He's Still on an Endless Road Trip of the Blues : After 32 years, John Hammond continues his global tour. The solo guitarist plays tonight in Ventura.


In 1962, the year John Hammond's first album came out, John Kennedy was trying to figure out the Soviets and the Cubans, Wally and the Beaver were trying to figure out girls, and girls were trying to figure out how to get a date with Elvis or Little Joe Cartwright.

Well, Kennedy never did, Wally and the Beav never did, and now the girls wouldn't want to. But 32 years, 31 albums and about a billion miles later, Hammond still has those blues.

He'll be playing selections off his latest release, "Trouble No More" tonight at Nicholby's in Ventura. Another noted blues guitarist, Duke Robillard, is also on the bill.

Reached at his New York home (probably the one with 37 newspapers in the driveway), Hammond discussed the endless road trip.

"I just came back from Australia, a place where I've never seen so much beer consumption in my whole life. I've been there many times. Actually, I've been on every continent except Africa, and I'm curious, but it would have to be part of a good tour."

Hammond is the son of a famous industry A&R; man for Columbia named John Henry Hammond, who figured in the careers of Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, among others. Rooting around in his dad's record collection, the younger Hammond got turned on to the blues by the likes of Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker and Howlin' Wolf. Now Hammond is one of them.

"I've always thought it was the hippest, sexiest, down-home music, and it just hit it off with me," said Hammond. "I do more than 200 dates a year, which means I'm on the road more than that, due to off days and travel days.

"You have to go on the road to make money unless you are the best studio musician in the world. Then you have to learn how to live on the road. Since I don't make rock star money, I have to play a lot. I play smaller theatres and clubs. With experience you learn how to maintain your energy and not blow it."

In 1962, girl groups were in, teen idols were duly idolized and the British Invasion hadn't yet hit England. In 1993, there's grunge, rap, industrial, techno, heavy metal and alternative music (everything else), but, the blues are still around.

"The industry has gotten phenomenally huge compared to then," he said. "What's happening now is music is becoming more and more specialized. There's blues, jazz or folk labels.

"Before, a big label like Columbia would have a blues department, a folk department or a jazz department. I don't know if that's better or worse, but the blues have never been top of the pops, always more of a specialized type of music.

"I think the blues are doing a lot better during the last five years. Now there are specialized blues labels such as Alligator, Black Top and Pointblank, there seems to be more radio stations that have blues programs and there are some publications that are blues-oriented."

Hammond's bio reads like a who's who in the music biz. At one time or another Hammond has played with John Lee Hooker, Duane Allman, Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson of the Band, Bill Wyman of the Stones, Charlie Musselwhite, Eric Clapton, and for a few weeks in the '60s, he had a pretty good guitar player named Jimi Hendrix.

Yet despite all the cool collaborations over the years, Hammond remains a solo player; just a guy, a guitar, a road map, with no need for a calculator to divide the loot.

"I've had bands over the years, and I've gotten to use and record with bands over the years. I just don't make enough money to support a band. But during the last three of four years, I've toured with bands such as Little Charlie and the Nightcats and Duke Robillard," he said.

"Duke has a band, and we'll do a set together on this tour. On 'Trouble No More,' I've got some stuff with Charles Brown in an uptown sort of style, and there's seven songs with Little Charlie, plus an acoustic song with Roy Rogers.

"But being a solo artist, that's always been my strong suit. I feel I've got a unique spot out there. I'm just playing eclectic blues as I've always done. Hopefully, I'm getting better."

* PERFORMANCES: The opinionated guide to the county rock music scene appears today in 11-Day Calendar. Page 12


* WHAT: John Hammond and Duke Robillard.

* WHERE: Nicholby's, 404 E. Main St., Ventura.

* WHEN: Tonight, 8:30.

* HOW MUCH: $15.50 advance, $16.50 at the door.

* FYI: 653-2320.

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