On festival bills, in coffeehouses, nightclubs and concert halls, John Hammond has spent more than 30 years entertaining blues, folk and rock fans around the world. With his acoustic and National steel guitars, harmonicas and an immense repertoire of tunes, Hammond has followed the path of singing poets like Woody Guthrie, Lightnin' Hopkins and Sonny Boy Williamson, taking musical stories of life and love from one regional pocket to another. From coffeehouses to amphitheatres, the most prestigious European festivals to nightclubs in Japan, Hammond is acknowledged as one of the premier blues artists of our time.
Between global tours Hammond has recorded dozens of albums, some alone with just his instruments and voice, others with friends he's made on the journey. This time around Hammond has gone into the studio with a guitar player he has known for more than 20 years, Duke Robillard, and come up with Found True Love, a set of gems mined from Hammond's years of sharing songs on the road. "When I hear something I like I make a note or imagine myself doing it," Hammond said. "Just about all the songs on this album are tunes I've heard over the years and wanted to record."
The time for these songs was right because Hammond has spent the past two years touring frequently with Robillard's band. To cap off these double-bill shows, Hammond would join Robillard's group at the end of the evening for some rousing, good rockin' tunes. That experience grew into Found True Love, Hammond's third album for pointblank/Virgin which follows two consecutive Grammy nominated efforts, Got Love If You Want It and Trouble No More, both produced by JJ Cale and featuring guest appearances by Cale, John Lee Hooker, Little Charlie and The Nightcats, and Charles Brown among others.
Co-produced by Hammond and Robillard, Found True Love swings with easy sensuality on the title cut, a tune written by one of Hammond's early influences, Jimmy Reed. Hammond recaptures the gritty, gutsy, good-time sound of Chicago's South Side in the '50s and early '60s on tunes like Little Walter Jacobs' "I Hate To See You Go," Howlin' Wolf's "My Mind Is Ramblin" and "The First Time I Met The Blues," which Buddy Guy made into a classic. Reaching further back into American musical history, Hammond covers Leroy Carr's "Fore Day Rider Blues" and Sleepy John Estes' "Someday Baby Blues" with the easy rollin' folk blues feel of the early '60s when college students, post-Beat generation coffeehouse hounds and rock 'n' roll players discovered the blues.
It was during those influential times that John Paul Hammond emerged as a performer. Born in New York City in 1942, Hammond was part of a generation whose life was changed by radio. As a teenager he'd listen to late-night radio. WLAC blasted the blues of Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, and Howlin' Wolf all the way from Nashville, Tennessee to New York City. "When I was becoming a music fanatic, which was in the '50s in my teens, I began to focus on the stuff I thought was great -- Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and many others," Hammond recalled. "Listening to WLAC was an American phenomena -- the shows were sponsored by Randy's Record Shop. How many people sent away to Randy's for those records? I know I was one." Little did Hammond know that later he would share the stage and win the admiration of artists like Reed, Waters, the Wolf, Willie Dixon and many other blues giants.
Though born and raised in New York, Hammond didn't begin his career there. It wasn't that the city was such a tough town back then, it was that he had to detach from the mythological figure who preceded him. Born John Paul Hammond, his father was John Henry Hammond, the Columbia A&R executive who brought Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Big Joe Turner and eventually Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen to America's attention. "People assume I grew up in a musical bonanza, surrounded by it all the time, which was not the case. My parents divorced when I was five and I lived with my mother and my brother, Jason," Hammond explained. "I wasn't aware of the significance of my father's position until I was a lot older, until I had gone on the road as a musician myself. Then I had to explain, clarify that in fact I got into this on my own and my dad didn't nurture me. He wasn't thrilled when I began this career."
It wasn't until after Hammond was an established recording artist that his father saw how serious his son was about music. He started his life as a troubadour on the West Coast at age 19. "I hitchhiked across the United States to Los Angeles, got a job in a gas station and would go around to various coffeehouses and clubs and audition at night, hoping to get a gig," Hammond said. Singer/songwriter Hoyt Axton was on the L.A. scene at that time, and he got Hammond his first paying gig at the Satire Club which was such a hit that he was held over for another week. Then came the Insomniac, the Troubadour, the Cat's Pajamas and other night spots in southern California. "It was a fantastic scene -- you could hear blues, bluegrass, every kind of folk style -- it was a Mecca," Hammond remembered. "I even did a TV show with the Chambers Brothers, who where then a gospel group, and Long Gone Miles, a blues artist from Texas."
And he made enough money to buy a car and head back east. Along the way he stopped to play in Minneapolis, home of the folk blues trio Koerner, Ray and Glover, and Chicago, where he met Mike Bloomfield and Sonny Boy Williamson. Finally in November of 1962 he was back in New York, auditioning for clubs. He got a gig at Gerde's Folk City, on the bill with Phil Ochs. Both artists were signed to one of the most important labels of the era, Vanguard Records.