BY: Rick Kogan
The lawyer’s got the blues and he’s got them bad.
For more than a two decades he has spent every Thursday, 10 p.m. to midnight, in small suburban radio studios broadcasting his “Hambone’s Blues Party,” a compelling mix of music, talk and insight.
Scott Hammer is his name, “Hambone” is his nickname, and his day job is working for a downtown law firm where his specialty is defending psychiatrists in malpractice suits, a demanding and rewarding profession. “My wife, my kids and even a few of my clients call me ‘Hambone,’ ” says Hammer, an affable man who does not, when away from the serious nature of his legal work, take himself too seriously.
Born and raised on Long Island, N.Y., he got hooked on the blues during a road trip with his father to Las Vegas. “My father liked to gamble, to shoot craps,” Hammer says. “I was a teenager, too young to join him at the tables, and so when we were staying at the hotel I made my way into the lounge and I heard a group called the Treniers. I was a rock ‘n’ roll kid, but they were doing classic rhythm and blues. I was knocked out and I was hooked for keeps.”
The Treniers, of course, have considerable history in Chicago — anyone remember the lively Milt Trenier’s Lounge of decades past? — but Hammer didn’t know that then. He was, however, exhibiting good taste: the Las Vegas Academy of Variety and Cabaret Artists gave its Lounge Act of the Year Award to the Treniers in 1974 and 1975, right around the time Hammer saw them.
He attended Georgetown University, where he met and spent some time with Muddy Waters, who had come to perform at the school. He later moved here to attend John Marshall Law School and would make it his after-class habit to visit blues clubs across the city. There were a lot of such clubs then, as the music was well on its way to making the transition from smoky, ramshackle South and West side bars to becoming a North Side entertainment staple.
“Exciting time,” says Hammer. “Seeing Son Seals at Wise Fools, Albert King, Albert Collins …”
Eventually he was living in Buffalo Grove and spinning records for fun at his neighborhood’s block parties and, he says, “unbeknownst to me one of my friends called a radio station and told whoever he talked to, ‘Hey, this guy I know has really good taste in music. You should hire him.’ “
A week later Hammer got a call — and a show, on Arlington Heights radio station WCBR-FM 92.7.
He can now be found on WDCB-FM 90.9, broadcasting from a studio on the Glen Ellyn campus of College of DuPage and simulcast on www.wdcb.org. The station offers a music feast, with other shows hosted by such recognizable names as Ramsey Lewis, Orbert Davis and Wayne Messmer. Its slogan is “Chicago’s Home for Jazz.”
Last Thursday night Hammer broadcast his 1,000th show and proudly says, “In all that time I only missed maybe two shows.” He doesn’t, with a wife and three children and closing in on 60 years old, go out to hear music as much as he did in years past. But he has the next best thing. More than 400 performers and bands have come to his studio to perform live. He has featured national and local acts, big stars such as Eddy Clearwater, Mighty Joe Young, Otis Clay and, for that 1,000th show, Tom Holland & The Shuffle Kings.
Scott ‘Hambone’ Hammer
Scott “Hambone” Hammer listens toTom Holland & the Shuffle Kings play live during the 1,000th broadcast of his blues radio show at College of DuPage Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016 in Glen Ellyn. Hambone’s Blues Party airs every Thursday night on WDCB 90.9 FM. (Rob Hart / For the Chicago Tribune)
“I think the blues needs to be heard live,” he says. “At first it was a little difficult since I can’t afford to pay the bands, but now I find that many bands and performers will ask me, ‘When can I come on and play?’ And I gladly answer, “Any Thursday you want.’ “
He has a wonderfully broad definition of blues and will often spin jazz, folk, R&B and even country tunes.
“There are only two types of music: good and bad,” he says.
He embellishes the music by providing well-researched background and biographical material and anecdotes. You can hear the joy and enthusiasm in his voice. “I try to do my best to educate the listeners,” he says. “And have fun.”
Many of those listeners are young and white, and that’s OK. “The biggest boosters of the current blues scene are young white kids,” says Hammer. “But we are all part of that blues community, that continuum. It really feels like a brotherhood.”
That is one of the reasons he carries on.
“I don’t play tennis. I don’t play golf,” he says. “I play music on the radio. I certainly don’t do this for the fame or …” — he pauses to chuckle — “the money, but for the love of the music. If I was not on the air, my life would be hollow, my soul would be empty.”
“After Hours With Rick Kogan” airs 9 to 11 p.m. Sundays on WGN-AM 720.
Copyright © 2016, Chicago Tribune
Entertainment Rick Kogan Georgetown University