Blues veteran John Hammond is probably the only musician who can claim to have had both Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix in his band at the same time, even if it was only for a few days.
“It’s true, it’s one of those amazing things that happened,” Hammond recalls. “They were both good friends. I had a show at a club called the Gaslight (in New York) and Jimi had just come back from England and was a huge star, and Eric was over with Cream. They were there at the same time and they both asked to sit in.”
For more than 50 years, Hammond has explored the blues, recording and performing with countless musical greats. A Grammy Award-winning musician, he’s been acclaimed as the last living link to rustic Southern blues.
“There are other artists playing in this style, but maybe they haven’t been playing as long as I have,” he notes. “This is my 54th year on the road and I’m really looking forward to Hawaii.”
The son of famed record producer John Henry Hammond (who, in his role at Columbia Records, helped introduce to the world Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and Bruce Springsteen), Hammond recalls seeing his first blues concert as a 7-year-old.
“My father took me to see Big Bill Broonzy in 1949,” he said. “He was an ambassador of blues in the ’30s, ’40s and early ’50s, and it made me change the way I heard music. I grew up in New York in the 1950s, where there were rock ‘n’ roll shows that included artists like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley and Jackie Wilson, and a lot of R&B and blues-orientated rock ‘n’ roll. I gravitated towards that, and records by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter. Then in 1958, I bought a record, ‘Country Blues,’ which had artists who had recorded in the 1920s and ’30s, and that exposed me to Robert Johnson. I was hooked. I bought a guitar in 1960 and started playing professionally in 1962.”
In his formative days, he would often hang out with some of blues’ legends – “the old-timer guys like Big Joe Williams, Bukka White, Skip James and Son House. They were all such great players. I would watch and listen and try to pick up on things. Robert Lockwood, the stepson of Robert Johnson, gave me a lot of life tips. He had learned to play from Robert Johnson. About music, he said, ‘Don’t ever sell yourself short.’ He made me aware this is the real deal.”
Hammond’s early albums had a profound impact. His 1964 release, “Big City Blues,” was one of the first electric white blues recordings, and his seminal 1965 blues rock album, “So Many Roads,” featured a stellar cast of guitarist Mike Bloomfield, harpist Charlie Musselwhite, and Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Levon Helm of The Band.
Bob Dylan attended some of the 1965 sessions, and soon after went electric and hired The Band.
“It’s all my fault,” Hammond says chuckling. “I knew Bob from just hanging out and we were very good friends. I went to his recording sessions and he went to mine. I introduced them (The Band) to him and he flipped out. The next thing I know, he was recording electric and putting the world on its ear.”
Also making his U.K. debut in 1965, Hammond was backed by Clapton, Ginger Baker and John Mayall.
“I had an amazing tour,” he recalls. “We all had the same passion for the music. I was on TV with Tom Jones when he was a blues rocker. I had given him the address of my mom’s home where I would stay occasionally, and one day the door bell rang and there was Tom Jones. She just about fainted.”
Over the years, he recorded with John Lee Hooker, Rolling Stones’ bassist Bill Wyman played on his “I Can Tell” collection of Chicago blues standards, and Duane Allman contributed some amazing slide guitar to Hammond’s “Southern Fried” album.
A Country Blues profile praised: “Like Robert Johnson, one of the original bluesman most influential on Hammond, he plays guitar as if two people were playing it, carried by a distinctive bass line and a simultaneous lead solo. He will bellow out wicked wails on his harmonica and sings with gusto. When Hammond performs, it is a gut-wrenching and intensive physical act.”
Performing solo for many years, he says, “If you can pull it off, it’s the most powerful blues expression. It boils it down to the bare essentials. I’ve worked hard to be able to do it all myself. There’s no one but you up there. I’ve been around the world and done some amazing things. Now it’s great to just get up and play. It’s wonderful.”
Opening on Wednesday, the 2016 Maui Film Festival will feature a bunch of films with notable soundtracks.
“Folk Hero & Funny Guy” (10 p.m. Wednesday in Celestial Cinema in Wailea) is a music-infused spin on the road-trip buddy comedy about two childhood friends, one a folk-rock musician and the other an aspiring standup comedian. Alex Karpovsky plays the comedian, while Wyatt Russell (son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn) plays the musician. Russell will be honored that evening. Director Jeff Grace was inspired to make the film in large part by friend and Boston-based musician Adam Ezra. All the songs on the soundtrack were composed by Ezra.
“One of the characters was loosely based on me,” Ezra blogged. “Jeff Grace asked if I would be willing to create this character’s music.”
“Going Furthur” (8 p.m. June 18 in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului), celebrates the exploits and ideals of legendary author Ken Kesey, who traveled in a converted school bus named Furthur in 1964, with a bunch of Merry Pranksters, cross-country from La Honda, Calif., to New York for the publication of his novel “Sometimes a Great Notion.” Kesey and the Pranksters were the subject of Tom Wolfe’s book “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”
Fifty years after the iconic first trip, Kesey’s son Zane took Furthur and his father’s legacy back on the road for its longest-running tour in history. Armed with a new band of Merry Pranksters, the Furthur bus traveled more than 15,000 miles in 75 days, riding into music festivals, community events, tribal gatherings and national landmarks.
The film details in living color the festival culture that developed in their psychedelic wake and the reawakening of a new generation of pranksters.
The soundtrack includes music by Nahko & Medicine for the People, Chicago’s electro jazz funk band Indigo Sun, John Kadlecik (Dark Star Orchestra, Phil Lesh & Friends), plus there’s Airguitar, aka Donte Walker, who played the main stage at the Woodstock 45th anniversary celebration.
Some of Brazil’s best-known musicians – Gilberto Gil, Bebel Gilberto and Celso Fonseca – are featured on the soundtrack of “Rio, I Love You” (8 p.m. June 17 in Celestial Cinema). Created by 10 visionary directors, this anthology of short films set in Rio de Janeiro, is the third installment in the Cities of Love series.
The devastating impact of industrial and military ocean noise on whales and other marine life is the focus of “Sonic Sea” (5 p.m. June 18 in Castle Theater, narrated by actress Rachel McAdams. Along with several scientists like Jean-Michel Cousteau, Sting is interviewed in the doc.
Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour was the subject of the groundbreaking “Truth or Dare” documentary, and now comes “Strike a Pose” (9:30 p.m. June 17 in Castle Theater), which focuses on the surviving dancers who backed up Madonna on that 1990 tour.
Due to the tour’s highly sexualized and risque acts, Madonna faced various death threats, banning by the Vatican and warnings of arrest. The new doc explores the truth behind everything that happened on that tour and in the aftermath of the release of “Truth or Dare.” Three of the dancers later sued Madonna over the film due to issues with contracting and for publicly showcasing their gay identities.
Praised by Rolling Stone as a “must see,” “Orange Sunshine” (8 p.m. June 19 in Castle Theater) chronicles the daring exploits of a group of Laguna Beach surfers in the early ’60s, known as the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, who formed a church centered around psychedelics. Armed with a mission of starting a psychedelic revolution, they became one of the world’s largest acid and pot distribution networks. Some members were eventually arrested on Maui. The soundtrack is by Matt Costa, who first toured with Jack Johnson in 2005 and released albums on Johnson’s Brushfire Records label.
* The 2016 Maui Film Festival opens Wednesday and runs through June 19. More information and tickets are available at www.mauifilmfestival.com.