Monday, May 20, 2013

John Paul Hammond

It should be no surprise that singer/guitarist John Paul Hammond is a musician.  It’s in his blood.

Hammond, who on Friday, June 7 will play the State Theatre in Falls Church, Virginia as part of the 2013 Tinner Hill Blues Festival, is the son of famous record producer and talent scout John Henry Hammond. By his son's account, the elder Hammond discovered artists ranging from Billie Holiday to Lester Young to Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen.

Sometimes referred to as John Hammond, Jr., Hammond the son has had several brushes of his own with musical history during his forty year career.

He is the only musician known to play in a band featuring both Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.  He also advised Hendrix to travel to England—a move that essentially launched the guitarist to fame.

Hammond befriended Willie Dixon and Duane Allman, got to know Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and shared a show with Jimmy Reed.  He enlisted members of the Band as his back-up band for an album—then saw Bob Dylan steal them away. He attended parties hosted in New York City by blues shouter and songwriter Victory Spivey.  Spivey once recorded him playing with Otis Spann and Bob Dylan in the same session.

Performing live on guitar and harp-on-a-rack in a barrelhouse style, Hammond plays classic blues songs from the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. He has recorded more than 30 albums since debuting on Vanguard Records in 1962.  In 1985 he won a Grammy for the compilation album Blues Explosion, which also featured Sugar Blue, J.B. Hutto, Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson, Koko Taylor and Stevie Ray Vaughan.  He has received four other Grammy nominations, including one in 2010 for his album Rough and Tough.

In 2011, Hammond was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame by the Blues Foundation.

He spoke to Beldon’s Blues Point about his long career in the following interview:

BBP: I did see you at the Hamilton (in November, 2012). I guess you were opening for Coco Montoya?

Hammond: This was in D.C., right?

BBP: Yeah. Yeah. I really enjoyed your show, I must say.

Hammond: Thank you.

BBP: Well, I was reading about your background, and you’re part of the Vanderbilt family, right?

Hammond: Um, indirectly. My father’s mother was Emily Sloane, who—her mother was a Vanderbilt. And I never got to know that whole scene at all. My dad was a rebellious guy who broke away from his family and all of that stuff and I mean was practically disowned by his family.  And so I grew up not knowing much about that side at all. I grew up mostly with my mother, who was Irish, born in Toronto, just off the ship from Ireland. So that was my reality as a kid. You know, as I got older I heard all of these things about my father’s mother and her Vanderbilt connections. My grandfather, John Henry Hammond, was the son of a very strange dynamic guy from the Civil War era, a general in the army who became a scout for the railroad and all of this stuff. A real character. So that’s my background.

BBP: Wow. I was curious also—just as a thought—are you related to Anderson Cooper from CNN?

Hammond: Indirectly, indirectly, yes.  Anyone that had a Vanderbilt connection, all of these trainspotter types are quick to say (affecting a pompous type voice) “Oh, you’re related to (whomever). He’s your third cousin twice removed.” I don’t pay attention to that stuff.

BBP: Well, I don’t know why I thought of that. It just sort of popped into my head.  But anyway you were talking about your dad, and I understand your dad was pretty important in the music business in his own right. That he actually discovered Billie Holiday?

Hammond: Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Lester Young, Charlie Christian, Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons—he put the band together for Benny Goodman,  then went on to discover artists like Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, um, Bruce Springsteen…

BBP: Really!

Hammond: It goes on and on. He was quite a guy.

BBP: But I understand you really didn’t have a lot of contact with him as you were growing up.

Hammond:  Well I didn’t grow up with my dad. My folks were divorced when I was five. I saw my father on occasion.  My brother and I grew up with our mother, basically.

BBP: But did his line of work influence you at all?

Hammond: Maybe indirectly, but I wasn’t part of his household, so I got into this on my own. It’s my own passion.

BBP: Well, why the blues, of the different styles of music you could have gotten into? What about them attracted you?

Hammond: When I was seven, my father took me to hear Big Bill Broonzy, who was one of the great country blues players.  I was very impressed.  I don’t know how the seeds were sewn, but as I got older, I just sort of gravitated towards blues music and all of that passion and feeling, to me, it was where it all came from. I just got deeper and deeper into it. And when I was 18, I got a guitar, and when I was 19 I started playing professionally. It’s all I wanted to do.

BBP: Hmm. And I understand that you were a big fan of Jimmy Reed, that he had a lot of influence…

Hammond: Oh, yeah. I got to be on a show with him.

BBP: Really?

Hammond: 1964. In Oakland, California.

BBP: You were playing with him?

Hammond: Yeah, I was opening the show.  It was a show put on by a record producer named Chris Strachwitz who had a label called Arhoolie Records.  And I got to know Chris: he’s a big blues fanatic, and he put on shows, recorded artists and so forth. He was—is—a terrific, dynamic guy.

BBP: And what was it like meeting Jimmy Reed for the first time? He was somebody you admired all of those years.

Hammond: It was awesome. I was so humbled I don’t think I said more than four words, like, “so nice to meet you.” And I watched his show intently. He was just amazing.

BBP: Wow.  And I also understand that you were a big fan of Robert Johnson.

Hammond: I was, but I never met Robert Johnson (laughs). He died before I was born.

BBP: Yeah. He died before a lot of us were born.

Hammond: But I got to know a lot of great blues players, including Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. Willie Dixon. I could just name hundreds of other artists that I’ve toured with and played with—got to know and—I’ve had an amazing career.

BBP: Yeah, I’ve been reading all about you. You certainly have. Tell me about Willie Dixon though. I know that you were a friend of his.

Hammond: Well, he was happening on many levels. He was a songwriter of course, and wrote songs for Muddy and Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter and just about everybody.  He was also a great bass player—bandleader—he put artists on the map, you know from obscurity to having recording deals and so forth. He worked hand and glove with Chess Records and he took care of himself. I mean he got his songs published, he made money that way. He was a very happening guy.  He was from Vicksburg, Mississippi. I’d driven through Vicksburg on my way to New Orleans once and I said “Oh, I was in your hometown, Vicksburg” and he said (imitating a very deliberate tone of voice) “don’t talk to me about Vicksburg.” Ooooh. So I guess he didn’t have wonderful experiences there.  He had been a professional boxer for a while.  He was a big, tough guy, but a really nice person.

BBP: A lot of musicians in the past I know were boxers.  Jackie Wilson, the great R&B performer. A lot of folks.  But you were described to me as the only person in the history of music who ever had Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton together in the same band.

Hammond: (laughs) For about a week, yeah.

BBP: How’d that happen?

Hammond: Well, I met Eric in 1965 when I was on tour in England. I hooked up on some shows with John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers and Eric was his guitar player. So we hung out a bunch in England and played a bunch of shows together. They actually backed me on a TV show called Ready Steady Goes Live and we became friends at that point. And in 1966 I was playing at a club in New York and was introduced to Jimi Hendrix who was a fantastic guitar player and a great guy. I got to know him as a friend and I put a little band together with him as my lead guitar player and he was discovered and went over to England and became a huge star in Europe. In 1967 I put my own little band together, just drums and bass and Cream came over for their first tour in the U.S. and Hendrix came back to the U.S. from England, where he was a huge star. And they both had some time off, and they both came down to this club where I was playing with my little band. And they both said “Hey, suppose we sit in with you?”  Every night that week they came in and sat in. It was just phenomenal.

BBP: How did they sound together? How was the mixture of…

Hammond: Oh, they were just incredible.  They fed off each other; they were both great players, very passionate about blues music and—no problem.

BBP: That’s incredible. I also know that you actually played with Levon Helm and some members of the Band?

Hammond: Yeah. I met them in Toronto in1963. They had just left Ronnie Hawkins and they were on their own and playing gigs in Toronto. I went down to hear them one night and became good friends. I would go to their shows, they’d come to my shows, and they were in New York in 1964 trying to get a demo tape together.  And it wasn’t going so well, and I was already signed to Vanguard Records. So I approached Vanguard and I said, “I’ve got a little band together. Can we have a recording session?” And reluctantly they said okay, and so we had three hours to do whatever we wanted to do, and we made a whole album called So Many Roads.  Levon (Helms) and Robbie (Robertson), Rick Danko and Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson and the whole Band was my band for a while. My friend Bob Dylan came to the recording date and I introduced them to Bob and the next thing I know, they were playing with Bob!

BBP: (laughing) He stole them from you, huh?

Hammond: Well, yes. Well, I mean not that they were ever my band; they were always their own band. But they recorded behind me on that So Many Roads record.

BBP: Did you ever record with Dylan himself?

Hammond:  I did. I went to a recording date, he asked me to play some guitar. Highway 61 Revisited, but it was obscure. I think I may have been on one track in the background maybe. Or perhaps it didn’t make it, I don’t know. It wasn’t a big deal to me.

BBP: But getting back to Jimi Hendrix, you actually advised him to—when Chas Chandler approached him—I think it was at the Café Go-Go in New York?

Hammond: The Café Au Go Go.

BBP: Right. You actually advised him to take Chas Chandler up on his offer.

Hammond: Oh, definitely. Oh yeah. He was so good. He was so dynamic, that how could you not suggest that he go over and make his own career happen?  I mean he’d been a sideman for –for three or four years. He’d been with a band called Curtis Knight and was fired in New York, I think, for probably upstaging him (laughs).  And I mean he was so dynamic, it was just incredible and he was a really, really nice guy.

BBP: Do you remember the conversation? Do you remember his reaction?

Hammond: He said “Man, this guy has offered me a ticket to go to England and record.” And I said: “You just have to do it. You’re not going to have a whole lot of chances like that just off the bat.” And he came back and looked me up when he’d already become a huge star.

BBP: Hmm. Well, I’ve heard you are a great electric player. Over the years, your trend seems to be to do acoustic shows, one man acoustic shows.

Hammond: Yes, that’s what I enjoy doing most.  I can play some electric guitar but that isn’t my real focus.  I prefer the solo style that I’ve developed over all of these years and I feel that’s my strongest point.  I do enjoy playing the electric guitar, but having a band together and all of that, that’s not been my focus.

BBP: But you have done some albums where you’ve played electric…

Hammond: Yes. Yes.

BBP: The one you recorded with David Hidalgo from Los Lobos….

Hammond: Yes.

BBP: How do you know when something calls for a band and when something calls for you to play solo?

Hammond: Usually it’s the record label that says “well, we don’t want a solo record.” So it’s kind of on my shoulders to put a band together. What I like to do and have done in the past is to do some cuts on the album being solo and some with just a piano or a smaller combo, and then some with a full band; you know drums, bass, piano, whatever. And I’ve made albums in the past with big bands and horn sections and all of that stuff, and I’ve had a chance to do a whole lot of stuff over the years.

BBP: Yeah, I kind of picked that up. One thing though. Do you—you don’t really do a lot of original material, do you?

Hammond: I’ve got some songs of my own, yeah. I think I played some that night.  I don’t think of myself as a songwriter. I’m a blues singer and I know hundreds and hundreds of songs so I have a lot to fall back on, be inspired by.

BBP: But it seems like your aim seems to be to kind of pay tribute and homage to the genre.

Hammond: I do songs that I like. I’m definitely in the genre. This is my life. I think that blues music is always relevant and dynamic—very honest—and I’ve been inspired to do this for my whole career. A great song deserves to be sung, and I don’t think you have to be a songwriter to be a good singer or player.

BBP: But when you do write songs, what artist do you think of?

Hammond: Well, they’re so many that I’ve been inspired by. I just go with the feeling that comes, you know?

BBP: So it’s just a collection of people who are calling to you in the background as you’re writing your songs, right?

Hammond:  I get inspiration; I don’t know where it comes from. But it does come.

BBP: You know something else I was curious about? I’ve seen a lot of people do this—Bruce Springsteen—you did it at your show at the Hamilton. Playing the harmonica and playing the guitar at the same time. That must be very hard. How do you..

Hammond: Well, it isn’t anymore. It used to be like a huge challenge right at the beginning, but I began playing harmonica and guitar almost at the same time.  So in order to put them together, I guess it’s like a piano player that has a left hand independent from the right hand. And after a while, you don’t even think about it: it just flows.  It’s hard to put in the words.

BBP: It’s just something that happens more or less.

Hammond:  Yes, that’s what I’ve started out to do and got to a point where I could do it and was encouraged to do it and felt like I was getting better.

BBP: And I guess at the same time you’re throwing in the singing as well, so that kind of complicates things…

Hammond:  That one man band aspect.

BBP: Right. I mean, are you kind of following a blues tradition when you do that?

Hammond: Well, there’s only a handful of players that play on the rack like I do. Jimmy Reed was one. I don’t know if you ever saw Doc Watson play…

BBP: That might have been before my time…

Hammond: Great harmonica player on the rack. It’s uh…you have to be a little nuts to do it, I think (laughs).

BBP: When you say “the rack” you mean…

Hammond: the harmonica on a rack while you’re playing guitar.

BBP: Got you. Now I also hear that you actually look for obscure blues songs that are actually in danger of disappearing.

Hammond: I don’t go out of my way to look for stuff like that. I mean, if I hear it by chance or whatever, and I feel “oh, that’s a good one,” that’s the kind of way I go about it. I don’t go looking for them.

BBP: It’s just something you hear and you try to incorporate it.

Hammond: Yeah.

BBP: When you hear something, is there something particular that appeals to you?

Hammond: it’s got to appeal to me; otherwise I don’t want to be involved with it.  There are so many great songs out there, it’s what I feel that I can do that I like that I can make it mine. I think that’s where all singers are. Find something you can latch onto and make it your own.

BBP: I mean can you put into words what about a song grabs you?  If somebody were to ask you what you would look for, or what would strike your ear?

Hammond: Well it would have to do with the words and how they go together, what the image is that it creates in your mind.  I’m a guy who’s been on the road 51 years, I’ve seen a whole lot of stuff and I can relate to traveling. I can relate to every statement you can make in the book: passion, adventure—when a song grabs me it has to be something I can relate to.

BBP: Something in your personal experience, in other words.

Hammond: Yes, I guess. I’ve had a lot—a lot –of that.

BBP: That’s interesting. Now I know you’ve played with a lot of musicians over the years, we kind of talked about that earlier. And there were others too that we didn’t mention: Dr. John, Duane Allman, Roosevelt Sykes. Which of these musicians actually taught you the most? I mean, did any of them actually take you aside and say “John, you need to do more of this…”

Hammond: No, nobody ever did that.  I traveled with a fellow named Charles Otis from New Orleans, who, when I put my first band together, he was the drummer, and he’s been on the road with Professor Longhair and Little Richard and Alvin Robinson and Frogman Henry, all of these great New Orleans players.  I mean he’d been on the road and knew about how to comport yourself, you know, how to be professional and not go crazy. Charles taught me a lot about, just how to be yourself in your own shoes and be professional; respect your audience, you know, that kind of thing. Charles is my friend to this day. We made many records together, travelled all over the place and…you’ll meet folks like that in your life that will hip you to things. One of those guys.

BBP: Wow. How did you hook up with Roosevelt Sykes? The reason I ask is because I actually saw him back in the seventies.

Hammond: You did? Wow, I was on some films with him.  And we became friends, and I was going to make a record, and I wanted that sound of just piano and guitar. And I asked him if he’d do it, and he said he would. So I flew him up to New York; he wanted $700. And so the record label was going to write him a check and he said “no, no, no, I want cash on the piano.” (laughs). So he got the cash on the piano and we had a great time.  I was on a lot of gigs with him; just a phenomenal guy.

BBP: That’s incredible. What year was this?

Hammond: Probably ’75.

BBP: Hmm. That’s about the time I saw him.

Hammond: It was called Footwork.

BBP: Hmm. That’s the name of the album?

Hammond: Yeah. An album I made with him. I also had recorded with him back in the ‘60’s for Victoria Spivey. When Sykes came to New York he played at Gerdes Folk City and this was a hangout for Victoria Spivey who was an old time blues shouter from the 20’s and 30’s. And she knew Roosevelt and anytime he came to New York, she’d be there, and the idea was to invite everybody in the band up to her place in Brooklyn and she’d record you there on a tape recorder.  And so I went up there many times and I got to record with some phenomenal players, including Otis Spann and Bob Dylan. It was back in the wild 60’s, ’65 or ’66, or around there.

BBP: Otis Spann and Bob Dylan in the same session?

Hammond: Yeah.

BBP: Really?

Hammond: Oh yeah.  And they’re still available. I don’t know if they’re on CD yet, but I imagine they are somewhere…

BBP: Wow. What a combination. I mean…

Hammond: …on the Queen Bee label.

BBP: Queen Bee label?  And these are based on recordings that Victoria Spivey made on a tape recorder?

Hammond: Yeah, on her tape recorder with her friend Lenny.  She’d feed you a huge fried chicken dinner and then you’d have to play (laughs).  It was a wild scene.

BBP: It sounds like an awful lot of fun.

Hammond: It was.

BBP: Who else would show up for those things?

Hammond: Well, a harmonica player named Bill Dicey. Babe Stovall. Anybody who was coming through and playing;if she liked you, you’d be invited up to her place.

BBP: Well it sounds like you’ve known a lot of interesting people. Duane Allman, how did you meet him?

Hammond: Well, I was recording for Atlantic in 1969, and Duane came to the recording session, he wanted to meet me. He had heard some of my earlier recordings. So one of the players on the recording date, Eddie Hinton, knew Duane and introduced him to me.  And Eddie said to me “you’ve got to hear this guy play, he’s phenomenal.”  So Duane played a little bit, and I said “Oooo. Would you like to be on this next tune we’re going to record?”  And it was just mind-boggling. Everybody in Mussel Shoals knew of Duane, he had played behind Aretha Franklin; he had played behind other artists that were recording for Atlantic…so anyway we became really good friends. At one point the Allman Brothers band actually opened for me in St. Paul—probably ’69 or ’70—and then I opened a lot of shows for them later (laughs).

BBP: You returned the favor in other words.

Hammond: Oh, man, we were good friends.

BBP: Wow. That’s something. You’ve had some pretty amazing experiences there with musicians. I was wondering, how do you think the blues has changed?  I know you like the more traditional styles, but the things that the modern artists are putting out, what’s your take on them?

Hammond: Well, you do too much, it isn’t blues anymore. You do too little, it becomes a ballad. It’s hard to put into words. I mean blues; you’ll know it when you hear it… (Hammond had to stop our conversation briefly at this point to take another call. Our interview resumed upon his return.)

BBP:  Just a couple more I want to throw at you. You know it was funny, I was watching TV the other night, and they showed that movie Little Big Man.

Hammond: Oh yeah…

BBP: And I understand that you were involved in putting together the soundtrack for that?

Hammond: I did the soundtrack for it. I mean I didn’t do the cavalry stuff, but I did the entire guitar playing. 1970.

BBP: Mmm-hmm. Yeah. That was the year that movie came out.

Hammond: Yeah, they flew me out to Hollywood. I said to Arthur Penn, “I don’t think the music that I play existed back then.” He said “it doesn’t matter, it will work.” So they sat me in front of a five-hour movie, and where they wanted to have music, I would play; there’d be a little strip that would come on the film and then I would start, and they recorded it as I played to the movie.  It was an amazing, amazing experience for me.

BBP: Was that the only movie you ever did? Were there others?

Hammond: I was involved in two other films vaguely. One was called Matewam, a John Sayles film and one called The Indian Runner; it was a Sean Penn film.

The Tinner Hill Blues Festival is held annually in Falls Church, Virginia to honor blues guitarist John Jackson, who lived in Virginia and died in 2002. Scheduled for June 7-9, 2013, this year’s festival will also feature singer/guitarist Big Bill Morganfield, Sheryl Warner and the Southside Housewreckers, The Acoustic Blues Women, Guitarist Roy Bookbinder, Beverly Guitar Watkins, pianist Daryl Davis, singer Mary Ann Redmond and singer Sista Monica, among others. For specific performance times and other details, check out the Tinner Hill Website at:



Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Impressions: Part 3 of Our Interview with Original Member Sam Gooden

In Part III of our interview, Sam Gooden of the Impressions talks about his group’s influence on and its relationship with the late Bob Marley. Gooden also recounts a tour the Impressions had with Eric Clapton, during which all performers began each concert by praying together.

BBP: I understand that the Impressions were a very big influence on Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Gooden: (laughs) yeah. We had fun with them.

BBP: You actually met them? Bob Marley?

Gooden: Oh yeah. We knew since we first went to Jamaica back in—boy that was  the early years—that was ’61, something like that. We went there, we met Bob…Bob, Bunny (Wailer) and the rest of the guys, they used to come and see our show. And I know they would take some pattern sometime when we did an album and we had a cover where the three of us had hats on and we were dressed in suits. And somebody said that Bob and Bunny and them would have an album cover with the same type of layout as ours. They were calling them the “Jamaican Impressions,” and it was a very big compliment for us.

BBP: Hmm. Did you talk a lot with Bob; did he ask you for advice on how to do things?

Gooden: Only things where we saw and songs. He would learn things that we did and he would use, within his writing, things Curtis had done as far as political type situations.  Which there would get you in trouble.

BBP: It can get you shot.

Gooden: Over there, it can get you killed! But that was a line he wanted to go in, and he wrote songs that way. I know there was one song that Curtis wrote called “Lord we’ve got to keep on moving.” And it was talking about somebody was after him. They were coming after him, this and that, and Bob wrote a song also right after that. He wrote a song called “I Shot the Sheriff.”  Very similar song. The guy was running away from the sheriff.  And the same thing with the song that we did called “I Gotta Keep on Movin.’ Because if I stop, they’re going to catch me. And the same thing with “I Shot the Sheriff.”

BBP: Wow, that’s amazing.

Gooden: It’s beautiful. I like a lot of things that Bob has done. Bob was a talented guy. It’s just that he went before his time.  He had a lot more to give.

BBP: Yeah. Yeah, he did.

Gooden: A couple of songs that Bob had done, he added “People Get Ready” in it.  He had some of the lyrics in there, yeah.  Curtis was an influence of Bob; Bob liked to write along the same line as Curtis. See, Curtis could say things in his words and his songs that Bob would do, then they may be offensive to the people there, I guess. I don’t know the whole story of what happened there but I know he had to leave.  Because, different country, different laws.  You know and they just, uh, they hurt you. Here in the United States, then you can do a lot of different things. You know and you can say things, because you have freedom of speech. (In other countries) if you say things the government don’t like, then they will hurt you.

BBP: Yeah, that’s why Bob had to flee, I guess.

Gooden: Yeah, he went to England.  Doing a lot of good things over there.

BBP: Did you keep in touch with him over the years? And did you keep in touch with Curtis and the other Impressions?

Gooden: We didn’t. Of course we knew things that he was doing. New music; that’s the only way we related to Bob was through music.  And I know that—somebody else told me—that he had a toe that caught gangrene and that they wanted to remove that, that particular toe, but he wouldn’t let them do it because he felt that it would enhance his performance. Because Bob—if you watched him on stage—he’s a guy that’s very active. He moves awkward, but he moves in a Jamaican way, which with their music, it may be a little bit different than ours. And the way he moved, he was just all over the place. And he looked wild. But it was in sync with what he was doing.

BBP: I was thinking that you mentioned that Curtis had influenced him a lot, and I was thinking of that song Exodus (singing), “Exodus, Movement of the People.”

Gooden: Yeah.

BBP: It sounds like “Movin’ On Up.”  Kind of.  Same theme.

Gooden: Yeah. Like I said, Curtis had a lot of influence—not only on Bob, but a lot of other people also—when it came to writing songs.  That’s why, when we were talking earlier, I was telling you that this guy really didn’t get his just due.

BBP: I do know that some folks did try to record an album. I think Bruce Springsteen was on it, and a bunch of rock people were on it actually. And it came out; it might have been while he was still alive (I was wrong; I later found out it came out in 1994, three years after his death). Do you remember that album?

Gooden: I don’t remember that album but I know he did one called New World Order that he recorded while laying down.  And it took a long time to do, all the breathing he had was right to his neck and stuff. So that he had to get all of the air to sing from there. When I sing, I sing from my diaphragm towards my stomach and I would breathe deep and I would come out with my lyrics. But he didn’t have that. So he had to use what he had and he did one heck of a job. It took a long time to finish it, but he did.

BBP: I know you guys were in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What did that feel like, when that happened? That must have really been a blast.

Gooden: When you can be recognized by your peers…it’s not just some writers like you go into the Baseball Hall of Fame, you got these baseball writers who vote you in—you’re voted in by other acts that are already there. You know, guys like Chuck Berry and Fats Domino and B.B. King and all of these people. These are the people that vote you into the Hall of Fame and it’s very big in my sight because it’s something I never realized that I ever would do or be a part of.

BBP: Now I understand that you guys also get calls from other musicians to come in and kind of sing on their work. Has that been happening a lot over the years?  Did I hear that right?

Gooden: (laughs) Well you have some, some that you might accept. But then there’s some that you won’t.

BBP: Eric Clapton, you did something with him I remember.

Gooden: Yeah, we did a whole CD with him, which was beautiful. Nicest guy you ever want to meet.  Matter of fact, we were just supposed to do one song. And that was one of our old songs which was “I’ve been Trying.” And we wind up doing the whole album! And it just went from one to the next, to the next, to the next, to the next, to the next. And it was beautiful because all of those musicians, and the people that were there, and dealing with Eric; you will never find a nicer person in the world than Eric Clapton. He made you welcome, he made you comfortable—he had a way he liked to do things…which…that’s what we went there for. We said: “that’s what you want, that’s the way we do it, the way you want it done.” And that’s what we did.

BBP: Wow. Did you record it over in England? Did he come here, or how did that work?

Gooden: Well most of the album we did in California. He has a home out there. And we did most of it there. It was only when he had to go back to London that we had to go there and do a couple of songs. Most of it was done in the States. We did—I think it’s two—two songs, we done overseas.  We only went there when we were going to do the last performance with him. We did part of a tour with him there in London. And then we did I think four or five days here in the States with him. I think we did Atlanta and we did Memphis, we did Nashville and we did Charlotte, North Carolina. But overseas we did Royal Albert Hall there for seven days. And then we went to Birmingham, Manchester and some of the other places there.

BBP: You guys must have had a great time!

Gooden: It was.  It was beautiful, because everything was laid out for you. You didn’t have to really do much of anything but sing. And we had a tendency to pray before we went on stage and he saw what we was doing and he asked if we could do that with the whole group. And I said “sure!” So before the show would start at Albert Hall, then we all would get together and we’d pick out anyone that would feel like it, they would do the prayer.  And it would go from one to the next, one to the next, and one to the next. Then finally Eric said he wanted to do it. Then he said the prayer.  It was beautiful. Beautiful guy, and if you ever get a chance to meet him, you’ll meet one heck of a guy.

BBP: So when you guys did this prayer, where were you?  Were you kind of in a circle? What kind of setting was it?

Gooden: Well we’d go in one dressing room, which was the band room. We were all together in the band room and we’d all make a big circle and we’d all join hands and whichever one that chose to pray, they’d pray for the whole group.  We prayed that the Good Lord would be with us while we were performing, that we’d go out, that the people would enjoy what we were trying to do, that each member and their family would have good vibes and good everything and that the Lord would bless us all. And said “Amen.”

BBP: And did it help your performance?

Gooden: It always does. We don’t go on stage unless we pray. You can call us 15 times, but until we gather and pray, we’re not going on. And when we go on, we ask Him to be with us on stage, give us voices and give the band and everyone the good and the talent to perform the way you wish it to be and be there with us on stage as we perform. That we give You all of the praises and give You all of the glory. In Christ Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

BBP: There’s a—Spike Lee did a movie about comedians—uh—God, uh, Bernie Mac was one—Kings of Comedy, that movie. And it showed D.L. Hughley—I don’t know if you’re familiar with him, he had a show on CNN for a while; he’s a pretty famous comic. I mean they showed him before he went on looked to me like he was praying before he went on stage. So I guess it’s kind of a combination of your gathering your spiritual energy, but at the same time you are gathering your performance energy, right?

Gooden: Well, we saw him. We met him at the airport in New York. We were headed home after we finished the show there in New York and I don’t know where he was going. But we said a few words, and he went to his gate and we went to ours.

BBP: Wow. That’s amazing. I wanted to ask you (something else) about Eric Clapton.  He kind of plays in a blues/rock type of style. How was that to play behind, to sing behind? Was that kind of a challenge? Was that different for you?

Gooden: Well, I’m going to tell you, it was fun to do those things because they’re—it’s just a matter of us getting the basic harmony that we wanted together. The blend that we wanted. Then they would let us know where the group was coming in, and this and that. But most of all, it’s already mapped out for us. It’s just a matter of us finding out what notes and what pitches each one of us is going to sing…and that was the basic thing. After that, everything was very easy.

BBP: Were you used to playing that kind of style though?

Gooden: Well it didn’t make any difference. That’s why, like I said, you have to—in this business—you have to be versatile, you have to be able to adapt to different styles. Like the way the style of music is now, it’s a different texture of music now. And where the kids come from now is totally different. But the thing is, you have to learn how to be able to be versatile to be able to entertain younger people of today, as you did years ago.

BBP: Have you worked a lot with hip-hop?  And what do you think of hip-hop?

Gooden: I like some of it. And some of it I don’t. I like the ones that are very nice. But I dislike the ones that have so much vulgar in it. I don’t think that belongs in music, where you have to use those type of words. And basically talking under people’s clothes. You know you’re talking under ladies’ clothes and you’re calling ladies out of their name. You’re calling them different names that I will not use right now, you know, and it don’t fit ladies. I don’t care what lady it is, what color, what nationality, it just don’t fit them. But to have people call them this, and saying this, and using it in the way they use it: I guess it’s what sells. And I guess that’s the music that sells and guys, they say some of everything now. And it just uh—it didn’t happen back then. You know, you had good music, you had music that people could relate to. It might mean that you love a person, that you’re making love to this person, this and that. But not in a way where you really just—it’s almost like you’re explaining the same thing that you’re getting ready to do. And there’s some talent out there; a lot of those kids are very talented. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be in this business. But then you have a tendency to have everything that sounds alike. You have one act that gets very famous—of doing it this way—and the next thing you know you have 15 acts that are all doing it exactly the same way. So you don’t know who’s who.

BBP: (laughs) Right. But putting aside the vulgarity and all that, and the things they call women, hip-hop as a style…

Gooden: You’ve got a lot of talent. There’s a lot of talent in that. You know, you’ve got guys like L.L. Cool J. Very clean.  And he went on to do different things now; you know and the thing is he started out in one way, and he did not stick to wearing his pants hanging halfway down. Now, he dresses suits, and if he’s dressing in anything casual, nothing’s hanging at all. No pants hanging down, anything. You have sloppy pants, everybody has that. That’s the new style. But that doesn’t mean it has to be hanging down to your knees either. But you don’t see that very much now on stage. It’s influenced a lot of the young kids today. If you go to any store right now…if he hasn’t got on boxer shorts, then it’s all messed up, because the pants are down below his shorts. And it looks—I don’t know…

BBP: You just wish they’d do something different with their style.

Gooden: Uh yeah, but everybody has their own style. I’ll have to say that they have their own way of doing things. But there is always a better way of doing things and still come out the same.

BBP: I’d also like to ask you about the blues.  I mean how much of what you guys do is…

Gooden: (laughing) Oh, man. I love the blues. Good friends of mine there. Albert King, B.B. King and all of these guys. Man, I love that. And Bobby Blue Bland. Those are all good friends. And I’m going to tell you, music in general, I love music in general.. I like country music, they have good lyrics and good songs—if people would listen to the words—because they tell a story. Most of those songs are similar to things that Curtis does: they tell stories. And they paint a picture. Johnny Cash, his songs paint pictures. He talks about different things. He talks about things that he did when he was younger. He talks about things when he was in jail, and when he got out. He talks about these things. These are—if you don’t talk about things, if you don’t live with it—then you wouldn’t know the blues. Because blues singers, it’s something—somebody will ask, “how do you learn to sing the blues?” He said, “if you live that life, then you talk about it, and you write lyrics that tells the story. And if you listen to all of the blues singers, from B.B. to Bobby Blue Bland, Albert King, to all of the other great blues singers, then you listen to the lyrics of their singing. It tells a story.

BBP: Some people may argue that what you guys do is the blues…

Gooden: (laughs) Well some of it, yeah. Mostly our stuff and the stuff that Curtis wrote was gospel-oriented.  You know it has a lot of—if you would listen—the songs, you probably could sing all of them in church. And not be offended; you wouldn’t offend anybody by singing them. Because they have that orientation, that gospel orientation.

BBP: I’ve noticed over the years, like when I was growing up and I was going to see shows, the acts seemed to be more segregated. If you were a black act, you had mostly a black audience. Do you see more white kids in your audiences than you used to?

Gooden: (laughs) Oh yeah. Nowadays when we go to California, it’s mostly Hispanics.

BBP: Really!

Gooden:  Oh man, and there’ll be younger kids. Kids that maybe—well, over 20. Yeah. That’s the audience that we play for in California. We play there; we play to Las Vegas, to Los Angeles there at Gilbert Arena. We usually play that for two days; last time last year we were there. But this year, we’ll go the other way. We’ll be in Las Vegas and probably in Fresno.

BBP: Are you getting a large Hispanic following?

Gooden: Yes. Finally! It’s something that we had to get…they had to get comfortable with us. They like our records but they’d never seen us before. We’ve been going and singing out there for a few years now and it’s getting better and better and better and better. More of a following.

BBP: What about the Impressions do you think touches the Latino culture?

Gooden: I feel that with our music and the way Curtis wrote songs, that we could touch anybody.  You know, any nationality of people, even people that don’t speak English, like in Spain. We did a show last year there and half of the people couldn’t speak English. But they knew the songs. And they sung the songs, along with us, and that’s kind of weird. We’re singing English and they’re singing in their language. And they’re singing the same song. So it just goes to show you how sometimes your music, it goes for all nations, all different languages. And that makes me feel good, that we can relate to so many different people. A lot of countries, we probably would never go to. We still sell records there.  And the people know about us there, and that’s quite an accomplishment for some guy that grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a small city in the South.

BBP: Is the following overseas bigger than the following in the United States? Or do you think it’s more or less even?

Gooden: Well I’m going to tell you, now it’s getting bigger over there, because we’re starting to sing to the public there. When we used to go over there, we went to Europe I think from 1970 all the way up to ’83, and we never did play for the public. We only played for military. And so now, which might be good for us, is that now when we go over we’re playing for the public all of the time now, which is good. There some people that, some guy said—even his wife said—they had been waiting 40 years to see us on stage.  Now that’s really saying a whole lot.

BBP:  Well, let me ask you this—don’t take this the wrong way—but we’re all getting older, I mean, I can’t do everything that I used to be able to do. As you get older, is it harder to do touring? I mean, that’s hard on a young person, so I imagine somebody…

Gooden: (chuckling) No, it’s fun now! I enjoy it now better than I did then.

BBP: Really?

Gooden:  Well, back then when I was younger, then you’d be up half of the night, you’d hang out here and you’d hang out there. During those times, as you grow and you mature, then you have a tendency—you make sure you get your rest. You don’t go clubbing, you know you go to the place and you do your show, and you meet and greet the people, and you sign autographs. Then you go back to the hotel, and you lay down and get some rest. And you don’t drink, and you don’t smoke, so…

BBP: Meaning you’re more disciplined when you’re older.

Gooden: Exactly!

BBP: I got you.

Gooden: When I stop doing this, that’s when it becomes work. Now it’s still fun! I’m really enjoying it now because I’m meeting a lot more younger people—this generation. And I’m able to entertain kids, whose parents have told them about us, and their grandparents have told them about us.  And it’s weird.  If you look at it—there’s kids that come to our show and they said “My Grandma” loves y’alls songs. They’re great! He said, I don’t mean it in a bad way. I said “I know you don’t. That’s great! You know, it’s just that I, I’m just happy that I can entertain you all.” It’s a feather in my cap to be able to jump the whole generation gap and be able to still be able to entertain the audience of today as we did  audiences back then.