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John Lee Hooker- King of the Boogie boxset review   Leave a comment

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John Lee Hooker King of the Boogie Craft Recordings

There is something ethereal and true about John Lee Hooker that even his contemporaries never quite achieved. Whether getting gritty or fatally romantic, searching for hope among the forlorn or finding joy in the minutiae of the daily struggle, John Lee Hooker brought the real blues, the deep blues, to an expansive listening audience, always sounding as if he were performing to an audience of one—you.

Long ago when I was but a young Fervor Coulee—eighteen and mostly clueless—John Lee Hooker’s Fantasy double compilation Black Snake was the first blues album I discovered. Working at the failing Climax Records in Leduc, Alberta for a few months in the spring and summer of 1983, I started this lifelong journey into roots music discovering most of the Carter-Cash clan—Rosanne, Johnny, Carlene, Rodney, and Nick Lowe—as well as Emmylou Harris, Ricky Skaggs, and The Stray Cats, not to mention George Jones, Deborah Allen, and—eventually—John Lee Hooker: “I’m Prison Bound,” “Good Mornin’ Lil School Girl,” “Come On and See About Me,” and “Tupelo Blues.” It wasn’t long before I found my way to “Boom Boom” and “One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer” via cover versions and a lack of supervision—who knew you weren’t allowed to crack any album you wanted for in-store play?

Once I heard “Boogie Chillen’,” I was done: no other blues would ever top it. The archaic playing style and the repetitive notes appealed to something base within me, and then that voice reaching across and over it all—fueled by desperation—Hooker communicated with a suburban white boy through his music as few —Townshend, Springsteen, and the voices of Three Dog Night—had done to that point. No matter the song, John Lee Hooker was immediately identifiable. His growling vocal timbre reached to a time before measure, his deep talking blues making a journey across race, social strata, generations, and history.

This expansive five-disc set appears to be the ultimate encapsulation of John Lee Hooker’s recorded output. Produced in conjunction with a number of labels and Hooker’s family, the box set distills 40-plus years of recordings into a manageable distillation while retaining all the essentials and incorporating a few previously unreleased necessaries.

Starting with his 1948 recording of “Boogie Chillen’,” with the first three discs we are taken for a three-plus hour ride through Hooker’s recording career. Most of these tracks have been readily available on various collections over the years, but what is most appreciated herein is the care with which they have been collated. Recorded months apart, “Goin Down Highway #51” slides straight out of “Huckle Up Baby” like it was planned, with “John L’s House Rent Boogie” and “I’m In The Mood” waiting around the corner. The sound quality is pristine, and the accompanying notes informative.

JL_Hooker 001After this generous rendering of vintage and essential blues—”My First Wife Left Me,” “Tupelo Blues,” “Stuttering Blues,” “Boom Boom,” and the like—with only a handful of unreleased material—highlighted by the suggestive “Meat Shakes on Her Bones” from 1961—the majority of the rarities surface. Disc Four is comprised of various live takes augmented by a set of five recordings from Berlin, 1983 that have not previously been available commercially. Captured at a time when the older bluesmen were in danger of being forgotten with the advance of popular music that had little connection to roots of rock ‘n’ roll—we all remember new wave, the advance of goth, and the earliest days of hair metal—these live takes reveal the vitality Hooker never lost, no matter with whom he played. Extolling the audience to “Hear me out, here,” Hooker moans his way through “It Serves Me Right to Suffer” as a man who has lived an imperfect life while “Boom Boom” and “One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer” are delivered with the energy and playful verve of a man who has done the songs a couple thousand times and never lost the joy.

Disc Five features collaborations ranging from 1952 and “Little” Eddie Kirkland (“I Got Eyes For You”), the early 70s with Canned Heat (“Peavine”) and Van Morrison (“Never Get Out of These Blues Alive”) through to his days as an elder statesman and Grammy winner with Bonnie Raitt (“I’m In The Mood,”) B.B. King (“You Shook Me,”) and  Los Lobos (“Dimples.”) Nothing new is revealed on these (mostly) readily available cuts, but presented in this manner they are a reminder of Hooker’s versatility and range of influence.

100 songs, nine previously unreleased, over five discs with what appears to be exceptional packaging (unfortunately, I only have the downloads and scans to judge by) King of the Boogie celebrates the 100th Anniversary of John Lee Hooker’s birth, and marks the kick-off of events—including museum exhibits, radio specials, and a film documentary—celebrating this milestone. With a reasonable price point and a hearty dose of indispensable blues, King of the Boogie is not only a brilliant introduction to the blues master, but a suitable testament to his place in modern roots music history.

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Posted 2017 September 30 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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