By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Nowadays, white kids playing vintage Delta blues on old steel-bodied National guitars have become common on the blues-and-folk circuit. But when John Hammond started performing in clubs and coffeehouses in the late 1950s, there were just a handful of blues revivalists.
Now, 41 years after he began his recording career, Hammond is still at it - and making some of his best music. His 2001 CD, Wicked Grin, flawlessly recast the music of Tom Waits as classic blues (Waits produced it). His 2003 disc, Ready For Love, produced by Los Lobos' David Hidalgo, showcased the rocking side of Hammond's blues.
Today, he'll play one of the hottest Tall Stacks lineups, sandwiched between Steve Earle & the Dukes and Los Lobos.
Almost half a century into his career, Hammond, 60, still sounds excited at the prospect.
How do you feel about playing on the riverfront as part of that Tall Stacks lineup?
I'm so ready. I think it's gonna be fantastic, I knew about that stage. David Hidalgo produced the last record, so I'm really looking forward to this.
How did the Tom Waits project come about?
That was just one of those amazing things. I'm still pinching myself over that one. The idea for Tom to produce the album was my wife Marla's and his wife Kathleen's. We were going to do R&B tunes and blues from Leadbelly to Robert Johnson.
But when the backing band was delayed, they started without them. I asked Tom if he had a song of his that we could start with. So we did "2:19," and it came out great in one take.
I said 'You got another one, Tom?' And it went on like that until we had recorded 18 Tom Waits tunes and a traditional gospel tune and had to boil it down to the 13 ... on the record.
You've recorded with some great people. Who are some of your favorites?
I've been in the right place at the right time a lot of times. But I've also worked with friends of mine who, at the time we recorded, weren't big stars yet - from Duane Allman to Delaney & Bonnie, (and then there were blues greats) Roosevelt Sykes and John Lee Hooker.
Your father, John Hammond Sr., was responsible for first recording Billie Holiday, bringing Charlie Christian and Benny Goodman together, and credited with discovering Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughan. How do you follow that act?
My dad was in his own league. I'm afraid I'll never fill his shoes. But this is my passion, this is my life. I knew, when I began playing, that this was gonna be my life. And I've just plodded on.
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