John Hammond was a white blues musician in the early 1960’s; a time period when the blues where not commercially successful or white. For better or worse, he is also the son of legendary Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame producer John Hammond Sr. who signed such artists as Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Pete Seeger, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Bruce Springsteen.
Hammond began his career in the Greenwich Village club scene of the early 1960’s and helped pave the way for a generation of blues artists who would follow. To date he has released 34 albums and most have been reissued except for 1967s Mirrors, which now returns in a remastered form.
Hammond released some of his strongest albums for the Vanguard label during the mid-1960’s. His 1963 self-titled debut, 1964’s Big City Blues, and 1965’s So Many Roads are considered classics of 1960’s traditional blues. As he was leaving the label, Mirrors was assembled from the outtakes of his previous three albums. Side one (CD tracks 1-6) are electric and side two (CD tracks 7-13) are acoustic.
The album contains three Robert Johnson compositions, all recorded at a time when Johnson was all but forgotten. “Stones In My Passway” and “Walking Blues” are sparse acoustic interpretations that retain Johnson’s power. “Travelling Riverside” is an electric extravaganza featuring a number of young musicians who would become famous including harpist Charlie Musselwhite, guitarist Robbie Robertson, drummer Levon Helm, and Mike Bloomfield on piano.
“Get Right Church” is a traditional gospel tune made famous by the Staple Singers. Hammond strips it down to basics with just his voice and guitar.
“Statesboro Blues” and “Keys To The Highway” have been recorded dozens of times, most famously by the Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton respectively. It is interesting to hear his early electrified versions of these old blues staples.
As good as the electric tracks may be, the essence of John Hammond’s music is acoustic performances like “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” ”When You Are Gone,” and “Rock Me Mama.”
Hammond has never veered from the blues. Mirrors may have never been reissued in any form and may not be a cohesive album given the various sources of the material; yet it contains a number of performances worth hearing.