Hello to all who’ve been following my blues blogs here at Better Daze. Glad you could join me for another round of my influences into the blues, and as I have been focusing on acoustic blues and there are too many players to go into depth on, I thought I would move onto the electric masters who knocked me out in my very formative years.
I remember it like, sort of, at least some of the circumstances, but I can tell you that there I was at the age of 16, sitting in a house in east Hollywood bagging up lids, the kind where keys came wrapped in brightly colored cellophane, and in the background I am diggin’ on what coming out of the stereo. It was a 78 called “Travelin’ ” by John Lee Hooker, released in 1960. So it was just about 3 years out at that time, but it blew my skull away. The songs were, and still are, some of his most compelling, “Solid Sender” being my favorite. Never knew a man could do so much with an electrified guitar and a voice that would send chills up the spine. If you get the chance to get this one I say take it, you won’t be sorry. “I Can’t Believe”, “Whiskey and Wimmen”, “Canal Street” … Now then you must have an earful of “Boogie Chillen”, “Queen Bee” and “Crawling Kingsnake” just to hear some of the first recordings of the Hook. The Hook is what he is known by, and his trademark shuffle is perhaps the most borrowed groove in the universe of the blues and rock and roll.
John Lee Hooker was born near Clarksdale, Mississippi on August 22, 1917, the son of sharecroppers, and his stepfather, William Moore, who was a blues musician taught him to play guitar, and according to John, that’s where his unique style came from. In the early 1940’s he moved to Detroit by way of Memphis and Cincinnati. By day a janitor in the auto factories, but by night he would play shows, house parties and whatever would come his way. A record store owner who really liked John’s music introduced him to Bernard Besman, a record producer and distributor, who also owned a label called Sensation Records. Besman recorded John’s songs sometime around 1948, he then leased them to Modern Records. The first hit was “Boogie Chillun”, later released as “Boogie Chillen”, my guess was they didn’t like the spelling, for reasons we can only speculate on. “Boogie Chillen” was a jukebox hit selling over a million copies. He followed that up with a string of hits like “I’m in the Mood” and “Crawlin’ Kingsnake”, and he rode that wave for 15 years, leading up to a recording contract with a new label Vee-Jay Records, “Travelin’” was one of the first on this label, and by then he had added a drummer, and sometimes a second guitar, albeit whoever got to play guitar with The Hook had his hands full as he really didn’t follow patterns of standard 12 bar blues, he used the guitar to tell his stories lyrically with that voice.
Of course he would be re-discovered during the folk craze of the 60’s and go back to his acoustic solo versions, but anyway you sliced it, it was raw, strong and extremely funky. Then the British invasion bands like the Stones and Yardbirds help spread the word across the ocean, and John became an international star. By the 70’s he was winning Grammys, doing collaborations with, among others, Bonnie Raitt and Los Lobos. He’s the real deal is all I can say, and I had the pleasure meeting him a few times. The first was in 1985 in Charlottesville Va., where myself and Catfish Hodge, or the original Blues Busters, when it was just a duet, got to open for him. Fish knew the Hook from Detroit where Catfish grew up and introduced me. I remember how much I was in awe of finally meeting up face to face with one of my early heroes. The second time was at a Namm Show showcase where Gibson Guitars asked if I could open up for him, do a 45-minute set, and low and behold he remembered our first meeting, so when the opportunity to play at his 1996 tribute show at Madison Square Garden came to me, I jumped all over it. There I was, in slide heaven with Johnny Winter, Bonnie Raitt, Warren Haynes and Roy Rogers, all in a row, backing up the Hook with Richie Hayward on drums, and the one and only Willie Dixon playing bass. What a night! Now I figure a lot of you folks are not blues aficionados, so I beg of you to go grab some of this music, it will enliven your soul.