All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Serving jazz worldwide since 1995
All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Live Reviews

Borneo Jazz, May 12-15, 2011

By Published: May 25, 2011
Another welcome friend of Borneo Jazz is the blues, and the festival has hosted some great blues artists over the years, with an undoubted highlight being the outstanding show of veteran harp player James Cotton
James Cotton
James Cotton
b.1935
harmonica
the previous year. It is fair to say that singer/guitarist John Hammond is a legend himself, coming into his own in the wake of the blues revival of the '60s which revived dormant figures such as Son House
Son House
Son House
1902 - 1988
guitar, slide
, Skip James
Skip James
b.1902
, Reverend Gary Davis
Reverend Gary Davis
1896 - 1972
guitar, acoustic
and Mississippi John Hurt
Mississippi John Hurt
Mississippi John Hurt
1892 - 1966
guitar, acoustic
. Just the week prior to Borneo Jazz '11, Hammond was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and his intense set in the balmy early evening left nobody in any doubt as to why.


John Hammond

Hammond's baptism in the blues came at the age of seven, when his father took him to hear singer/songwriter/guitarist Big Bill Broonzy
Big Bill Broonzy
Big Bill Broonzy
1893 - 1958
guitar, acoustic
. "It had a profound effect on me," Hammond told the assembled media at the morning press conference. Although he wouldn't get a guitar until he was 18, Hammond was performing just a year later. Exactly fifty years later, Hammond is as passionate about the blues as ever. "Something comes through me when I play. It inspires me to stay on the road 300 days a year," the 68-year-old said. Playing more than ever these days, Hammond has played more than six thousand gigs in his long career to date.

Hammond's career has been well-documented, and he has performed with a who's who of the blues: "I played with [singers/guitarists] Howlin' Wolf
Howlin' Wolf
Howlin' Wolf
1910 - 1976
vocalist
, Muddy Waters
Muddy Waters
Muddy Waters
1915 - 1983
guitar
, John Lee Hooker
John Lee Hooker
John Lee Hooker
1917 - 2001
guitar
, and Mississippi John Hurt. I've been so fortunate to play with these guys and glean something from them," Hammond says. "I never could have imagined I would be part of that, and then I became it." That Hammond is still playing all over the world to enthusiastic audiences is something he never takes for granted, but neither is he surprised that he always finds an audience: "Every generation discovers the blues," he affirmed.

For an hour Hammond provided a passionate demonstration of just why the blues appeals to generation after generation, in every corner of the world. His repertoire drew from the very roots of the blues, from Robert Johnson
Robert Johnson
Robert Johnson
1911 - 1938
vocalist
's "It's Gonna Be Rainin' Outdoors" to Sleepy John Estes
Sleepy John Estes
Sleepy John Estes
1899 - 1977
guitar, acoustic
's "Someday Baby Blues." Switching from his 1935 National Guitar—which looked like it had given loyal service—to acoustic guitar, Hammond's hands were a blur of string-threatening strum and his trademark slide, zipping up and down the frets. Hammond's harmonica, strapped around his neck, was—like his guitar—an extension of himself. Crying slide and wailing harmonica on the raw blues of "You Know That's Cold," suggested his influence on Irish blues guitarist Rory Gallagher
Rory Gallagher
Rory Gallagher
1949 - 1995
guitar
, whose legendary acoustic sets mirrored the technique, passion and intensity of Hammond.

Blues vocals are somewhat unique, as the delivery is more important than having a "good" voice per se. As good a guitarist as Hammond is, it's his singing which really holds the attention; as powerful as a Southern Baptist preacher and as soulful as gospel music, Hammond is the real deal. At all times he seemed to be locked in a profound reverie where he was both preacher and confessor. When he sang "Lord, I'm goin' up country where I'm barely known," the world-weariness, pain, and need for renewal in Hammond's delivery were moving. There was poignancy in Hammond's voice, carrying the words of Blind Willie McTell
Blind Willie McTell
Blind Willie McTell
1898 - 1959
guitar, 12-string
: "Would you walk with a woman who always had to have her way?" McTell was unusual amongst blues artists as he played finger picking style on a twelve-string guitar. Although he died in 1959 aged 61, his music influenced blues artists, folk singers and rock bands, including Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
b.1941
composer/conductor
, Allman Brothers Band
Allman Brothers Band
Allman Brothers Band

band/orchestra
, Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal
b.1942
guitar
and Jack White.

More up-tempo numbers such as Muddy Waters 1948 hit "I can't be Satisfied," Robert Geddins' "My Time after a While," Jimmy Rogers
Jimmy Rogers
Jimmy Rogers
1924 - 1997
guitar, electric
' "That's Alright" and Johnson's "Preaching Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)" brought the concert to a stirring conclusion. The legendary, near-mythical Robert Johnson was an important influence on Hammond who paid tribute to Johnson on At the Crossroads: The Blues of Robert Johnson (Vanguard Records, 2003).

The inevitable encore—Hammond had retaken his chair even as the irrepressible MC Gezza was urging the crowd on to call him back—was Jimmy Reed's 1960 hit "Found Love" with the lyric, "It's hard to believe the condition the world is in, you can't trust nobody and baby that's a sin," which again underlined the timelessness of the blues; what would Reed make of the condition of the world in '11? Apart from influencing Hammond, Reed has also influenced everyone from the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones
Rolling Stones
Rolling Stones

band/orchestra
to Elvis Presley and Neil Young
Neil Young
Neil Young
b.1945
composer/conductor
.


comments powered by Disqus