Friday, June 16, 2017

John Lee Hooker - The Modern, Chess & Veejay Singles Collection 1949-62 (Acrobat Records, 2016)

The discography of the great blues guitarist, singer and songwriter John Lee Hooker is a perilous trek for the uninitiated. Hooker not only recorded for a vast array of labels, but he also recorded under a variety of pseudonyms which allowed him to record for several labels simultaneously taking cash up front in an era that did not see paying royalties to African-American musicians a priority. Hooker was part of the great migration during the second world war, moving from the deep south to Cincinnati and then eventually Detroit where his career began in earnest. This is a budget four-disc collection that tries to cut through the confusion of Hooker's early career by focusing on sides that were released under his own name for a selected few labels during the first phase of his career. In so doing, it hits most of the high points, beginning with the immortal "Boogie Chillun'" with its primal guitar and massive foot stomping beat became an unexpected hit on the rhythm and blues charts and set the mold for his music during these first few years. The hugely overamped guitar, and pounding beat that Hooker employed would be massively influential not only on fellow blues artists, but also to a wide audience of white musicians in the decades to come. Also recorded for the Modern label at this time was the stark "Hobo Blues" and another of his signature works, the extraordinary "Crawlin' King Snake." Chess began legal action against Modern, so Hooker's music was split between those two labels, ensuring that there was plenty of Hooker music in the bins during the early 1950s. Memorable titles like "Louise" and "Bluebird" came out of these sessions, and this success led some producers to try to alter the Hooker formula resulting in some ill-fated experiments like double-tracking and speeding up his vocals, adding roller rink quality organ and even xylophone on "Cold Chills." The move from to the Vee-Jay label in the mid-fifties thankfully did away with that, and added one of Hooker's most successful collaborators, guitarist Eddie Kirkland. Hooker recorded many sessions for this label, released as singles and then packaged for the blooming LP market. Notable tracks during this period include the memorable "Dimples" and "I'm In the Mood" as well as full-band remakes of some of his earliest solo recordings. One of his final hits, the swaggering "Boom Boom" comes at the end of the collection, finishing on a solid note. This collection is well done, and would best suit those that are a little familiar with Hooker's music and looking to dive deeper. There is a fine booklet with recording information and liner notes that help the listener digest the music. John Lee Hooker was one of the titans of post-war American popular music, and this set will show you the reason why. The Modern, Chess and Vee-Jay Singles Collection 1949-62 - amazon.com

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