LIVE: G. Love / John Hammond @ Skidmore’s Zankel Music Center, 9/7/14
Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Lena Spencer first opened the doors to Caffe Lena more than a half century ago, and thanks to Sarah Craig – who’s been the director and guiding light of the little-coffeehouse-that-could for the past 20 years – two generations of Caffe favorites came together on the stage of Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center earlier this month in a blues-soaked benefit for the enduring Saratoga folk music haven. It was a night of Blues Hall of Famer John Hammond and his ’90s hit-making acolyte G. Love.
Hammond made his debut at Lena’s way back in 1962, but at the Zankel, only his silver hair that gave away his status as a 71-year-old blues veteran. Looking fit and trim and still sounding like a howling hurricane, Hammond opened the show with a crackling, foot-stomping, hour-long set that served as something of a career retrospective as he sat alone on a center-stage stool with his guitar and harmonica, rumbling through a dozen tasty tunes that dipped deep into the songbags of the blues greats that influenced him – from Lightning Slim to Buddy Guy, from Howlin’ Wolf to Blind Willie McTell, from Bobby Bland to Sleepy John Estes.
One of his best interpretations of the night, however, was the old Robert Johnson war-horse “Come On in My Kitchen.” Hammond noted, “I’ve been doing this song way long than he lived,” but actually, Hammond only sang about half of the song, allowing his vintage National resonator guitar to “sing” the other half, just as slippery and as mournful as his own vocals. As over-recorded and over-performed as that classic song is, Hammond made it sound stunningly fresh and vibrant.
Always more interested in mining the rich repertoire of the blues greats who came before him than writing original songs himself, Hammond nevertheless managed to squeeze a trio of his own blues tunes into his set, highlighted by “You Know That’s Cold.”
G. Love – minus his band, Special Sauce – served up a sparkling set that concentrated heavily on the blues end of his pioneering blues-meets-hip-hop hybrid style, but songs like “Sunshine” and “Rainbow” were among the most optimistic songs in anyone’s blues repertoire. In his introduction to “Shooting Hoop,” he waxed nostalgic about his year (1991-92) as a Skidmore student who regularly played Caffe Lena open mic nights as well as the campus coffeehouse, Falstaff’s.
Of course, he played his best-known tune, “Cold Beverage,” but mid-set he also paid tribute to Hammond (his mentor and primary musical influence) with a pair of 12-string guitar romps through “Stateboro Blues” and “Bull Frog Blues,” two of the tunes that Hammond recorded on his seminal 1963 Country Blues album.
And while his focus was on his original tunes, he wrapped up his set with a pair of classic Bukka White songs, “JItterbug Swing” and “Fixin’ to Die Blues.”
Naturally, at the end of the night, blues mentor and student joined forces on stage for a show-capping encore – Jimmy Reed’s blues gem, “Honest I Do” – and the so-called Generation Gap melted away as they fired up a delicious duet and a sublimely squealing harmonica duel.
Excerpt from Kirsten Ferguson’s review at The Daily Gazette: “His eyes squinted shut, Hammond looked he might shed a tear during his own lost-love lament ‘Heartache Blues.’ He played the spare but powerful Robert Johnson classic ‘Come On in My Kitchen’ and closed with the Bobby Bland vengeance tale ‘Farther Up the Road.’ Philadelphia native G. Love (born Garrett Dutton) called Hammond his ‘musical father,’ an artist he first heard in a record store and then went to see play live as a teenager before modeling his own music after Hammond’s solo acoustic, harmonica-driven blues. Of course, G. Love, playing without his band Special Sauce, has added his own Generation X take on the style. His opening song, ‘Milk and Sugar,’ was a cutesy double-entendre track about the joys of morning coffee that found G. Love beating out the percussion with his foot against the stage.”
G.LOVE SET LIST
Milk and Sugar
Morning Comes Too Soon
Back to Boston
Statesboro Blues (Blind Willie McTell)
Bull Frog Blues
Bad Girl Baby Blues
Jitterbug Swing (Bukka White)
Fixin’ to Die Blues (Bukka White)
Honest I Do (Jimmy Reed) (with John Hammond)
JOHN HAMMOND SET LIST
Riding in the Moonlight (Howlin’ Wolf)
My Time After a While (Buddy Guy)
Rocket Oldsmobile (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)
Drop Down Mama (Sleepy John Estes)
Further On Up the Road (Bobby Bland)