John Lee Hooker – The Legendary Modern Recordings (Virgin, 1994)
The late Allmusic Guide blues reviewer Cub Coda had a great line saying that Hooker’s recordings had been around the block more times than a cop car in a bad neighborhood. Given the plethora of Hooker releases available it’s great to have a one disc collection of his earliest and rawest material. There are a series of boxed sets covering the same material if you’re looking for more, JSP has an excellent mid-priced 4 disc set that is a wise investment.
Getting back to the matter at hand, this disc tracks Hooker’s music for the Modern label during the years 1948 – 52. John Lee recorded for a number of labels under a number of different names during this period, making his discography a maddening place to try to come to grips with.
As can be expected, the disc kicks off with his signature piece and hit “Boogie Chillen” which is a formula he revisited for and number of other tunes and labels. Some of JLH’s best known songs are here in their earliest forms: “Sally Mae”, “I’m in the Mod”, and the classic “Crawling Kingsnake” all make appearances.
If you’re looking for one slab of classic early Hooker this is an excellent disc, and it makes a wonderful companion to Rhino’s two-disc career overview The Ultimate Collection. For more information on JLH, check to see if your local library has a copy of Charles Shaar Murray’s very long but interesting Hooker biography Boogie Man.
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