John Hammond Interview
January 24, 1992
by Bill Ector
Hittin' the Note was first conceived, my mind immediately began to think of
topics which would be of interest to me and which might be shared in some way
with my fellow fans of the Allman Brothers Band (sometimes referred to as
Allmaniacs!). So many ideas came to me in that first rush of thought, that
deciding on one topic became quite a difficult problem. As fate would have it,
I was leafing through a copy of Creative Loafing, Atlanta's alternative
(and free!) news and entertainment publication, when I noticed that John Hammond
was scheduled for a one-nighter on January 24, 1992, at the Variety Playhouse.
A group of us had seen him at this same venue back in April, 1991, and though I
had gotten him to sign my copy of Southern Fried, I did not have the
opportunity to ask him about his friendship and musical alliance with Duane
Allman and the Allman Brothers Band. Suddenly I realized that if I could make
the necessary arrangements, an interview with John would be a great way to begin
my new career as an amateur journalist. Now that my mission statement had been
formulated, I began to move toward my goal.
short time I had contacted John's booking agency in San Francisco to discuss the
possibility of setting up a meeting. It took only a couple of days to find out
that he would welcome the chance to talk "on the record" about Duane and the
band after his gig in Atlanta. Now that the wheels had been set into motion, I
began re-reading some old interviews with or about John to come up with a list
of questions for the impending interview. Hopefully there will be some new
perspective on what was a very strong, but tragically short, two-year
friendship between John Hammond and Duane Allman.
Transcribed here is my interview with John Hammond on Friday, January 24, 1992,
in his cramped dressing room backstage at the Variety Playhouse, a converted
movie theater in the rather Bohemian Little Five Points district of Atlanta.
We are talking with John Hammond backstage at the Variety
Playhouse where he has just finished performing, and we want to do a little
talking about his experience playing with Duane Allman. This is for the
soon-to-arrive, unofficial, unauthorized fan letter of the Allman Brothers Band
called Hittin' the Note. You may have heard that term bandied about at
You and Duane first recorded together in Muscle Shoals
around November, 1969 – is that right? – during the Southern Fried
That's when I met Duane. I had been on a quest to record
for Atlantic, my third LP. Jerry Wexler had sent me to Memphis first to record
there and it didn't work out. So I came back to New York and he said, "Well,
we'll send you down to where Aretha records and all these folks." So I went
down to Muscle Shoals, and there are the guys who recorded behind [Wilson]
Pickett and everybody, and I assumed that they were all black. And they were
told that there was a blues artist who was going to fly in and record, so they
assumed that I was going to be black. So we looked at each other and these guys
just gave me this cold look. You know, it was Roger Hawkins, Barry
Beckett, Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, Eddie Hinton; and for three days I tried to
get them into what I was playing, and they just seemed to play a little bit
awkwardly. On the third day, this old milk truck drives up and Duane and Berry
Oakley were in it. I had never met Duane, but Duane kept saying, "I got to meet
this John Hammond guy. I hear he's here recording." I looked up at this guy
and he had like long red hair, eyebrows that crossed, big sideburns that crossed
into a mustache, and a T-shirt on that said "City Slickers" on it, and he was
like just a piece of work. 1969 in Alabama, it was like . . . .
A real freak, for sure, huh?
Yeah, but he had balls. So everybody just fell all over
themselves for Duane, you know. He was their idol. Duane finally got
introduced to me and I said, "Hi." I had never heard his stuff. He had
recorded with Aretha and with all these other artists – I didn't know. Then he
started to play and asked if he could be on a cut, and everybody said, "Oh,
John, let him play. He's really great." All of a sudden these guys knew
exactly what I wanted them to do. From having not understood a thing
before, everybody understood what the deal was. Duane was the catalyst
completely for that. I stayed really close with Duane ever since then. I was
on many gigs with them, and I got with their agency [The Paragon Agency] and I
eventually recorded for Capricorn, Can't Beat The Kid.
That is a great record – one side acoustic and the other
Duane was just something else. He was a really great guy,
one of those charismatic guys that makes everybody stand up and pay attention.
You were quoted in an earlier interview in Guitar
Player magazine that Duane could influence anybody. How did he influence
Just seeing him being able to play so many different
things so well was . . . To play with him was like feeling almost invincible,
because he played everything right. He was just terrific. It was more
inspirational than actually learning notes and stuff. He was a good friend.
What were his contributions to the Southern Fried
album in terms of arranging?
He was just on four of the cuts. He was only able to be
there that day and the next day. He kinda let the guys know what they were
supposed to do. It's not that they didn't know how to play, it's just that when
they saw Duane was into it, they got right into it. He was just that kind of
Did you do any stuff that was unreleased from those
sessions? You have said before that there was some extended stuff that got cut
There was "Shake For Me." He played a whole other guitar
break that they had to cut out because it was too long, I guess.
Kind of like the "Loan Me A Dime" with Boz Scaggs or "Goin'
Duane and Delaney Bramlett would get together and jam at
Jerry Wexler's, and Wexler has said "I wish I had recorded all that."
Obviously, you guys got a chance to do some of that.
We were on a lot of gigs together because we toured.
Hotel room jam sessions at 3:00 A.M. were almost routine. Those guys were
together so long and they knew everybody's inside/outside, which I didn't know
everybody's all that well. I got to know them and they were kinda in the fast
lane as it were. At times it was hard for me to relate to everything that they
were into and stuff, but I liked everybody and they were all real nice to me. I
felt like I was a friend of the whole band, but Duane was the guy who I knew,
who I met first, and . . . .
You stayed partners?
Yeah, the whole time.
Did you get a chance to record any of those types of
No, it was never thought about. I mean, who knew he would
be gone? My God, the guy was so alive! I never expected it – it was so
shocking. He and I had talked about making an acoustic album together that
would have been happening the year he died. It was in our minds.
You were together a couple of days before he passed away.
Duane had been in upstate New York and had some time off
and stopped by in N.Y.C. We spent about two days just sorta hanging out,
playing together, talking about recording. I had a gig in Newfoundland and he
had to go down to Macon. I got a phone call in the middle of the next night --
it was terrible.
You felt pretty disconnected at that point, being so far
away from everybody?
Yeah, it was unbelievable. I couldn't believe it.
When were you together? He passed away on a Friday. Were
you together on Wednesday and Thursday?
Thursday, because I left early Friday morning for
Newfoundland and he left for Macon. I think it happened the day he got home.
It's been twenty years, and sometimes it seems like
yesterday. Do you ever think about what his music might be about were he still
Hard to say, but it would be right up front somewhere, I
Duane never gets or got a lot of the recognition that he
He didn't get a chance to do as much as he would have had
he been alive, but what he did do was really sensational.
What do you think his greatest musical gift was?
His ability to just be inventive all the time. All his
solos were special – so much energy. He was really creative.
Are there any players around today that you think have
that same type of approach and fire that Duane had?
Yes, but not the same thing. He was uniquely himself and
had his own magic. But, you can hear guys who have heard his stuff and been
inspired by him.
Duane was a great slide player, which he was most famous
for, yet you have stated that he would pick your brain about the way you played
Yeah, he wanted to see how I played the Robert Johnson
stuff especially. He loved that stuff.
Is that the kind of music you guys would play – the Robert
He wanted to play with me, that's where it exactly was
at. But I jammed up there with the band, maybe played a little harmonica – it
Are there any comments you would like to make to the fans
of the Allman Brothers Band?
Those guys have been around for a long time, they have
really paid their dues and learned everything the hard way. I'm so glad they're
still happening and have that energy still. And Gregg is just doing better and
better in spite of all the ups and downs he's been through. He's a great
singer. We saw Gregg in California in September. He had just been in a movie
and was all full of himself!
Tell us about yourself. You have a pretty busy year
Marla [John's beautiful and gracious companion] and I are
going all over the world again. We had a thing we did for the BBC on Robert
Johnson [which is available on Sony video and entitled In Search of Robert
Johnson]. I made a new album for the Point Blank label that will be
released in April. It was produced by J.J. Cale. John Lee Hooker is on it,
Little Charlie and The Nightcats, J.J. Cale and his band play on the album, I do
some stuff solo, and Tom Waits wrote a song for the session. It was really a
wild time! I'm real happy with it.
You played on John Lee Hooker's latest record.
Yeah, I was on two cuts of that – Mr. Lucky.
John, I really appreciate you taking the time for this.
You are really welcome.
across from John and watching him talk about Duane Allman was a most gratifying
experience for me. It is readily apparent that the friendship which John and
Duane had was deep and fertile, and that each had the utmost respect for the
other as musicians and as human beings. Gregg Allman has been quoted as saying
that Duane and John were best friends, and it only took about two seconds of
conversation to see that this was true. John Hammond has continued to play and
sing the blues. His performance on this crisp January night was stunning – even
the three or four broken strings couldn't take away from the brilliance and
soulfulness that is the essence of his style. Beautiful acoustic blues
accompanied by a Martin guitar, 1936 National steel body, harmonica, and a voice
which has been drenched in the blues, and you have all the ingredients necessary
for a real blues primer. In addition to his continued world-wide touring, John
has been hard at work on some other projects which he briefly mentioned during
the interview. His video, In Search of Robert Johnson, is basically a
travelogue through the regions of the South where the true "father of the blues"
played, lived, and died. John interviews family members, friends, and fellow
musicians to tell the story of the man who gave modern blues and rock players
their mighty inspiration. John has a new album on the Point Blank/Charisma
label entitled Got Love If You Want It, which is due for a May 5 release,
and he will be on the road to Hong Kong, Europe, and back in the US. during
are some special thank you's which must be given to make this item complete.
First, to Alix Woznick with the Rosebud Agency in San Francisco, who was as
gracious and helpful as she could possibly be in setting up the interview with
John. Second, to a group of John's personal friends who broke away from their
after-show gathering to grant the time for me to spend with John and Marla.
Third, to Marla for holding up through the miles of travel and lack of sleep to
be so kind and attentive while the interview was taking place. Finally, my
deepest personal appreciation goes to John Hammond. Here is a man who gave so
much of himself to this endeavor with a total stranger and who has a great
spirit and a warm heart. It will always be a highlight of my life to remember
my conversation with John and his special remembrances of Brother Duane.
forward to the next time that we Allmaniacs get a chance to get together on the
pages of Hittin' the Note. If there are any subjects you want to see
covered, please write and let me know. I plan to concentrate primarily on the
musical aspect of the Allman Brothers Band, which hopefully will include reviews
of old and new performances, song evolutions, and some in-depth interviews with
and about the individual members of the band, their instruments, their styles,
influences, and goals for themselves and the band down the road. This is
your fan letter, so let us know what you, the fans, want to read about.
Play all night!
by Bill Ector