The unexpected arrival of Joel Hamilton
By Jacky Jack White
Photography by Marianne Todd
All he really wanted was a positive start to 2017.
And what he got was a place in history, an odd and unexpected space at an odd and unexpected time. Somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Crash Hamilton found his new release sandwiched between Joe Bonamassa and B.B. King, listed No. 5 on the iTunes Top Blues Album Chart, ahead of Etta James, Johnny Lang and Albert King – seven steps ahead of Stevie Ray Vaughan, 12 steps ahead of Muddy Waters – and 21 steps above Buddy Guy.
Never heard of him? You wouldn't be alone.
“I think I'm the first person in history to accidentally have a hit record. I just put it together because I had a rough year, and I was looking at the new year coming around,” he said.
One night while at home in Nashville, Hamilton had Googled the appropriate keywords for recording a CD, “and three margaritas later I had the beginnings of a release. It really was just intended for me to get a fresh start in 2017. You couldn't make this up,” he said.
Hitting No. 5 among the greats whose music he had played for years, was shocking, he said.
“I called my dad, and we had this great moment on the phone where I was explaining to him what happened, and he said, 'This
is big, right? Like, this is really big?' It was surreal. I still can't believe it.”
Now myself as a musician and entertainer, I've known Crash Hamilton for a number of years, formerly by his given name of Joel. He is a man who has flown a quite remarkable life path both musically and personally.
One night 10 years ago, as I was hosting a musical revue in Meridian, Mississippi, my 6-year-old daughter, Mary Mac, came running up to me between acts and tackled my left thigh. She shouted, “There's a crazy man in the green room. He's ridin' around on a mini-scooter, and he's got a guitar on his back.”
I told her, “Don't worry about it, darlin'. That's Crash Hamilton. the world's greatest guitar daredevil and ultra-slick blues guitarist.”
Mary looked puzzled. So did the Temple Theater audience when Crash sped out on a little white scooter that appropriately crashed into a Peavey Delta Blues amp. He was wearing an Evel Knieval jumpsuit and matching helmet with an expression on his face that was either “I'm just kiddin' with ya,” or “I just escaped the asylum and I have to be back by 10.”
The expressions turned to laughter and cheers when Joel “Crash” Hamilton busted into a ridiculously sublime rendition of Santana's “Black Magic Woman.”
Many years earlier, it had been taken for granted that the son of prominent Meridian lawyer Joe Clay Hamilton would go into the practice of law or law enforcement. And he did. Along with all life's normal things, he got married, had kids, paid a mortgage. Somewhere around and between and after, he's also been a Marine and a graduate of Berklee School of Music. He earned a history degree from the University of West Alabama and a law degree from the University of Mississippi. He's been a cop and a lawyer, a tattoo artist, a construction worker, a plumber's helper – even an ordained minister.
He earned the name Crash after a fleeing suspect rammed Hamilton's squad car head-on going 60 mph. But always, and I mean always, it's been about the music for the musician with a million dreams.
Per square inch, there are few more creative climes than Lauderdale County, Mississippi, Crash's native town. Great artists and industry movers and shakers such as Jimmie Rodgers, David and Jimmy Ruffin, Paul Davis, George Soule, Patrick Sansone, Dudley Tardo, Haley Williams, Chris Ethridge, Jimmy Elledge, Hartley Peavey, Randy Houser and George Cummings, all come from the Meridian area. The club scene, the church house, the school auditorium, have all served as the springboards for the raw talent.
Just as Cummings and Tony Holt and Jimmy Pasquale of earlier generations did, Crash started out with local bands. His most successful was the Redheaded Stepchild. He was so encouraged by the experience that in the early 1990s he migrated to the vibrant, explosive music scene
of Austin, Texas. This began a pattern which Hamilton would follow to the present as he chased musical styles and sounds all over the country. But there was one distinct difference.
John Fera has played on stages with other bands and pickup players in Meridian since 1992, and says, “Crash has been through many different avenues of music. He has an insatiable desire to learn.”
And learn, he did.
“Sometimes he has sounded exactly like whatever hero of the genre he's studying at the time,” Fera continued. “I've heard him sound just like Stevie Ray Vaughn. Then it would be Wes Montgomery. The next time it would be Vince Gill or James Burton. Or the next gig it would be Jimi Hendrix. But something changed a few years ago. He just started playing like Crash Hamilton. It's been an amazing experience watching and listening to his performances. The other night I was watching him perform at a local venue and he began chicken-picking over a blues progression. I literally laughed out loud – with joy. It was so amazing and totally original. He has his own persona and his own take on things. It's truly inspirational stuff.”
Hamilton's first CD, the one which tore up the iTunes Blues Chart, is titled “Two Thousand Sixteen.” The seven tracks showcase Hamilton's masterfully muddy tone of guitarmanship and a writing talent that is rich in irony, insight and integrity. Maybe the best line is found in the track “True Believer” when he sings “Searched everywhere for a piece of Holy Communion. Separated from God I needed a Reunion ...”
Some might say he is a singer reminiscent of the Memphis blues wailers of the early 1960s. I think he happens to be his own singer. He's just Crash. And he's crash landed smack dab in the middle of the blues on this fine recording. The top tracks are “True Believer,” “Omen,” and “Burn it Down,” which opens with virtuoso caliber licks and vocals. You can find “Two Thousand Sixteen” at all popular download sites such as iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc.
On Feb. 4, Crash will celebrate the release with his friends at The Sports Page in Meridian. The public is invited to attend.