Battery Acid Blues: The Wisdom of Jackson Hammer

Keir DuBois interviews someone you may never meet… (Originally published in the Artsweek section of the UCSB Daily Nexus on 2/14/98).

Author’s Note: Recently for a year-end special at a rival publication I interviewed a musician friend of mine. It’s cheating a little, but I’m going to run the first part of it here as well.

Jackson Hammer is one of the most bitter and vindictive musicians I’ve ever met, a major casualty of the Hollywood star-making system. He is, however, still one of the most knowledgeable and opinionated lovers of music of any kind that I know of.

Keir DuBois: So what’s it like trying to make it on a little scene like this one? Any advice for budding rockers?

Jackson Hammer: Well, don’t get too excited. There aren’t many venues around here or downtown that are particularly receptive to that many different styles of music.

KD: Really?

JH: Oh, sure. I.V. is all small parties of horrible punk and ska bands, and half of those are catering to the greek houses. Not that frats are the reason that they’re awful- I mean, if you’re in a band and you can pull a gig at a frat party and take their money after performing a lousy twenty minute set, then that’s fine. Laugh all the way to the bank, I say.

KD: What about downtown?

JH: It seems to me, and I’m not the voice of eminent experience, but the only club downtown that is really open to all kinds of music is the Yucatan. I’ve played at other places, but only that club has asked my band to come back. It doesn’t matter if you’re ska or punk or blues or reggae or whatever else, they’ll give you a chance, and they’re the only ones. Pretty much all of the other clubs on State Street play blues bands to death.

KD: Don’t like the blues?

JH: No, it’s not that at all, and I know that you’re in a blues band and are particularly fond of them. It’s just that now there seems to be another revival of the blues again, and it’s even more diluted than before. I mean, in the sixties there was the first revival, with Cream and Clapton and Zeppelin and all of those other gunslingers and their fretboard gymnastics ripping off American black musicians, and then in the eighties there was a second revival with Stevie Ray Vaughan that kind of died after he did.

Now there are all these young blond kids out there like Johnny Lang or Kenny Wayne Shepherd that were raised on heavy metal and other kinds of wank-a-rama bullshit, and they’re being touted as the next coming of greatness and they get to tour with, like, B.B. King or some other geezer who had their songs and style stolen thirty years ago. I don’t really consider myself any kind of purist, but it’s sad to see a form diluted so much by people who know or care so little about its background. Same with ska; It’s become frat-goon music.

KD: So what kind of originality would counter this?

JH: Well, not techno, right? Or “electronica,” that was the media term, wasn’t it? That just fizzled. Not American rock bands either, or not new ones. Pearl Jam still has a future; they’ll be in it for the long haul, I hope, but all the other guitar-driven stuff that was released last year by American bands was just shit, you know? I mean Matchbox 20? 311? Total trash. I really think the only original stuff that’s been made, in terms of pure white-boy rock, was made by a handful of British bands, and even they sound like a warped second coming of psychedelia.

KD: Name names?

JH: Easy. Radiohead, the Verve, Supergrass, Cornershop. England hasn’t seen this much in quite a while. Even U2 is still trying, but then the Irish never know when to stop, do they?

KD: What about the brothers Gallagher?

JH: Well, you know, Oasis isn’t much of a forum for original thinking. Every tune on those three albums grows out of a defining Beatles riff. I think “Don’t Look Back In Anger” steals a direct piano line from “Imagine.”

KD: So how’s that different from “Bittersweet Symphony?”

JH: It’s completely different because it’s not really base theft on the part of Richard Ashcroft and the Verve. See, they only took three chords from a symphonic version of a Stones song, not from a true Jagger/Richards tune. The reason that bastard Andrew Oldham sued the Verve for all they were worth was pure greed, cause the Verve built a whole new song from those three chords but still obviously used them as the blueprint.

KD: Let’s get closer to home. What do you try to do in writing music and lyrics to keep up a sense of originality?

JH: There’s not much you can do. I know I just contradicted myself, but how can I describe it? Every original idea is based on what’s come before, either as an emulation or as a reaction against. For me, it’s like a flood. Like a long intellectual drought quenched by a huge verbal torrent, and that’s just lyrics. Music just comes into my head. I don’t mean to sound pompous or anything, but that’s the way it happens. I come from a musical family, and so I’ve always heard music in my head. Kind of weird, but I guess it’s better than hearing voices.

KD: Do you have any new material along these lines?

JH: Um, yeah. I’ve put together a couple of love songs, actually.

KD: No!

JH: Yep, cranky and cynical old me. The kicker is that they were really hard work to write, because I’ve always hated silly love songs. I always dished out so much hate when I heard, um, Richard Marx or someone like that, because I’ve always thought that those kinds of writers were the biggest wimps, lyrically and musically. I did this kind of dissing for my whole life until one of my really good friends dared me to write a love song. It was a real challenge, cause this girl is something of a poet and a romantic, so I put all I had into not one, but two love songs, just to see if I could impress her. Maybe if it works I’ll be legitimate in panning mushy love songs. Maybe I’ll be a hypocrite cause now I’ve written some. Oh well.

KD: I didn’t think writing love songs was such hard work.

JH: For me it is. I don’t know, maybe it’s cause I’m such an ornery little goober, but it was like pulling teeth. Don’t know if I could do it again.