January 31, 2016

Concerts #769, 110, 145, 154, 179, 189, 198, 204, 220, 294, 333, 354, 381 - John Hammond at Various Venues (1993-2016)

This write-up covers thirteen concerts featuring the great John Hammond, starting with my very first one (Concert #110, February 1993 at McCabe's Guitar Shop) and ending with the one I attended just two days ago (Concert #769, January 29, 2016, also at McCabe's).

First, a few words about John's most recent appearance at McCabe's on January 29, 2016. At the respectable age of seventy-three, he proved that he still is an exciting performer, fully capable of holding an audience captive with his intense delivery and virtuoso guitar playing. Amazingly, his idiosyncratic voice has remained pretty much unchanged over the decades and so has his love for the blues, which continues to ooze through his every pore. I attended John's 8 PM show and yes, there was a 10 PM late show as well, a testament to his stamina and strength. Both shows sold out.

John kicked off the evening's first set with "You're So Fine", followed by his own "Heartache Blues" and "Mean Old Lonesome Train". Broken guitar strings are nothing new to John and we all had fun watching him casually play his harmonica while changing a broken string right in the middle of "My Time After A While".

John Hammond changing broken strings at McCabe's
John's set had plenty of highlights - Howlin' Wolf's "Rocket Oldsmobile", Muddy Waters' "Sail On", and Blind William McTell's "Love Changing Blues" - but to these ears, the evening's best song was a toss-up between Big Joe Williams' "Drop Down Mama" and "Dreamy Eyed Girl", a song written by H.W. Newburn, someone I know nothing about. For his one-song encore, John played Jimmy Reed's "I Found Love".

John Hammond at McCabe's (2016)
John Hammond at McCabe's (2016)
I first saw John live in February 1993 at McCabe's Guitar Shop, and what an introduction that was! I was blown away by what I saw and heard and, from that moment on, I felt compelled to bring some of my friends along every time I went for my John Hammond fix. Watching him play numbers such as "Preachin' Blues", "Just Your Fool", "I Wish You Would", "I Can't Satisfied" and "Come On In My Kitchen" will remain forever some of the finest moments of my concert-going career.

McCabe's is the perfect venue to see a John Hammond performance - the place is intimate, the sound is great and the attendees are true connoisseurs - no wonder John loves to  play there. How do I know? Well, he said it many times. Funny thing, though: in a city where undoubtedly he has many musical friends, John's appearances at McCabe's have been, without exception, true solo outings - not once did he bring out a musical guest and that is not a complaint, just a statement of facts. Also, he seldom has opening acts, but on February 12, 2000, we got to see the talented Alvin Youngblood Hart who delivered an excellent opening set at McCabe's.

Three of my many John Hammond concerts took place at venues other than McCabe's. In the summer of 1998 I went to the House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard to see John play electric, with a band. The concert wasn't bad, but not quite as good as any of his acoustic solo shows that I have attended. Later the same year I took my Better Half and our good friends Ron and Bobbie to the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles for yet another outstanding John Hammond solo performance, then on January 25, 2003, I went to UCLA's Royce Hall for a star-studded evening that, in addition to John Hammond, also featured Loudon Wainwright, Tom Paxton and Mike Seeger.

McCabe's Guitar Shop - Concert room (January 2016)

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