Volume 21, Number 1
2007 Anti-War Protests
Readers & writers
Left Electoral Campaign
Venezuela Referendum Lessons
Darfur PR Scam?
Homegrown Terrorism Act Factsheet
Center for constitutional rights
Wisconsin books to prisoners
Review: "The Bubble"
Words of Choice
Eleanor J. Bader
We Own The World
Largely About Oil
Trade & Ghana
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
John Hammond: Living The American Blues
John Hammond’s long career—31 albums, a Grammy, and hundreds of performances—ranges from the coffeehouses of the 1960s to grand concert halls to the joyful “endless tour” which is his life today. Whether playing electric guitar with his band, or acoustic solo gigs like the one I caught at Albuquerque’s Outpost this past Spring, Hammond demonstrates what longtime musical collaborator Tom Waits meant when he said of him, “John’s particular dialect in music is that of Charley Patton’s shoe size and Skip James’s watch chain. He has a blacksmith’s rhythm and the kind of soul and precision it takes to cut diamonds or to handle snakes.”
I interviewed Hammond in May 2007 during his tour in support of his latest album, Push Comes to Shove. The CD is distinguished by its inclusion of several Hammond-penned songs, alongside older Delta Blues.
NEVINS: I’ve followed your shows over the years, but the first time I recall seeing you in person was in 1967 at an anti-Vietnam War protest in New York City. You were on a flatbed truck playing that Arthur Crudup song, “Give me a 32-20, man, they need me in the war.”
HAMMOND: That’s right. I picked that song, “I Got My Questionary.” It’s a song about a man who was drafted to fight.
How are you feeling about this present war situation?
Oh, please, it’s so surrealistic. That a man that stupid, who has done so many things that he ought to be put away for anyway, should be leading the pack. And the mainstream press get in line and they’ve consistently overlooked his whole past. It’s scary. My wife and I thought of leaving the U.S., but I was damned if I was going to be chased out of my own country by an idiot like this.
Yes, I have friends leaving for other countries or planning to.
It’s just awful. What’s happened in the last two years along with domestic surveillance and Gonzales and all this stuff—I’ve got outrage overload.
You’ve got a line on your new album, Push Comes to Shove: “Life’s no secret, man, if you live the blues.” Seems like that might describe these times we’re in.
Definitely. As my wife likes to say, that song oughta be called “Bush Comes to Shove.”
Recently you started recording your own songs, after decades performing blues and songs by other writers.
Working with Tom Waits on our Wicked Grin project opened up some possibilities for me. I’ve known Tom for a long time, but still I’ve long been intimidated by such great songwriters. Tom is one of the greatest performers I’ve ever seen. I’ve worked gigs with him for about 30 years. You know, I played with Phil Ochs at Gerde’s Folk City in 1962. We were both signed by Vanguard as a result of that show. Phil was so passionate and prolific.
And I knew Dylan in the early days and John Sebastian and Tim Hardin and all those incredible songwriters. It just flowed out of them, you know?
I knew so many great songs just from being a blues freak since I was really young. I knew 400 songs in those days. Seemed I really didn’t need to write any new ones myself.
You haven’t worked your way through the blues, have you?
Hammond at the Outpost in 2007 - photo by David Bach
Oh, no. Blues is a continuum. There are so many artists back in the 1920s and 1930s that I haven’t gotten to record yet. I found my home really early on. I found my position, my place at an early age. I’ve grown into it, never out of it.
Between songs you told that story of your playing at age 18 with Mike Bloomfield, who was 17 then.
I loved that guy. He did a little thing called “Me and Big Joe” where he went on a trip with Big Joe Williams and wrote this book of all the crazy people, the drunken maniac scenes out there. Charlie Musselwhite was there, too.
Michael was in the Butterfield Blues Band when they backed Bob Dylan at Newport. That was before Dylan hooked up with The Band.
I introduced Bob to the The Band, who were called Levon and the Hawks back then. They played on my early album, I Can Tell. In fact, I just saw Levon Helm about two weeks ago. He does his Midnight Rambles concerts out of his home in Woodstock. He’s great.
You give an incredible lecture on the blues between songs at your performances, telling stories and sharing bits of information, like how Lightning Hopkins got his name . . .
Yeah, he was in Thunder and Lightnin’ with Wilson “Thunder” Smith, a great Texas piano player.
Have you thought of writing a book?
My wife and I have talked about sitting down with a tape recorder and plumbing the well. I’ve been doing this for 45 years now and I’ve met some outrageous characters. I suppose I should do that, but I have all this energy to go out on the road and play. We work 12 months a year. I don’t make big bucks, but at the end we have enough to pay the bills. I’ll be 65 in November.
You’re not planning to retire?
Not yet. My dad [John Hammond, the famed music producer who discovered Billy Holiday and Bob Dylan, among many others] wrote an autobiography, but I found it really boring. He was very political, but he wrote about his family and irrelevant stuff, not all that exciting business he was involved in. So, I don’t know about a book.
Some veteran artists seem to be reaching their maturity by mining the blues, but you’ve always been there.
Well, Dylan was a blues fanatic way back when. I met him when he first came to New York in 1961. He was just wide open, in your face, fearless. I’ll always remember those days.
When did you start writing songs?
In 2003 with “Slick Crown Vic.” That’s the first song I wrote that I liked. Now it’s been eight new songs in the last five years. I tend to do things when the deadline approaches. I’ve got one I haven’t recorded yet and about five in my head.
You narrated the documentary film, Searching for Robert Johnson a few years ago.
Yes, it was a film crew from England and they really did their homework. There was wonderful stuff that didn’t even make it into the finished film. Robert Johnson spent time in Chicago and he did gigs in New York. Victoria Spivey told me that she saw him play in Brooklyn. People just don’t know that about him.
Push Comes to Shove was produced by G. Love, who performs on one song with you. What other young players do you admire?
Alvin Youngblood Hart, go see him. He’s great. It takes time to see who’s going to stay with the blues. G. Love could become a blues player.
Can the blues change the world?
It’s the backbone of American music. It has to do with seeing things for what they are. This stupid war. Like so many other things that need to be addressed.
Bill Nevins is a writer, poet, and film- maker based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
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MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
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HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
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POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
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VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
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OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
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COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.