By “Tampa” Earl Burton
Film Review: Hammerjacks: The Rockumentary-Available on Blu Ray, DVD, streaming, and soundtrack
In the world of rock and roll, several iconic music venues have etched their names in the annals of history. New York City, of course, has CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. The Sunset Strip in Los Angeles can boast of venues that are so well known they only need one name, including the Whiskey, the Troubadour, and the Roxy. However, one of the most iconic was not in either of those major media centers, but in Baltimore, MD. It was Hammerjacks, and a recent documentary relives those raucous days of the Eighties hard rock scene.
The film explores the history of the world-famous concert venue in Baltimore, MD
Hammerjacks: The Rockumentary was released in February of this year by Varla Dogwood Films. Directed by Andrea Kilcup with Executive Producers Steve Nerangis and Ann-Marie Yesko, the film looks to memorialize the uniqueness of what the club was. Through the usage of interviews with everyone from the original owner of the club to the bands that took the stage of the concert hall to those who worked in the club, the story of Hammerjacks is told and its place in music history is established.
At the beginning back in 1977, Hammerjacks was NOT a music venue. It was the simple desire of founder Louie Principo to create a nightclub where all were welcomed. Because of local licensing and regulatory bans, Principo could not bring in entertainment for the venue. Thus, the bartenders and staff became the entertainment for the patrons and, along with a rebellious spirit and excellent management from Principo and his general manager Jackie Dorfler, the club’s reputation began to grow.
Over the next few years, the legend of Hammerjacks spread rapidly. Visiting rock bands would begin to gravitate to the establishment, especially after their performances in Baltimore. Such luminaries as Ozzy Osborne and Rob Halford of Judas Priest found the location and added their mystique to the Hammerjacks legacy in the early years.
With lines for his club winding through the residential neighborhood where Hammerjacks was located – causing issues with the neighbors – Principo decided to move the establishment. In 1984, Principo would open a second version of Hammerjacks, which featured a nightclub and, perhaps more importantly, an 1800-person (“seat” would be inaccurate) concert venue which became, according to Hammerjacks talent consultant Bud Becker (who was responsible for booking the acts to hit the stage) “what Baltimore is to rock and roll.”
In those heady days of the Eighties, virtually any band worth their mettle (or is that “metal?”) had to check off Hammerjacks on their “must play” locations, according to rock veteran Jeff Pilson (Dokken, Foreigner). It simultaneously was a way for people to meet (“everyone was a rock star” in the eyes of the employees) and a “church” to some who came for the music. And what a legacy of music trod the boards of the Hammerjacks stage.
Such local legends as Kix, Trixter, Child’s Play, DC Star, and others would set the standard that even the greatest international bands would have to reach to impress the Baltimore faithful. Many of the members of those bands recount their experiences for the documentary, remembering the gritty nature of the club (Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme stated that Hammerjacks was “intimate…you could feel the audience, touch their sweat”). When those “big names” came to the stage of Hammerjacks, they knew they had to blow away the Baltimore crowd to impress them.
Alas, the heady days of the Eighties would go away with the advent of – what else? – the grunge movement of the early Nineties and Nirvana, and the documentary tells the tale, warts and all. It is a quick-paced film, almost two hours long (98 minutes) in length, which breaks down into several (all entertaining) segments (the look at the women who were the primary force of Hammerjacks is particularly good). I particularly enjoyed the remembrances of the employees and the owner, who simultaneously reflect on the fun they had while admitting it wasn’t always acceptable behavior (hey…when you’re young, what behavior IS acceptable?).
Where is Hammerjacks today? Unfortunately, the original location on Charles Street is now a bar called Nobles, and the second warehouse location was demolished in 1997 to become a parking lot for M&T Bank Stadium, the home of the Baltimore Ravens. There was another run that sputtered out in 2006, and a fourth effort is trying to establish itself today.
For those that are interested in the history of hard rock, Hammerjacks: The Rockumentary is an indispensable addition to your library. You can get a copy (either DVD, Blu-Ray, or digital) through the Varla Dogwood Productions website, and there is also a soundtrack album available. It is a memorial to a legend that lives on, but there probably will not be another place like the original Hammerjacks!
HAMMERJACKS: THE ROCKUMENTARY memorializes the iconic original club through interviews with musicians, Hammerjacks staff, and Hammerjacks fans, including:
Shannon Larkin (Godsmack / Wrathchild America / Ugly Kid Joe)
Steve Whiteman, Jimmy Chalfant, Brian Forsythe & Mark Schenker (KIX)
Louie Principio (Founder of Hammerjacks)
Brad Divens (Wrathchild America / Souls at Zero)
Mark Slaughter (Slaughter)
Ron Keel (Keel)
Rachel Bolan (Skid Row)
Jeff Pilson (Dokken/Dio/Foreigner)
Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme)
Lzzy Hale (Halestorm)
Jeff LaBar (Cinderella)
Jack Russell (Jack Russell’s Great White)
Mark Kendall, Michael Lardie & Audie Desbrow (Great White)
Johnny Dee (Britny Fox / Doro / Waysted)
John Allen (Child’s Play / SR-71 / Charm City Devils, Stone Horses)
Phil Wiser (Child’s Play)
Mitch Allan (SR-71)
Share Ross (Vixen / Bubble)
Chip Z’Nuff (Enuff Z’Nuff)
Don Jamieson (VH-1 That Metal Show/Comedian)
Tommy Conwell (Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers)
Steve Brown (Trixter / Tokyo Motor Fist)
Reggie Wu (Heaven’s Edge)
David Simmons (DC Star)
Jimi Haha (Jimmie’s Chicken Shack)
Paul Lewis (Y-Not?! / Dead City Radio / Heathens / Romeo Rage)
Michael Horseman (Mona Lisa)
Rick Ruhl (Every Mother’s Nightmare)
David Utter (Face Dancer)
Brian Ford (The Loft / HFS)
Kirk McEwen (98 Rock/DC101)
Mike Brilhart (Hammerjacks DJ / 100.7 The Bay / 97 Underground)
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