Vintage Guitar - March 2018 - open - 115

CHECK THIS ACTION
John Lee Hooker

Which brings up the
other odd song choice.
Guitarist Tony McPhee's
Groundhogs backed
Hooker numerous times
in Britain. But as Charles
Shaar Murray points out
in his authorized Hooker
bio, Boogie Man, Bob
Hall, their regular pianist
(for my money, the best
blues pianist England
has ever produced), was
forced out of the band
because he refused to
quit his day job. As Hall
explained in the book,
his replacement, Tom
Parker, was clueless when
it came to backing someone like Hooker; the
sideman's job is to follow
the singer, not force the
singer to rigidly conform
to what's "normal." This
is abundantly apparent on "Mai Lee." It's
a shame, because the
situation could have been
rectified by replacing that
cut with "Waterfront"
from the same album.
Atypical, but, in my
mind, essential: the sorrowful, one-chord
ballad allows Parker's organ to remain in
sync.
The live tracks cover the years 1960 (when
Hook was 43) to '83 - the latter five, featuring
Michael Osborn's searing guitar, seeing their
first release here.
But the real meat is found in the three
studio discs, especially Disc 1, which is mostly
John Lee alone with his guitar. These are the
classics - from "Boogie Chillen'," his first
recording (and hit) at 31, to "Crawlin' Kingsnake," "Burnin' Hell," "House Rent Boogie,"
and "Stuttering Blues," where he makes fun
of the lifelong stutter that otherwise never
entered his singing.
Whether backed by ensembles large or
small, Hooker's guitar (and stomping foot)
always command the proceedings - his style
was too strong to be swept under. Eddie
Kirkland provides industrial slide on "I'm
A Boogie Man" and Jimmy Reed adds his
unmistakable harmonica to three tunes.
Particularly enlightening are credits revealing that "Boom Boom," "Don't Look Back,"

HOOKER: THE BOX
By Dan Forte

John Lee Hooker: Paul Natkin.

W

ith the release of the five-disc, 100song King Of The Boogie honoring
blues icon John Lee Hooker, last
month's column quoted musicians who
knew, worked with, and admired him. This
month, we examine the box's contents.
Typically, the first things that jump out
when it comes to compilations are glaring
omissions and questionable inclusions. In
this case, only a few stand out. Even though
remakes invariably illustrate that the originals are superior, some are essential, like Bonnie Raitt's Grammy-winning duet on "I'm
In The Mood." But a remake of "Dimples,"
with its unique pattern (I, IV, then, instead
of going back to I, goes straight to V-IV-I as
heard on Disc 2), devolves into a one-chord
jam featuring Los Lobos.
With all the star turns, the absence of
Charlie Musselwhite, John Lee's longtime
friend (Hook was best man at Charlie's
wedding in '81) and his harpist of choice, is
a definite oversight. Few harmonica players
are better at following a singer's idiosyncratic
chord changes.

March 2018

115

and six other cuts from early-'60s Chicago
sessions featured moonlighting Motown
rhythm and horn sections, with bassist James
Jamerson, drummer Benny Benjamin, and
early Motown guitarist Larry Veeder.
For 25 years, Rosebud Agency head Mike
Kappus was Hooker's booking agent and
eventually manager. By the mid '70s, Hooker
was already a major blues act, but Kappus
points out, "He didn't have a label, and he
was resigned to it not mattering. And it didn't
matter, when you could go to a record store
and buy some greatest hits for $9.99, where
the new one's maybe $15 - so who's going to
buy the new one? There was no momentum."
In its 38 years, Kappus' Rosebud booked
a select roster of roots acts, managing even
fewer, while racking up 116 Grammy nominations and 28 Grammy wins, nine Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame inductions, seven Grammy
Lifetime Achievement or Trustee Awards,
and 19 Blues Hall of Fame inductions. Hooker
is in all of the above categories, including the
20 artists inducted to the Blues Music Hall
of Fame's inaugural class in 1980. In 2014,
Kappus was also an inductee.
"Carlos Santana asked if he could sit in with
John," Kappus recalls. "Afterwards, he said,
'If John makes a record, please make sure I
can be part of it.' Then George Thorogood
separately said the same thing. Eventually, we
got a 'John Lee and his friends' type record,
with Bonnie Raitt, Charlie Musselwhite,
Robert Cray, Los Lobos, and Canned Heat,
but also going back to his great work as a
solo artist. I put up the money, but I'm not a
musician - don't know chords and bars - so
I brought in Roy Rogers, who'd been playing
guitar in John Lee's band, to produce."
That became The Healer, released in '89,
when Hooker was 72. Mr. Lucky (with Van
Morrison, Ry Cooder, and others) and Boom,
Boom (with Albert Collins and Jimmie
Vaughan onboard) followed, with similar
concepts and success.
"Everyone wanted to collaborate with
John, but we were not thinking stars, and
turned down much bigger pop names because
they weren't John's friends," said Kappus.
"John wasn't interested in going there; it was
all about mutual admiration and personal
connection."
That's what separates Hooker's "renaissance" from other star-studded contrivances,
and it's fitting that the 15-track "Friends"
disc closes this ambitious tribute.

VINTAGE GUITAR

© 2017 Dan Forte; all rights reserved.


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