Rough & Tough
A well-traveled blues troubadour, John Hammond has been spreading the news about rhythm and blues for all his adult life. Beginning with his 1962 self-titled debut and continuing through 35 recordings and countless miles logged on the road, Hammond has turned on two or three generations to the classic works of blues icons like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Leroy Carr, Elmore James and Robert Johnson.
His latest outing, a stripped-to-the-bone solo session recorded in the solitude of St. Peter's Church in New York City, continues that noble tradition. In some ways, this stark offering harkens back to that first recording for Vanguard Records nearly 50 years ago. But over time, Hammond has become a force of nature onto him-self, closer in spirit to the icons he emulated as a young man. His guitar playing has become stronger, his expression deepened by the years.|
This recording is not unlike a live show that I would do except that there was no live audience to perform for, says Hammond, It's been a while since I've had a solo album out, so I'm very happy with it, In the resonant chamber that is St. Peter's, he communes with the spirit of Muddy Waters (Still a Fool, & I Can't Be Satisfied), Howlin' Wolf (My Mind is Ramblin', & No Place To Go) and his harmonica hero Little Walter (Up The Line, & Got To Find My Baby). His rendition of Statesboro Blues is more faithful to the Blind Willie McTell original than the more familiar Allman Brothers version while his arrangement of Chattanooga Choo Choo is more Deltafied than the standard Swing era arrangement that he turned in on 1975's Can't Beat The Kid. That's a tune that I would throw into a set just to keep everybody off balance a little bit, he laughs. Hammond turns in a stirring interpretation of Tom Waits' Get Behind the Mule ... He also contributes two originals in Slick Crown Vie (which he previously recorded on 2003's Ready for Love) and Come To Find Out (which appeared on 2005's In Your Arms Again). And the title of this quintessentially American collection comes from a line in Jerry McCain's She's Tough, where Hammond sings: She's tough, she's rough and tough, and that's tough enough.
The day after this recording, Hammond was back on the road again, heading to Europe for yet another tour. Have guitar, will travel. And in Rough and Tough, he left behind a document that captures the essence of his potent, no-frills presentation. It harkens back to the way I make my living, every day, he laughs.
- Bill Milkowsky
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