John Hammond - vocals, harmonica, acoustic guitar, National Reso-Phonic guitar
For nearly five decades now, John Hammond, son of John Hammond, Jr. (the legendary Columbia record producer and talent scout) has been a champion of the blues and has featured some of the genre's most legendary practitioners on his albums and performances. Since 1962, when Hammond recorded his debut album for Vanguard Records, he has released dozens of critically acclaimed albums, but has never risen above moderate commercial success. Regardless, his barrelhouse singing style and mastery of blues guitar has earned the respect of many of the greatest musicians of our time, including Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, both of whom performed with Hammond (at the same time!) during a stint at the Gaslight Cafe in New York City. Duane Allman, members of the Band, John Lee Hooker and Charlie Musselwhite are but a few of the legends that have personally contributed to John Hammond's albums, and he has earned the respect and admiration of countless others over the course of his career.
This particular recording is quite special as it captures Hammond opening a show for Mahavishnu Orchestra at New York City's Central Park on August 17, 1973. This night has been immortalized as the night Mahavishnu Orchestra recorded their live album, Between Nothingness And Eternity, and this was certainly one of the largest audiences of John Hammond's career. Performing solo, Hammond's set is a virtual travelogue through the blues, showcasing many great compositions, with a perfect balance between reverence for tradition and modern innovation. The fact that Hammond could alone capture the attention of such a large audience primed for the Mahavishnu Orchestra is a testament to his own charisma and personal style.
Kicking off the set with Willie Dixon's classic "Wang Dang Doodle" followed by Jimmy Reed's "Go On To School," Hammond's deep respect and love for the blues is immediately obvious and draws the listener in. As he digs deeper into the blues tradition, the performance becomes more and more captivating. One may notice that Hammond's approach to many of these classic songs has been copied by many others since. Even though this set is solo acoustic in nature, one can clearly hear his influence on early recordings by The Allman Brothers Band, electric Hot Tuna, and too many others to mention. The two Robert Johnson compositions, "Terraplane Blues" and "Drunken Hearted Man" are certainly highlights of this particular performance, as are standout takes on Blind Boy Fuller's "Trucking Little Baby" and Billy Boy Arnold's "I Wish You Would." Hammond closes his set with a powerful performance of Bo Diddley's classic "Who Do You Love," a song that he, as much as anyone, brought to the widespread consciousness of rock musicians everywhere.
Hammond additionally pays tribute to blues pioneers Little Walter, Eurreal Montgomery and Tommy McLennon over the course of this remarkable set, including songs he has never officially issued on his own albums. Although this genre has a lyrical tendency to be misogynistic and often focuses on the corrupting evil influence of women, Hammond's own stylistic diversity avoids repetitiveness, and this set is a great overview of some of the finest, most influential blues music ever written.