The man who discovered modern music

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“Dylan was a born rebel, and I thought that, you know, Dylan might capture an audience of kids that Columbia had lost years ago.” – John Hammond (1910-1987).

The starting point of modern music is a very arbitrary thing; if you really want to determine the first raindrop to fall, you’ll probably have to go back to the First Neanderthal to apologize for the hunt and start scribbling on the cave walls. That being said, if music is a river that unfolded after that first artistic rain, then few in history have predicted more twisty turns than the almost legendary legend of John Hammond.

As a record producer, music critic, civil rights activist, talent scout and blues enthusiast, Hammond’s production in the industry has been so prolific that it’s not easy to attribute it to just one. role. He was simply someone who lived and breathed the explosion of modern music and celebrated it in many forms.

As a young man in the Roaring Twenties, his passion for music was abundant, but with great jazz unfolding all around him, he wasn’t the only one in this regard. However, Hammond was miles ahead of many of his party mates when he saw the potential of music to bring about social change. As he once said, “I didn’t hear any color line in the music. [Music] was the most effective and constructive form of social protest I could think of.

Unable to sequester his burgeoning urge to be a part of bohemian music hubs, Hammond left the stifling world of college before graduating and took a job at Melody maker. Not long after, in 1933, at the age of 23, he was enjoying the candlelit hue of a Harlem jazz bar when an unknown 17-year-old crooner named Billie Holliday took the stage. Captivated by her sultry charms, Hammond got organized for his recording debut and so does the statement that recurs throughout his life: the rest is ancient history.

Holliday would go on to be one of the first great frontier breakers in American music with songs like “Strange Fruit” defying the charts with a new air of daring social sensibility. To this day, Holliday remains an archetype of an American troubadour and it was thanks to Hammond that she first made her debut, which is a vein he will continue thereafter as he mapped out the modern music track like a man with a crystal ball. and enough of a steadfast progressive attitude to carry out his foresight.

Thereafter, Hammond would continue to champion social change and spot talent as if he was trapped by the class like a baited mousetrap. In 1938, he produced the show From spirituals to swing who saw him muster an army of all the talents he had the chance to spy on as he roamed the United States to a sonic buzz. At Carnegie Hall, the show brought together figures such as The Count Basie Orchestra, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Albert Ammons, Jimmy Rushing and many more to tell the story of black American music from its roots to swing.

The ancestor of modern music himself, Robert Johnson, opened the show that fateful evening. The only problem was that he had been murdered a few years ago. Nonetheless, Hammond had promised the crowd that they would witness modern music history and that Johnson would be a part of it. So when the lights went out, Hammond himself took the stage and passed on Johnson’s chronic legacy and shone the spotlight on a record player where his voice and guitar resonated once again like a swan song from elsewhere.

This moment turned out to be seismic in the stealthy, legendary story of explosive rock’n’roll as Robert Johnson’s rebirth was in full swing and the Delta Blues King has been re-released, inspiring a legion of rock stars, blues players and folk ballads to follow. One of those folk stars is the man who took this garish expanding surface of pop culture and plunged beneath the rock waves forever changing music: your friend and mine, Bob Dylan.

Returning from service in World War II, Hammond had become disillusioned with the bebop and other scenes that seemed, at least to him, lacking the conscious point of reflecting the horrors the world had seen and the introspective reverberations. This episode tells of a musical itch in Hammond that was only scratched when, in 1961, he heard the very singular folk styles of a scruffy young child during a session for Carolyn Hester.

He signed this weird new anti-star on Columbia in the blink of an eye and he was just as quickly ridiculed by his fellow executives simply referring to the man who changes the world: “Hammond’s Folly.” In fact, as Hammond recalled, “The vice president of Columbia Records said right away, the most horrible thing he’s ever heard in his life,” he said. “The Madness of Hammond.”

He went on to produce the seismic singles of ‘Blownin’ in the Wind ‘and’ A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall ‘and in 1968 he said,’ What I wanted to do with Bobby was just make it sound in the studio. also natural, just as he was in person, and has this extraordinary personality that manifests itself…. After all, he’s not a great harmonica player, he’s not a great guitarist, and he’s not a great singer. It turns out he’s an original. And I just wanted that originality to manifest.

With the springtime bud of music that he expected to finally flourish thanks in part to his upbringing, he has remained a mainstay of the industry. He went on to sign Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Aretha Franklin, Pete Seeger, George Benson, Arthur Russell, Mike Bloomfield, Benny Goodman and many more. Even his son John P. Hammond became a famous blues musician. However, perhaps even more remarkable than the talent he cultivated, was the change he brought with it. Throughout his life, this same principle of defending the subversive benevolence of music remained. Although he can be presented as an almost mythical oracle, it is this inspiring backbone that sustains the fantasy of all he has given to the world.

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