on the show with Phil Ochs and we had a fantastic week. We were both signed up to Vanguard Records, which was a big deal. And it just went cuckoo from there and I’ve been all over the place since; hanging out in Chicago, hanging out in Detroit, Memphis…wherever. You know I’m 70 now and I’ve had a chance to reflect on things. I’ve had an amazing career.

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