After the ground-breaking, dark and edgy San Francisco/Berkeley late-sixties band Mad River dissolved in late 1969 following the release of its second Capitol album, its lead singer and bassist Lawrence Hammond returned to his country and bluegrass roots. He and his unit, the Whiplash Band became a fixture on the Bay Area and California music scenes.
The release of his critically-acclaimed, under-distributed/under-promoted solo album "Coyote's Dream" on John Fahey's Takoma Records established him as an accomplished and strikingly original songwriter. The album featured the heartbreakingly beautiful cowboy ballad "Light as a Coyote's Dream" as well as the haunting and haunted narrative classics "Legend of the Pale-Eyed Companion," "Empty rails in Garfield County" and the short and instantly memorable tempest of "Tornado's Comin' Down."
As the liner notes to the album pointed out "This is country music, and then it isn't… like the best country artists Lawrence Hammond sings to tell you a story…and like each of us who listens, each song is the only one of its kind." His moody and evocative voice, wry and novelistic eye for storytelling, his adventurous melodies and chord progressions were decried as setting him too left-of-center for country music at the time (and even now), but they marked him as a strikingly original talent with a rare narrative gift.
Hammond gathered a sharp gang of musicians around him to augment his guitar, fiddle, mandolin, dobro and keyboard skills, a squad that persisted from 1971 to 1977 and played to growing audiences and critical acclaim.
Then in 1977 he quite abruptly disappeared from the music scene and then from performing altogether. Many of his puzzled fans understandably assumed that evil events or even death had befallen him. In reality, he had embarked on medical studies. He entered Harvard Medical School in 1980 and completed his postgraduate medical training at Harvard in Boston and in Seattle. After spending some years in the US Public Health Service caring for Native Americans in Montana, and in treating the medically underserved, he practiced in New Mexico, Idaho, Washington State and has now returned to Montana.
The music did not die however.
In 1981, between his 1st and 2nd years of med school, he completed a followup album to "Coyote's Dream," a project begun in 1976. Some of the tracks featured musicians from the Whiplash Band, or on "Coyote's Dream" and others were augmented by musicians he played with after the Whiplash band was disbanded. Later, as it happened during his following busy years of medical practice, the Judds and bluegrass legend Larry Sparks, and the Youngbloods' Jerry Corbitt all released versions of Hammond's "(I'm Like a) John Deere Tractor (in a Half-Acre Field)" which not only became the Judd's final single, but was also the song which initially had broken them into the business. Doc Watson recorded Hammond's "George Gudger's Overalls" on his iconic album "Portrait."
Meanwhile, the masters to that followup album went missing and were presumed to be totally lost…until a high-quality tape copy was unearthed in 2009 at the bottom of an unused storage shed. The nearly-disintegrated tapes were lovingly restored and transferred to digital media. Now entitled "Presumed Lost," they are newly released on CD, with extensive historical liner notes and illustrations, by the archival British label Shagrat Records.
As his medical duties allow, Lawrence Hammond has returning to performing. He continues to write songs.
Lawrence Hammond lives with his wife in Montana's breathtaking Bitterroot Valley.