One of the most venerable acoustic blues performers in the world, with acoustic guitar and a harmonica, John Hammond is a walking hurricane, infamous for ripping the roof off buildings during his explosive shows. When John Hammond, who resides in Hoboken, New Jersey, starts stomping his feet and letting loose on his old National guitar the walls will tremble, the floors will shake and lighting will fly from his wildly flailing slide. They call it “tearing down the house”. Fans of John Hammond, and aficionados of the acoustic and folk genres, know the contemporary master of 1930s blues is a real fire-spitter. Hammond is virtually unrivaled. He was there since the beginning of the blues revival in the early 1960s and is simply a monster of the country blues. His recordings span four decades, 36 albums to date and countless performances worldwide. His recorded work is remarkably strong and even, in part because he has been signed to major labels, like Vanguard, Pointblank, Virgin and Rounder, and has benefitted from good production support that exceed what most self-produced artists have mustered. You simply cannot find a mediocre John Hammond album.
John Hammond is one of the very few acoustic blues performers who carries the truehearted energy and the sense of danger of the original bluesmen of the golden era. There is a very small, select group of musicians who can measure up against the old masters, whose music has true grit and soul and the chops that legitimately carry the tradition of the original bluesmen. If they could take a time machine back and jump on stage during a Saturday night juke-joint party in 1936 Mississippi, they would fit right in and nobody would throw beer bottles. Here is a guy who played with them all, from Mississippi John Hurt to Jimi Hendrix to John Lee Hooker to Tom Waits.
Like Robert Johnson, one of the original bluesman most influential on Hammond, he plays guitar as if two people were playing it—carried by a distinctive bass line and a simultaneous lead solo. He will bellow out wicked wails on his harmonica and sings with gusto. When Hammond performs, it is a gut-wrenching and intensive physical act so that you might think he will self-combust at any moment. His veins bulge out of his neck, he turns red like a tomato and you can tell that every part of his living body is put into the song. He sweats and vibrates, stomps his feet and wiggles on his chair, the entire essence of his body in a shaking groove that reduces most mortals to simple awe. When we speak of contemporary country blues, there are some who play different, but none better. Nobody has done more to keep this music relevant, wild and dynamic than John Hammond.