Monday, January 14, 2008

John Lee Hooker - On Vee-Jay 1955-58 (Vee-Jay, 1993)

For the mercurial and ever evolving bluesman John Lee Hooker, moving to Chicago from his previous home base of Detroit was a a big step in the evolution of his music. He had scored hits in the Motor City, but had also drifted through a series of fly by night labels that couldn't match the marketing prowess of their Chicago counterparts. On this Vee-Jay compilation and later with Chess records, Hooker began to break from his one man band approach, and include backing musicians. The addition of bass and drums (plus some occasional harmonica) smooths out Hooker's "original" sense of rhythm and may be a little easier for new listeners to get a handle on than his extraordinary albeit quite rough early work. On this disc, Hooker updates some of his previous recordings, morphing them into "Mombo Chillen," "The Road Is So Rough (When I Started Hoboing)" and "Crawlin' Black Spider (Mean Old Snake)." He would continue to re-make and re-record songs throughout his career. Hooker hits hard with a small group performance of one his most enduring tracks "Dimples" which proved to be a lasting hit. Overall, this is a consistently fine slice of Hooker's recorded output for Vee-Jay. The original albums are also available, but this makes for a fine summation for all but completists.

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