The blues interpreter John Hammond has never moved far off his spot. A pretty pure embodiment of the raw energies, dangerous identities and elusive eccentricities of the blues, regardless of complexion, Hammond has his acoustic modes and his electric modes, his urban modes and rural. Both are classic and reverential toward his and our masters, and both have been invoked frequently throughout his 50-plus-year career. He’s not a songwriter, and he’s neither a fusionist nor an ambassador. He works (and works and works) in the very deepest ruts of the American blues tradition.
Across the decades, his albums don’t progress or adapt so much as dwell stubbornly on one elemental truth, reinventing that primal/savvy blues impulse for each generation, oftentimes with much younger and hotter stars as collaborators and enthusiastic endorsers. For example, one of Hammond’s best and most ragged records is the 2007 electric powerhouse Push Comes to Shove, produced by G. Love. No one has ever had much luck trying to slick this guy up.
Hammond’s biographical narrative – the prep-schooled son of a New York City music mogul who dropped out of that life to play the blues from the early ‘60s into the present – places him, for better or for worse, right at the crossroads of the great American musical paradox of black and white. In this age of heightened sensitivity to the dynamics of appropriation of cultural property, his identity may be built on complex if not shaky ground; but the second he opens his mouth and hits his guitar, any doubts about his intentions vanish. If a white man can play the blues – and I don’t have that answer – this would be the one.
The rock stars and fellow blues travelers have lined up and taken a number to play with him or produce him (which I imagine is much like pointing a mic at Andres Segovia; you just hit “Record”): the Band, Duane Allman, J. J. Cale, Dr. John, Bill Wyman, Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo. One great thing about the blues, almost alone amongst the genres, is that the older you are, the better you are assumed to be. Regarding life’s travails and suffering, we all get more credentialed as we go.
The Falcon in Marlboro is no stranger to blues legends, but even by its standards, this is a major score. The great John Hammond performs at the Falcon on Saturday, October 8 at 7 p.m. Even when it is John Hammond, the Falcon does not charge a cover, but generous donation is eloquently encouraged. The Falcon is located at 1348 Route 9W in Marlboro.