Youngsters ‘get real music’ says SA blues guru

By Werner Fitzgerald Smith

Rock & roll South African blues guru, Piet Botha spoke to Werner Smith about performing for the first time after 20 years at the legendary venue, the Mystic Boer in Bloemfontein, surviving the brutal pop-loving music industry and finding inspiration in today’s ‘youngsters’.

He’s recognisable anywhere- it’s the unmistakable beard, long greying hair and kind eyes of Piet Botha, that makes him look so at ease, so at peace, complete with a guitar in hand. The now sixty year old frontman of the legendary South African rock band, Jack Hammer, performed their first show at the Mystic Boer pub in Bloemfontein after twenty years. The song line-up for the evening included tracks from their new album, Handful of rain, as well as older Jack Hammer songs. The night also included a few tracks from Piet Botha’s solo album, ‘Spookpsalms’, and a range of covers and songs from Jake Gunn’s album Triple Jack.

Jack Hammer started in 1984, and has survived the brutal pop-loving music industry for more than three decades; as well as the highs and lows of the South African music scene. Doing roughly 120 gigs a year for the past 4 decades, the guitarist has dedicated his life to his music. Botha is especially proud that Handful of rain, wasn’t recorded in the conventional manner of layering pre-recorded instruments. Rather, the group brought in audio engineer Peter Pearlson, for a live recording of the band. “The first two days we just played and played together as a band and that’s what I loved. The music was real,” said Botha.

The album features the full line-up with Botha, aka “The Hammer” (vocals, guitars, keys, and harmonica), Paul van der Waal aka “The Duke” (drums), Tertius Du Plessies aka “Beano” (bass) and Jonathan Martin aka “The Kid” (guitar and vocals). The album also features guest artist Arthur Dennis (guitar and vocals) and Rudolph Dennis (drums and guest vocals) from Akkedis.

The first track, “Where is the clown” boasts the familiar claw-hammer picking style fans have come to expect from Botha, and the artist said the lyrics are something of an autobiography “just give him some whiskey/and a banjo to play,” he sings. The second track, with the same name as the album, makes use of Botha’s unique vocals as he sings the chorus – “Never fall in love with someone/who will leave you/with a handful of rain.”

The haunting sounds of the guitar work together seamlessly with Botha’s voice and each song has a unique story to tell. “When the moon was young” was written by Botha in Jeffreys Bay about five years ago one night when the rest of the band went out for a few drinks and he stayed behind. Fooling around on a piano, with the thought of an old Spanish poet named Dorka, the song came to be with the lyrics “But even a fool knows/that the moon belongs to lovers”.

Is this the last that fans will hear from Jack Hammer? Botha strokes his beard, “There is no way of telling but it will break my heart. It is getting so much harder to make a living on the road because you know, the corporates and the commercials, they form these monopolies.”

TJArtPietBotha25May2016 (4)

Having been around the block a few times, he said that the music industry works in cycles. “One year you are popular and the next you are ‘old school’, but the youngsters gives me hope. I have been noticing that they aren’t all that stupid. They get real music and they see through all the fabrication,”

“There are bands like The Black Cat Bones or artists like Bacchus Nel that release wonderful music. The sad thing is just they don’t get the recognition or coverage they rightfully deserve,” he added.

Botha admitted that age may be catching up to him; but it’s certainly not the end of the road. “I’m just looking for the next song and somewhere along the highway, you will eventually find that song. It’s just a bit harder the older you get.”

Follow the band on Facebook.

Check out Handful of rain here.

Images courtesy of Jessica Botha.

More stories in Issue 68

Contributors

Werner Fitzgerald Smith

Werner Fitzgerald Smith grew up in a little lost town of De Aar in the Northern Cape, as the third generation of his family living in this town. He lived by the following words: “Mentality no.1 get out of here alive.” Primary school was spent behind books he was too young to read and playing […]

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