HOT TRACKS marked John Hammond’s return to his original label Vanguard following a short recording detour, fleetingly to Atlantic and then for a longer spell at Columbia (the company for which his father John Hammond Snr had recorded Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Bruce Spingsteen and many other seminal figures). Teaming John Jr with the Nighthawks, “Hot Tracks” paid tribute to the blues and R&B heroes who had first inspired him: legends such as Bo Diddley, Howling Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry and Robert Johnson.
In 1979 when Hammond recorded this album, the dust from the punk rock explosion was only just beginning to settle. Many artists were looking to put some steel back into their musical backbones following a decade of encroaching MOR/soft country/disco sounds. The Nighthawks were a rock band drenched in the Chicago blues sound and a perfect foil to help restate Hammond’s urban bluesman stylings. The album’s sleevenote writer makes the point that Hammond’s sound retains much of the grit of the 60s British Rhythm & Blues bands (the Animals, Yardbirds, Rolling Stones et al) and this is true - he is probably closer to that ethos and sound than any other American singer and musician. His version of such blues as John Lee Hooker’s Sugar Mama are brooding performances with blistering amplified harmonica, spitting and growling electric guitar licks and a grindingly powerful rhythm section.