September 2005

John Hammond Jr.
September 24, 2005The SpeakeasyToronto
Hurricane Hammond Hits Hogtown
by Stanley Fefferman with photos by Roger Humbert

Here’s John Hammond Jr. standing at the back of The Speakeasy in Toronto, listening to deep-voiced Danny Marks, that complete entertainer, warm the audience up with his smooth, relaxed version of T-Bone Walker’s seminal blues—“Baby Please Don’t Go.” Hammond then took his time waiting for the set-up to come together for him in Lance Brass’ new club on Church Street. Good thing they got it right for him, because Hammond’s blues explode onstage like a nuclear chain reaction.

Hammond’s huge sausage fingers flash up and down the neck of his guitar like fishes in a feeding frenzy. His right hand is armed with thumb and finger-picks that savage the steel without mercy, thumping a bass-line, hammering out melodies, whipping a whole cargo of blues effects down the line like a runaway mule-train. Hammond taps the heel of his yellow snakeskin shoe, sweat pouring off him, and he howls, shouts, growls, and, let’s face it, cries the blues till he’s past hoarse and still whispering “Come back baby, please don’t go.”

Since the 60’s, Hammond has continually kept the names and songs of classic blues artists alive and accessible to a wider audience: Robert Johnson, Son House, Sleepy John Estes, Gary Davis, Big Joe Williams, Blind Boy Fuller…. He’s also worked with electric blues ensembles including Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Duane Alman, Dr.John, Charlie Musselwhite and Michael Bloomfield. Tom Waits produced The Wicked Grin, one of Hammond’s best albums, consisting of Tom Waits tunes.

The history of the blues is in Hammond. Last night at The Speakeasy, for two hours, John Hammond let the blues take hold of him. Like a mule loping through Texas, he never slacked the pace, never ran out of gas. ‘Step it up and go’, John, ‘step it up and go’.

We welcome your comments and feedback
• • • • • •
Stanley Fefferman
• •
Roger Humbert

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