Originally released in 1967 by Vanguard Records, “Mirrors” was mended together with outtakes from two previous Hammond albums 1964’s “Big City Blues,” and 1965’s “So Many Roads.” The original “Mirrors” vinyl album was split with six electric songs on side one, and seven solo/acoustic performances on the flip side. The electric side features Levon Helm and Robbie (credited as Robby) Robertson of The Band, Michael Bloomfield (who plays piano, not guitar,) Charlie Musselwhite’s harmonica, Barry Goldberg’s organ on Mose Allison’s “I Just Got Here,” as well as Billy Butler’s (most famous for his guitar on Bill Doggett’s) “Honky Tonk,” plus guitarist James Spruill whose claim to fame came from his guitar solo on Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City,” throughout bassist Jimmy Lewis is in the pocket on each of the six songs he’s on. Tracks two through five features Spruill and Billy Butler, the first and sixth tunes finds future Blues-rock stars (Michael Bloomfield, Helm, Goldberg, Musselwhite and Robertson) supporting Hammond. The concluding seven songs are with Hammond accompanying himself as a vocalist with his guitar.
The covers on “Mirrors” showcase songs well popularized by prevalent later day bands via songs written by T-Bone Walker; “Stormy Monday,” Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues,” Big Bill Broozy’s “Key (credited as Keys) to the Highway,” three consecutive Robert Johnson tunes, and other Blues standards. What’s interesting is several of these Blues renditions became live and recorded additions by touring outfits like the: Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers Band, Hot Tuna, Taj Mahal, John Mayall, B.B. King, Eric Clapton as well as Eric’s Derek and the Dominos. Thus making Hammond and/or his uncredited producer’s; futuristic visionaries who likely introduced these Blues standards to an eventual and wider audience (years before) they became widely known staples of their era.
Billy Boy Arnold’s “I Wish You Would” opens up the electric side and finds the young Hammond crooning like Howlin’ Wolf; Jimmy Lewis’ bass is thumping from beginning to end on this well preserved and superb sounding gem. Don’t expect an Allman Brothers like rendition of T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday Blues” Hammond’s vocal hasn’t matured and sounds unseasoned and comes off as amateurish. I didn’t recognize Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues” and that ain’t good. Big Bill Broonzy’s “Keys (should be Key) to the Highway” suffers from Hammond’s inexperienced Blues vocal, even though Musselwhite tries to save the day with potent harp work but the rest of the band just toils along. The recently deceased Mose Allison’s “I Just Got Here” lumbers without fanfare and writhes with Barry Goldberg’s usually reliable organ notes. Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside” works well with Lewis’ smart basslines and Hammond’s inspired vocal, but Robertson’s guitar work is embarrassingly misguided.
For the remainder of “Mirrors” it’s just Hammond’s vocal and guitar. First up is another Robert Johnson cover “Stones in My Passway” that’s difficult to endure, as is Johnson’s “Walking Blues.” The traditional “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” limps along, as does Blind Willie Johnson’s “Motherless Willie Johnson.” Blind Boy Fuller’s “When You are Gone” aches as does the two traditional and uninspired closers “Rock Me Mama,” and “Get Right Church.”
Back from my youthful days growing up in Greenwich Village where I got to see Hammond open many a gig unaccompanied and solo (he actually lived down the street from me – where I’d catch him playing and singing outside his 7th Ave. South apartment) so I knew what to expect from Hammond’s concluding unaccompanied tunes on “Mirrors.” Nonetheless: I was optimistic for the six opening electric band tunes, and though there’s the outstanding remastering audio engineering by the always fabulous Joe Tarantino, and Richie Unterberger’s informative liner notes – “there’ little else for me to recommend”. Other than the historical value and content that finds Hammond recording with members of The Band (Levon Helm and Robertson,) Michael Bloomfield’s rare piano appearance, Barry Goldberg’s organ, Charlie Musselwhite’s harp, guitarists Spruill with the well-known Billy Butler and the abundantly recorded Fender bassist Jimmy Lewis. All of this has me thinking that maybe you should give Hammond’s “Mirrors” a listen; to determine your own conclusion about this young John Hammond: Hmmm…?
For 17 years Bob Putignano has been pivotal with his Sounds of Blue radio shows.
On-demand Homegrown Sounds of Blue internet radio shows can always be found at: www.soundsofblue.com/radioshowsmp3.htm
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Previously a contributing editor at Blues Revue, Blueswax, and Goldmine magazines, currently the Music Editor for the Yonkers Tribune.
Bob was also the 2003 recipient of the “Keeping the Blues Alive” award (given by the Blues Foundation in Memphis) for his achievements in radio broadcasting. Putignano can be contacted at: BobP@SoundsofBlue.com
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