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JOHN LEE HOOKER

Four Classic Albums (Second Set)

AVID ROOTS AMSC1382 [79:30 + 80:35]


 

CD1
1-12:John Lee Hooker Sings Blues
1. Wandering Blues
2. I’m Gonna Kill That Woman
3. Heart Trouble Blues
4. Don’t You Remember Me
5. Slim’s Stomp
6. The Numbers
7. Nightmare Blues
8. Moaning Blues
9. Don’t Go Baby
10. Thinking Blues
11. Late Last Night
12. Devil’s Jump

John Lee Hooker (as ‘Texas Slim’) (vocal, guitar). Rec. Florida, 1949-1950.

13-25: The Country Blues Of John Lee Hooker
13. Black Snake
14. How Long Blues
15. Wobblin’ Baby
16. She’s Long, She’s Tall, She Weeps Like A Willow
17. Pea Vine Special
18. Tupelo Blues
19. I’m Prison Bound
20. I Rowed A Little Boat
21. Water Boy
22. Church Bell Tone
23. Bundle Up And Go
24. Good Mornin’ Lil’ School Girl
25. Behind The Plow
John Lee Hooker (vocals, acoustic guitar). Rec. Detroit, April 1959.
CD2
1-12: That’s My Story - John Lee Hooker Sings The Blues
1. I Need Some Money
2. Come On And See About Me
3. I’m Wanderin’
4. Democrat Man
5. I Want To Talk About You
6. Gonna Use My Rod
7. Wednesday Evenin’ Blues
8. No More Doggin’
9. One Of These Days
10. I Believe I’ll Go Back Home
11. You’re Leavin’ Me, Baby
12. That’s My Story

John Lee Hooker (vocals, guitar), Sam Jones (bass), Louis Hayes (drums). Rec NYC, February 1960.
13-24: House Of The Blues
13.Walkin’ The Boogie
14. Love Blue
15. Union Station Blues
16. It’s My Own Fault
17. Leave My Wife Alone
18. Ramblin’ By Myself
19. Sugar Mama
20. Down At The Landing
21. Louise
22. Ground Hog Blues
23.High Priced Woman
24. Women And Money

John Lee Hooker (vocal, guitar), Eddie Kirkland (guitar, tracks 21 and 23), Bob Thuman (piano). Unknown (drums)

Rec. Detroit, 1951, 1952 and 1954.

 

One tends to think of John Lee Hooker primarily as a Rhythm and Blues artist who recorded numerous albums from the 1960s through to the early 2000s. But Hooker’s roots – in the facts of his life, not merely in terms of influences on him – went all the way back to country blues. Hooker died in June of 2001. When exactly he was born is unclear; at various times the year of his birth has been said to be as early as 1912 and as late as 1923. A date between 1912 and 1917 seems likeliest. He was the son of a Mississippi sharecropper (and Baptist preacher) William Hooker. After the separation of his parents, he was much influenced by his stepfather William Moore, a local guitar playing bluesman. Moore tutored his stepson and, through Moore, the young Hooker met such blues greats as Charley Paton and Blind Lemon Jefferson. In his teens – some say around the age of 14, others when he was 17 – John Lee left home and made his way around Mississippi (and beyond), playing and singing the blues and scratching a living however he could. By the mid-1930s he working in Memphis, Tennessee and during the war years he was in Detroit, employed in factories there but also an habitué of the blues clubs and bars. Until his time in Detroit he played the acoustic guitar, but while in Detroit he switched to electric guitar. His origins and his travels gave him a familiarity with the Delta blues and the blues of Northern Mississippi, as well with Baptist spirituals. In Detroit he was introduced to the new electric urban blues. Along the way he had developed an idiosyncratic guitar style based on boogie-woogie. The sleeve-notes for The Country Blues of John Lee Hooker, by Orrin Keepnews talk of his music as “The old blues, that is, the kind John Lee Hooker learned in Mississippi and Texas quite a few years back, from older singers who had learned them from others years before that.” All four of the albums reissued here by Avid find, to varying degrees, Hooker recalling the ‘country’ blues he learned in his youth, even when he is supported by bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes from Cannonball Adderley’s band of the time (on That’s My Story). Track after track is full of passionate summations of the black man’s sufferings in the American South.

On Sings Blues, where Hooker is billed as Texas Slim (because Hooker was contracted to Modern Records, while these tracks were recorded for King), the voice isn’t, for the most part, as dominant and compelling as it later was, but much of the guitar work is superb – as on ‘Wandering Blues’, ‘Moaning Blues’, ‘Nightmare Blues’ and ‘Don’t You Remember Me’. This last track is also one of the best, vocally speaking, on the album, which was, I think, made up of early singles. This is a fascinating document, even if it doesn’t consistently represent Hooker at his very best.

The Country Blues of John Lee Hooker is more consistently successful, though I am not sure that Hooker sounds entirely comfortable in the move away from the R & B he was playing at the time. That suspicion is reinforced by what Keepnews writes in the aforementioned sleeve note: “this album stems from the fact that Bill Grauer has long been a Hooker fan. When the opportunity to record John Lee presented itself, there was initially thought of having him do a group of tunes associated with Leadbelly. But it yurned out that Hooker didn’t know Leadbelly’s songs as such – although strains and pieces of blues that might be thought of as Leadbelly’s or Lemon’s [i.e. Blind Lemon Jefferson] … are to be found in John Lee’s vast repertoire.” The approach adopted in the album, that is to say, came from the scholar/critics/enthusiasts producing it, rather than from Hooker himself. Though the results are not perhaps ‘classic’ in being among the best and most important of Hooker’s many recordings, there is certainly much to admire and enjoy, such as the partially autobiographical ‘Behind the Plow’ and an interesting variant on ‘How Long Blues’, the 1928 song by Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell which was much imitated by other bluesmen.

That’s My Story is an unusual album in that on all save three tracks (2,4 and 12) hooker is supported by Sam Jones and Louis Hayes – so that Country Blues meets Hard Bop (though the listener not told the personnel would not, I think suspect the presencw of two modern jazz musicians. Hooker was making outstanding – and commercially successful – R & B records for Vee-Jay at much the same time that he made this album for Riverside. This recording shows a different, more basic side of Hooker. The power is not that of his R & B hits, but it is real enough in its own more intimate fashion. Stand-out tracks include the quietly threatening talking blues ‘Gonna Use My Rod’ and ‘One Of These Days’, where Hooker seems fuelled by memories of the spirituals he sang when his father was around; in ‘You’re Leavin’ Me Baby’ there is both a powerful vocal performance and some superb guitar work. Several tracks, like ‘I Need Some Money’ and ‘I’m Wanderin’’ (cf. ‘Wandering Blues’ on Disc 1 of this set) deal with some of the archetypal themes of the blues. When, on the last track of the album, Hooker sings ‘That’s My Story’, the story he tells is, in essence if not in geographical specifics, that of pretty well all traditional bluesmen. Hooker is such a quintessential blues singer because his story is, within the world of the blues, a universal story.

Most of the tracks on House Of The Blues were originally issued as singles, and then gathered into an album, by Chess. Of the four albums reissued here by Avid, this is the one that most obviously reflects Hooker’s growing eminence as a figure in R & B circles. The album gets off to a compelling start with the 1952 version of ‘Walkin’ Boogie’ (as a rule of thumb where Hooker is concerned, it is always worth looking out for tracks which have the word ‘Boogie’ in their title), a very authoritative performance both vocally (and especially) as regards his guitar work. There is much else on the album that grips the listener’s attention, as in ‘Leave My wife Alone’, a more forceful version of the sentiments heard in ‘Gonna Use My Rod’, or the train blues ‘Urban Station Blues’, the raw force of ‘Sugar Mama’ or the almost savage directness of ‘High Priced Woman’ and the intensity of ‘Women and Money’.

If you are happiest with the John Lee Hooker who recorded with both Van Morrison and Canned Heat, and influenced British bands like the Rolling Stones and the Animals, this reissued set may not be for you. However if – like me – you are fonder of the country blues than of the R & B side of Hooker (as heard on recordings like ‘Boom Boom’ and ‘Think Twice Before You Go’) you certainly shouldn’t miss the opportunity to snap up these recordings.

Glyn Pursglove


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