John Lee Hooker

John Lee Hooker

Hip-O Records/Chess Records

By Art Tipaldi
June 2007

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John Lee Hooker might have been the last of the Mississippi Delta’s true first generation blues men. Like Delta blues men from Charlie Patton to Son House to Muddy Waters, Hooker played always played the blues with his own idiosyncratic command.

This intimate connection between artist and the art made John Lee Hooker one of the most original voices in American music. Here, Chess has complied 35 career spanning recordings by Hooker from his million selling “Boogie Chillun,” - which, when released in 1949, set the foundation for Hooker’s signature boogie - to his final late 1980s collaborations with Bonnie Raitt and Carlos Santana.

Disc One covers Hooker’s music from his initial rocket, “Boogie Chillun,” recorded in 1948 for Modern. His one chord drone foreshadows the influence that Detroit’s Hastings Street would have on the urban blues. Hooker didn’t invent the boogie, but there is little doubt today that it was his records that spread the boogie around the world. Songs such as “Sallie Mae,” “Hobo Blues,” and “Crawling Kingsnake” proved this was the music of a first generation blues man.

When he recorded “I’m In The Mood,” two years later, in 1951, Hooker added the guitar of Eddie Kirkland, and vocal double tracking, to also reach number one on the Billboard charts.

In 1954, Hooker moved to Vee Jay records and recorded songs such as “Dimples,” and “I Love You Honey,” with Eddie Taylor added as a second guitar. On Hooker’s big 1962 hit “Boom Boom,” which was later covered by Eric Burdon and the Animals, Motown studio players like James Jamerson, Benny Benjamin, and Ivory Joe Hunter are added.

Disc Two starts off with another Hooker classic, “”Big Legs, Tight Skirt” from 1964. In 1966, John Lee eventually showed up at the Chess studios in Chicago. The two songs from Hooker’s days at Chess Records are “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” and “The Waterfront.” These cuts feature Chess studio guys such as Eddie Burns and Lafayette Leake as support.

When Hooker moved to ABC records, he recorded “I’m Bad Like Jesse James” in 1966 with Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, and Otis Spann.

It was during the late 1960s that Hooker began to reach a larger white audience through his association with Canned Heat, who photocopied his signature boogie into their music, and brought him to the attention of their fan base with the 1970 double album, Hookern Heat. Included here is here, “Burning Hell,” with Alan Wilson on harmonica. Hooker then paired with Van Morrison and Elvin Bishop in 1971 on ”Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive.”

Fast forwarding to 1989 finds Hooker livin’ in Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House,” Hooker and Santana playin’ “The Healer,” and Hooker and Bonnie Raitt reprising “I’m In the Mood.”

The disc ends as it started, with John Lee singing “Tupelo,” in 1993, accompanied only with his dark colored guitar.

This is a piece of American music history every fan should own.

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