My last January concert took place at a new (to me) venue. City Vineyard is at Pier 26 in Riverside Park. As usual, I walked in the wrong direction when getting off the train (going deeper into Chinatown) before realizing my mistake and finally going in the correct direction towards the Hudson River instead of the East River. Approaching the space, you can see how pretty it is. There’s an outside patio covered in vines and a rooftop bar for when the weather is warm. The walls are glass so you have a great view of the Manhattan skyline, the river, and New Jersey. City Vineyard is more restaurant/bar than a place to see music. There’s a tiny stage in one corner and speakers on tripods. The ceiling is wood from wine barrels.
John Hammond was sitting at the bar when I walked in, just hanging out, and he smiled at me. I was there early and snagged a good seat. There are two rows of long tables set-up so that their front ends face the corner stage. Against the walls are smaller tables. Plus there’s a counter in front of the bar. I got a seat at the front of one of the center long tables. Like City Winery, the tables are close together. With the glass walls and stone floors (with area rugs), I thought it must be a bitch to do sound in that room but the sound was very good. The food is just as good at the City Vineyard as it is at City Winery. I had chicken liver mousse, venison cheeks stew, and an amaretto crème brûlée. The waiter I had was very friendly and the runners don’t seem to know the table numbers yet, as they kept bringing food to the wrong table and having to ask if what they were holding was your order.
John P. Hammond is, of course, the son of legendary record producer and talent scout John Hammond Jr. (He was raised by his mother and saw his father only a few times a year while growing up.) He was someone I always meant to see – he’s been performing blues since the early 1960s. It’s possible I did see him when I was in my 20s and just don’t remember. Hammond was also the first of several “child of” musicians that I was planning on seeing during City Vineyard’s winter performance series. The crowd skewed older.
This music series had no openers – it was just the advertised artist. The first thing I noticed is that the older he gets the more Hammond reminds me of his father. Hammond said he was just going to play what he felt like and what he felt like playing was great. He switched between acoustic and resonator guitars, sometimes using a slide. Most of the songs he did were old blues songs. He didn’t start writing his own songs until 10 years ago because there were so many unknown songs and that was good enough. Hammond’s wife suggested he write songs and make them some money. His originals stood up fine along with the old songs.
Songs we heard were “Heartache Blues” (an original that has a well-used blues lyric – “I’m going back down South where the weather suits my clothes”) and “Mean Old Lonesome Train” (a Lightnin’ Slim song that Hammond thought was a Buddy Guy song and it took 25 years to work up and then he found out it wasn’t a Buddy Guy song). We also heard songs written by Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Sleepy John Estes, Sonny Boy Williamson (in a Chicago club he followed the cord from the amp to a table where Williamson was sitting with two women and bottle of booze and playing from the table), Jimmy Reed, Skip James, and Jimmy Rogers.
Hammond told several stories about meeting his blues music heroes. Hammond played with Jimmy Reed in 1964 in Oakland. He stopped telling that story because no one believed him. Ten years ago, Martin Scorsese put together a blues show at Radio City Music Hall. John Fogerty walked up to Hammond and said, “Man, I saw you open up for Jimmy Reed.” Charlie Musselwhite took him to see Michael Bloomfield in a blues club in Chicago and in a couple of years he got to play with them. Hammond had moved to Los Angeles in 1962 and he was working pumping gas and auditioning at coffee houses. He was admiring a Martin guitar in the passenger seat of a car. The driver told him to play him a tune and was blown away. That was Hoyt Axton and the rest is history. The song he played was Chuck Berry’s “No Money Down.”
Hammond didn’t tell this story but he’s the guy who introduced Bob Dylan to the band that became The Band.
Hammond left us with some very enthusiastic “thank yous” but it was us who were thanking him for a great night of blues.
This is not a complete set list but some of the songs performed were:
Just Your Fool (Little Walter)
Mean Ol’ Lonesome Train (Lightnin’ Slim)
My Time After Awhile (Buddy Guy)
My Mind is Ramblin’ (Howlin’ Wolf)
Come on in My Kitchen (Robert Johnson)
You Know That’s Cold
Love Changing Blues (Blind Willie McTell)
Come to Find Out
Someday Baby Blues (Sleepy John Estes)
Fattening Frogs for Snakes (Sonny Boy Williamson)
Found Love (Jimmy Reed)
Hard Time Killing Floor (Skip James)
That’s All Right (Jimmy Rogers)
By Carene Lydia Lopez