Ten years ago I had the pleasure of meeting John Hammond, one of my favorite modern bluesmen. I was backstage at the Harms Center for the Performing Arts (now called Bergen Performing Arts Center) in Englewood, New Jersey and two of my favorite bands, Roomful of Blues and Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers, whose ranks included many friends, were sharing a bill with Mr. Hammond. I had brought with me from Minnesota a copy of the record John had done on the Vanguard label with the Nighthawks, which album remains one of the best examples of contemporary American blues/roots music.
I had first stopped in D.C. and picked up a couple of my friends from high school to share in what was sure to be an incredible night of music. As I was commiserating and introducing old friends to other old friends in the hall outside the dressing rooms, I spied John Hammond through the window in the door to the backstage kitchen. Seizing the chance to get my album signed, I strode in and introduced myself to John. Just as my friends in the Nighthawks had told me, John was an extremely kind, soft spoken and affable man, despite a singing voice that even Howling Wolf would be envious of. (Below you can see a picture I took of the back cover of my copy of the Hot Tracks album which both John and Jimmy Thackery signed that night. A little over a year later, the Nighthawks were in St. Paul and I got Mark , Pete and Jan to sign thus completing all the players on the album.)
At the time John had an album of Tom Waits covers entitled "Wicked Grin" out produced by the legendary songwriter (Waits) himself. I told John I really loved his new album especially the fact that I could finally understand Waits' lyrics on many of the songs for the first time. John laughed and said that's what Tom said when they were making it.
We briefly discussed his project with the Nighthawks and the cover art that graced the album. But John kept coming back to his new project and what a genius Tom Waits was. I will never forget how the son of John Hammond Sr., the legendary AR man for Columbia Records whose discoveries/signings included Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughn and as a child who frequently rubbed elbows and shared meals with his father's business associates, a veritable who's who of American intelligentsia, and how he called Tom Waits the greatest genius he had ever met. John than regaled me with all the projects Tom was doing at one time: working on plays (writing and acting), music (producing others and songwriting) and poetry. It made one tired and humbled just thinking about all the things Waits was doing as an artist
Fast forward ten years and Waits hasn't let up. At an age when alot of us like to put up our feet, lean back and relax a little, well not for Mr. Waits. In his latest video, "Hell Broke Luce" Waits has captured perfectly the state of American life where the middle and working classes are slaves to their underwater home mortgages and the Military-Financial-Banking-Industrial complex. After watching this video one can't help but agree with Mr. Hammond.