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Acoustic bluesman

Published Feb. 21, 1997|Updated Sep. 30, 2005

John Hammond's life has been nothing but the blues.

His earliest memories are of a vast treasury of recordings by legends such as Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson, Billie Holiday and others whom his father, John Hammond, Sr. helped bring to life through his work for Columbia records from the 1930s to the 1970s.

"I look around at the people in the blues realm, my friends and peers, and I feel fortunate to be exposed to what I was," said Hammond in an interview this week.

That youthful inspiration brought Hammond through a series of brilliant solo recordings, to live collaborations with rock greats Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Duane Allman. Today at 55, he is considered one of the world's most engaging acoustic blues players. According to friend and producer J.J. Cale, his style "will make your hair roots stand on end."

Hammond considers country blues one of the most honest and evocative forms of American music. He is one of only about a dozen performers, the likes of which include stylists Paul Geremia, Roy Book Binder, Corey Harris and Rory Block, who still devote their talents to acoustic blues.

His ability to crawl up inside a tune such as Robert Johnson's Terraplane Blues and dig into its emotion has placed Hammond in a unique dominion. In fact, his lifelong devotion to Johnson's art made the singer the natural choice to serve as an on-screen guide to the BBC documentary, The Search for Robert Johnson.

While blues has been enjoying a renaissance in recent years, Hammond considers it part of the cyclical interest the music undergoes every few years.

"Blues has always gotten a bad rap with record company executives," he said. "They don't always know where to find the audience, and then they lose patience with it."

However, patience has served Hammond well through the years. After all, that's why he still has the blues.

John Hammond performs with Leon Redbone at 9 p.m. Saturday at the State Theater in St. Petersburg. Tickets are $14 advance, $17 at door.

THE OFFSPRING _ Go back to 1994, the year the Offspring scored its surprise No. 1 hit, Come Out and Play, propelling the band into the same arena aspost-punk counterparts Green Day and Rancid. So other than its driving sound, what keeps the Offspring in the pop forefront, while their peers have faded?

"A lot of it has to do with not being hung up on being a punk band," said singer Bryan Holland in a recent interview. "What makes us different is we push our music beyond that. I wouldn't consider us a pop band, but I think what we try to do is put real songs into the music."

For the band's latest effort, Ixnay on the Hombre, the Offspring bid goodbye to Epitaph Records, the independent label that launched the band's multiplatinum Smash, for Columbia. Was the move accompanied by the anxiety to deliver big results?

"We asked (the label), "Please leave us alone,"' said Holland. "They took some risks, I mean, they knew nothing. We did the songs, the sequencing, the album title, the album art _ everything."

So, the Offspring is relying on fan support to get it through. Just as it has done since breaking out of the Orange County scene 10 years ago.

"You put your faith in the people who support your music, that they will follow you through every turn," said Holland. "I feel like we can still count on that."

The Offspring performs at 8 p.m. Thursday at Jannus Landing with Strung Out, AFI. Tickets are $15.

BEYOND BUFFETT _ Okay, so you're out of luck for Jimmy Buffett tickets tonight. Here's a couple of suggestions for an unforgettable Saturday night:

Sweet Honey In The Rock, the dulcet-voiced a cappella sextet makes its way to Tampa Theater at 8 p.m. for a stop on their Black History Tour 1997.

The Grammy award-winning group, now in its 21st year, has been a longtime favorite with bay area audiences, which got their first introduction to the group many years ago via community radio station WMNF.

Throughout the evening, the group will wind through a soul-stirring repertoire of traditional African folk songs to spirituals to contemporary songs that deal will turbulent issues such as racism, sexism and AIDS, all done in with an energetic delivery that incorporates narrative, movement and plenty of spirit.

The performance benefits Crescendo, the Tampa Bay Womyn's Chorus and Building Bridges. Tickets are $20.

At 10:45 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. jazz bassist extraordinaire Christian McBride and group pull a late-nighter at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center's Jaeb Theater as part of the venue's insightful Jazz at the Jaeb series, hosted by Fred Johnson.

McBride, at 23, is an astounding talent, drawing his inspiration from the great players of eras past, and adding his own tints to obtain a rich, sure-footed sound. His last album, Number Two Express, earned him a Grammy nomination for best jazz album.

For those who are apt to gripe about the lack of jazz headliners in the bay area, this show should be an absolute must. Tickets are $14.50 for one show, $19.50 for both.

Other good bets for the week:

Country rock legends Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen along with Rev. Billy C. Wirtz invade Skipper's Smokehouse at 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $8 advance, $11 day of show.

On Sunday, it's an all-blues day at Skipper's with the Nighthawks, Smokin' Joe Kubek, Mary May & Agitators. Showtime is 4 p.m. Tickets are $7 advance, $10 day of show.

Louisiana rockers Better Than Ezra performs at the Rubb at 9 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets are $10 advance, $13 day of show.

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