Band members Related acts
- John DeRoberts -- vocals (1969-70)
- John Guerin -- drums, percussion (1969-70)
- Norman Landsberg -- keyboards (1969-70)
- Richie McBride -- bass (1969-70)
- Jack O'Brian (RIP 1988) -- lead guitar (1969-70)
- L.A. Express (John Guerin)
Rating: *** (3 stars)
Company: San Francisco
Catalog: SD 203
Country/State: San Francisco
Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+
Catalog ID: 6200
I'm consistently surprised by the number of 1960s and 1970s San Francisco-based outfits that managed to record LPs - most whom I'd never heard of. Here's another one that was unknown to me and a apparently a ton of other folks ....
Based in San Francisco, Hammer was composed of singer John DeRoberts, drummer John Guerin, keyboardist Norman Landsberg, bass player Richie McBride, and guitarist Jack O'Brian. The band's lucky break came in 1969 when they attracted a mentor in the form of the legendary Bill Graham. Graham showcased the band with a number of opening act performances at the Fillmore East and West, quickly signing them to his Atlantic Records affiliated San Francisco label.
1970 promotional photo
Anyone expecting to hear a standard set of early-1970s San Francisco psych is liable to be a little disappointed by the David Rubinson produced "Hammer", however if you give the album a chance, it turns out to be quite enjoyable. Musically the album's all over the roadmap, including stabs at pop, rock, classical (the instrumental 'Pain and Tears') and even some jazzy interludes ('Sweet Sunday Morning'). Let me warn you that as lead singer DeRoberts was somewhat of an acquired taste. On tracks such as 'Something Easy' and 'Charity Taylor' he occasionally reminded me of Journey's Steve Perry, or perhaps Gary Wright during his Spooky Tooth prime. He also had a habit of reaching for those high notes that left me shuddering. Obviously, that may pose a problem for some folks. On the other hand, DeRoberts was surrounded by a first rate band that churned out some first-rate performances . Among them, 'Hangover Horns' was a great rocker, the scat instrumental 'Tuane' was kind of cool and guitarist O'Brien and keyboardist Landsberg displayed some nifty chops on the instrumental 'Death To a King'. Not essential listening, but certainly an interesting addition to the catalog of San Francisco-based groups. Makes you wonder how they got overlooked.
- 'Propelled by Landsberg electric keyboards and some blazing Jeff Beck-styled guitar from O'Brien, 'Something Easy' opened up the album with an unexpected jazz-rock tinge. Yeah, DeRoberts scat singing (complete with a touch of Focus-styled yodeling) was initially a bit disconcerting, but by the end of the song you'd grown accustom to it. rating: ** stars
- Built on what almost sounded like a waltz-based melody, 'Hot and Cold' was a pretty mid-tempo number that reminded me a bit of mid-1970s Spooky Tooth/Gary Wright. The track also featured one of O'Brien's prettiest guitar solos. One of the album's hidden gems ... rating: **** stars
- Technically I guess you'd call 'Tuane' an instrumental since DeRoberts contribution was limited to some wordless scat singing. With some tasty Latin percussion and nice solos from O'Brien and Landsberg (who wrote the song), this one was surprisingly funky ... don't hear than term used with many San Francisco bands. rating: *** stars
- Side one's most commercial offering, 'You Make Never Wake Up (Apologies to Auden & Frost)' had a breezy melody and an instantly mesmerizing hook in the song's refrain. Not to hard to picture Spanky and Our Gang taking on a cover of this one. rating: **** stars
- Opening up with some beautiful O'Brien guitar moves, 'Hangover Horns' unexpectedly found the band diving headlong into heavy metal territory - serious, this one would put most '80s and '90s hair bands to shame. Elsewhere Eddie Van Halen would have approved of O'Brien's blistering guitar solo. Simply a killer rock song and DeRoberts seldom sounded as good. rating: **** stars
- Landsberg's church organ coupled with some Steve Cropper-styled guitar gave 'Charity Taylor' an atypical soulful feel. It didn't last all that long with the song's mid-section opting for a more progressive mode, before bouncing back to its soulful mode for the closing section. rating: *** stars
- 'Sad Song, Happy Song' opened up with some of Landsberg's prettiest work (its always reminded me a bit of something off of a Charlie Brown cartoon soundtrack), before picking up speed and morphing into a pretty good pop song. The song also benefited from DeRoberts turning in one of his more restrained vocals. rating: **** stars
- 'Sweet Sunday Morning' was a breezy, slightly jazz-tinged number. rating: ** stars
- 'Pains and Tears' found the band switching into up tempo boogie mode. O'Brien's extended guitar solo took the spotlight, though the song itself was fairly pedestrian. rating: ** star
- The extended instrumental 'Death To a King' found the band returning to a mix of jazz-rock fusion and progressive modes. Landsberg's keyboards were prominently featured throughout. Luckily the song had a pretty good melody behind it.
Kind of a strange tidbit, but in France the album was tapped for a single (the San Francisco/Atlantic label apparently didn't have similar interests in the States):
- 1970's 'Tuane' b/w 'Charity Taylor' (Atlantic catalog number 650 215)
Not a perfect collection, but it had enough strong numbers to make it worthwhile; even more so given you can still find affordable copies.
"Hammer" track listing:
1.) Something Easy (Norman Landsberg - John DeRoberts) - 2:50
2.) Hot and Cold (Jack O'Brien) - 3:00
3.) Tuane (instrumental) (Norman Landsberg) - 3:20
4.) You Make Never Wake Up (Apologies to Auden & Frost) (Jack O'Brien - Tom Kennedy) - 3:24
5.) Hangover Horns (Jack O'Brien - Tom Kennedy - John DeRoberts) - 3:15
2.) Sad Song, Happy Song (Jack O'Brien - Tom Kennedy) - 2:59
3.) Sweet Sunday Morning (Norman Landsberg - Bill Austin) - 2:16
4.) Pains and Tears (Norman Landsberg) - 3:28
5.) Death To a King (instrumental) (Norman Landsberg) - 5:38
The band reportedly recorded a sophomore set. It was promptly shelved and the band called it quits. Guerin went on to become an in-demand sessions player and a founding member of The L.A. Express. Landsberg went the same route, enjoying considerable success working with The Pointer Sisters.
Ah, once again the wonder of the internet shows itself:
I would like to let you know how much I appreciated your review of the record album HAMMER (San Francisco/Atlantic label, 1970) I don't know how long it has been up on-line, but I only discovered it fairly recently.
The guitarist, Jack O'Brien and I wrote many many songs together -- three of them are on the HAMMER album. Jack, alas, passed away in 1988, only 36 years old. He was a fabulous guitarist -- if only he had stayed with the music. He didn't write down the notes of the 40 or 50 songs we wrote together and since I am a mere lyricist, the music mostly died with him as my shaky voice would hardly be sufficient to reproduce the melodies. Jack was a fine fellow and is sorely missed.
The only one of the band members I am still in contact with is Richie McBride, the bass player, who now lives in Florida and teaches music in a high school there.
As for myself, I moved to Europe and continued to write, have published 20 books of fiction, literary criticism, travel essays, etc, including a four-novel cycle about Copenhagen, the city I live in.
I intend to put the HAMMER cover up on a website as well some time after the launch and to include sound bites from a couple of the songs and would like to link to your review.
Once again, thanks for keeping the memory of HAMMER alive on your site!
All best wishes,
Tom Kennedy (aka Thomas E. Kennedy -- email@example.com)
Tom Kennedy has an interesting web presence which will include a music section in the near future:
John DeRoberts recently set up a Hammer website that includes four cuts from the album, a slide show of the group in performance and other material, including some 60s posters and Fillmore billings for the group.
www.myspace.com/musicofhammer (gone as of February 2011)
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