Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My Time After A While (Part 2)

Hammond's career took off when he got a rousing reception at the Newport Folk Festival. We resume there...

"I cut Big City Blues in the winter of '63. This guitar player named Billy Butler who'd played with Bill Doggett on 'Honky Tonk' got a band together for the date. After that, Vanguard booked me into the Village Gate. I had Eric Gale on guitar, Jimmy Lewis on bass, and Rob somebody on drums--we were the first electric band to play there other than jazz. This was January of 1964, when The Rolling Stones had first come over to this country. They came down to dig us at the Gate, and I got to know them, mainly Brian."

Hammond was gigging all over by then, including several jobs in Canada. "I met these guys called The Hawks," he goes on, "and sat in with them on a few jobs. I was playing with them as their group, only in a jamming capacity, but we got to be very good friends. The Hawks at that time looked super-straight--crewcuts, immaculate suits, all that. But they were actually totally wild, really far-out cats. Some of the things they used to do with girls at those ((early rockabilly singer Ronnie)) Hawkins parties I can't tell you!"

How do you feel about their different image and pre-eminent success as The Band? "I'm really happy for 'em," Hammond answers. "Those guys are so talented, they can play any kind of sound there is. What you hear on their two records is just one facet of what they can do. They're makin' real money now, and that's what they always wanted--to get into a position where they could call the shots. God knows they've earned it.

"Anyway, in the summer of 1964 I got together all these cats I'd known, including The Hawks. Bloomfield was on piano because Robbie was just so dynamic on guitar, and Michael was not playing like he is now. In fact, Michael learned some things from Robbie. I got them together--not too many people know that. But," he shrugs, "it's not important anyway.

"Vanguard got very uptight about the date because we looked so sloppy and they didn't know any of these guys, so we had to do it all in one session, and get it on the first or second take with no overdubbing. I really had to hustle to get Vanguard to release it at all ((his fine album So Many Roads))."

Hammond pauses to light another cigarette, then resumes: "I've really played with some fantastic cats--like, Johnny Littlejohn had a trio going in Chicago. Bloomfield introduced us in '64, and then we played some jobs together in the East for about two months. The whole problem was I had this duality thing going--I was soloing, but I was also trying to get a band together. I kept trying to make something happen between myself and The Hawks. So many near calls, but...

"Finally, I went over to England in the spring of '65. I played twenty dates or so over there with bands backing me up like Graham Bond's and then John Mayall in London. Listen, Clapton was playing, Spencer Davis, Winwood... I got to meet and play with all those cats. It was really fine."

When he returned to the U.S. in the summer, Hammond left Vanguard and signed with Leiber-Stoller and a label of theirs called Red Bird. "I got Robbie for the session and Jimmy Lewis; and Leiber-Stoller knew Charles Otis who'd been playing all over. Then I got Bill Wyman for a couple of numbers. Brian Jones was there too, begging me to let him play hamonica on the date, but I told him the harp was all mine. Dylan showed up at the session too--Bob and I had been friends since 1961, and I'd introduced him to The Hawks.

"We cut two singles and some other numbers. The deal supposedly was to be this unbelievable promotion by Red Bird--magazines, TV shows, the whole shot. But then the owner of Red Bird just decided it wasn't going to happen. Man, I was zapped. Just when were getting things together and everything looked so rosy, bang!

"That was it. I sold everything I owned and left the country. I said I was never going back." Hammond split for Europe and spent half of 1966 wandering across the continent, finally winding up in Turkey for some months. He underwent a particularly painful experience there--one which he refuses to talk about, but which persuaded him to return to the U.S. after all. "I came back at the end of summer with my tail between my legs," he says.

After a trip to the Orient with a friend, he wound up in San Francisco for a few days, where he went to see a flashy new band called Jefferson Airplane (in the pre-Grace era). "I looked up on stage and there was this cat on guitar I'd known at college, Jorma Kaukonen. He invited me up on stage to play with them. It was really strange--I was just off the plane and was completely straight. I was wearing a suit and tie, had this San Francisco Giants baseball cap on my head, and was smoking a cigar. But we did it, and the audience went wild."

The occasion convinced Hammond to go back to New York and get his own band together, this one called The Blue Flames. "I met this guy named Jimmy James who was playing stuff off my So Many Roads--he was playing Robbie's parts, but better! I said, 'Wow! I got to get him into the band.' And we also had Randy Wolfe, who calls himself Randy California now. ((of the band Spirit)) And Jimmy James, of course, was in reality Jimi Hendrix.

"We played the A Go-Go and had celebrities digging us every night. Again it was going to happen. But then Jimmy was offered this job in England behind The Animals. He asked me about it, and I told him it sounded like a good thing."

He adds somewhat ruefully, "The next thing I knew it was The Jimi Hendrix Experience!"

((A good place to pause again. Hammond was snakebit for luck way too many times. Next time, he reflects on that and tells us about drummer Charles Otis--oh yeah, and an obscure slide guitarist named Duane Allman.))