In some ways, Rough & Tough harkens back to that first recording
Hammond did with Vanguard Records nearly 50 years ago. But over time,
Hammond has become a force of nature onto himself, closer in spirit to the
icons he emulated as a young man. His guitar playing has become stronger,
his expression deepened by the years. Upon its release, Rough & Tough wasted no time and reached #13 on the Billboard Blues charts. "This
recording is not unlike a live show that I would do except that there was no
live audience to perform for," says Hammond. "It's been a while since I've had
a solo album out, so I'm very happy with it."
With a career that spans over three decades, John Hammond is one of a
handful of white blues musicians who was on the scene at the beginning of
the first blues renaissance of the mid-'60s. That revival, brought on by renewed interest in folk music around the U.S., brought
about career boosts for many of the great classic blues players, including Mississippi John Hurt, Rev. Gary Davis, and Skip
James. Some critics have described Hammond as a white Robert Johnson, and Hammond does justice to classic blues by
combining powerful guitar and harmonica playing with expressive vocals and a dignified stage presence. Within the first
decade of his career as a performer, Hammond began crafting a niche for himself that is completely his own: the solo guitar
man, harmonica slung in a rack around his neck, reinterpreting classic blues songs from the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. Yet, as
several of his mid-'90s recordings for the Pointblank label demonstrate, he's also a capable bandleader who plays wonderful
electric guitar. This guitar-playing and ensemble work can be heard on Found True Love and Got Love If You Want It, both
for the Pointblank/Virgin label.
Born November 13, 1942, in New York City, the son of the famous Columbia Records talent scout John Hammond, Sr., what
most people don't know is that Hammond didn't grow up with his father. His parents split when he was young, and he would
see his father several times a year. He first began playing guitar while attending a private high school, and he was particularly
fascinated with slide guitar technique. He saw his idol, Jimmy Reed, perform at New York's Apollo Theater, and he's never
been the same since. After attending Antioch College in Ohio on a scholarship for a year, he left to pursue a career as a blues
musician. By 1962, with the folk revival starting to heat up, Hammond had attracted a following in the coffeehouse circuit,
performing in the tradition of the classic country blues singers he loved so much. By the time he was just 20 years old, he had
been interviewed for the New York Times before one of his East Coast festival performances, and he was a certified national
When Hammond was living in the Village in 1966, a young Jimi Hendrix came through town, looking for work. Hammond
offered to put a band together for the guitarist, and got the group work at the Cafe Au Go Go. By that point, the coffeehouses
were falling out of favor, and instead the bars and electric guitars were coming in with folk-rock. Hendrix was approached
there by Chas Chandler, who took him to England to record. Hammond recalls telling the young Hendrix to take Chandler up
on his offer. "The next time I saw him, about a year later, he was a big star in Europe," Hammond recalled in a 1990 interview.
In the late '60s and early '70s, Hammond continued his work with electric blues ensembles, recording with people like Band
guitarist Robbie Robertson (and other members of the Band when they were still known as Levon Helm & the Hawks), Duane Allman, Dr. John, harmonica wiz Charlie Musselwhite, Michael Bloomfield, and David Bromberg.
There are many great recordings that provide a good introduction to the man's body of work. His self-titled debut for the Vanguard label has now been reissued on compact disc by the company's new owners, The Welk Music Group, and other
good recordings to check out (on vinyl and/or compact disc) include I Can Tell (recorded with Bill Wyman from the Rolling
Stones), Southern Fried (1968), Source Point (1970, Columbia), and his most recent string of early- and mid-'90s albums
for Pointblank/Virgin Records, Got Love If You Want It, Trouble No More (both produced by J.J. Cale), and Found True
He didn't know it when he was 20, and he may not realize it now, but Hammond deserves special commendation for keeping
many of the classic blues songs alive. When fans see Hammond perform them, as Dr. John has observed many times with his
music and the music of others, the fans often want to go back further, and find out who did the original versions of the songs
Hammond now plays. Although he's a multi-dimensional artist, one thing Hammond has never professed to be is a songwriter.
In the early years of his career, it was more important to him that he bring the art form to a wider audience by performing
classic - in some cases forgotten - songs. Now, more than 30 years later, Hammond continues to do this, touring all over the
U.S., Canada, and Europe from his base in northern New Jersey. Whether it's with a band or by himself, Hammond can do it
all. Seeing him perform live, one still gets the sense that some of the best is still to come from this energetic bluesman.
official website: www.myspace.com/johnhammondblues
John Hammond - Lead Vocals, guitar, harmonica
Bruce Katz - Keyboards and vocals
Martin Ballou - Bass Guitar and vocals
Neil Gouvin - Drums, percussion and vocals
"John's sound is so compelling,
complete, symmetrical and soulful with
just his voice, guitar and harmonica, it is
at first impossible to imagine improving
it... He's a great force of nature. John
sounds like a big train coming. He chops
them all down."
"John Hammond is a master... He is a
virtuoso. A Conjurer... A Modernist...
John is in a very small circle of men with
a guitar and a harmonica. Jimmy Reed,
Howlin' Wolf, Bob Dylan. The guitar is an
orchestra. He's sending messages.
Storytelling. All mystery. Protection. The
language goes out through the night...
The Big Boom. Boom the room."
T Bone Burnett
"John Hammond is not only "America's modern country blues man," he
is 100% the "real deal." - Paul Aaronson, Elmore
"…this SACD presents Hammond in crystalline studio sound, working
with unflappable self-assurance through a setlist of blues from sources
like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter and Blind Willie McTell,
adding Tom Waits's Get Behind The Mule and remaking his own
Waitsian Slick Crown Vic. Apart from an unlikely Chattanooga Choo
Choo, this has been more or less Hammond's standard mix for several
albums now, but as long as he continues to approach such venerable
material with ingenuity and some independence of mind, who would
want to complain?" - Mojo, review of Rough & Tough
"He interpreted blues standards, gut-bucket boogie, country blues, and
his original blues compositions about love gained and lost through the
complex narrative of his own wayward soul…The blues are a living,
breathing, and feeling thing, and Hammond in his fiftieth year on the road is a legendary master at live
"…a blues legend with a voice like Robert Johnson's and a demeanor that belies his tear-it-up might
before an audience…"
The New York Times
"Raw electric blues generate the album's primary thrust, riddled with cross-harp riffs, cresting organ runs,
boogie piano breaks, stomping beats and Hammond's wonderfully weathered vocals." The
Washington Post, review of Push Comes To Shove
"A brilliant and prolific artist, John Hammond's reputation can only improve."
"…a bluesman to be reckoned with."
Time Out New York
"…like bourbon, his voice only gets more seductively potent with age."
Billboard, review of Ready For
"The idea of having veteran bluesman John Hammond perform an album of songs written and produced
by Tom Waits turns out to be every bit as pleasing to the ears as it appears on paper…What makes
Wicked Grin such a splendidly untraditional-blues album is spelled out in Waits' and Hammond's
different approaches to 'Murder In The Red Barn.' On 1992's Bone Machine, Waits bore down on the
song like a man in possession of a terrible secret. When John Hammond sings it here, it's like that secret
has been handed down for generations."
Rolling Stone, review of Wicked Grin
"…[A] tour de force by the veteran bluesman…An inspired match of artist, material and production,
Wicked Grin is a Tom Waits album nobody thought possible and a John Hammond album nobody could
San Francisco Chronicle, review of Wicked Grin
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