The music of John Lee Hooker has been booming across the country for better than fifty years now, and even though Hooker died a short time ago, one thing is certain, his music will continue to reverberate throughout the world for an indeterminate length of time. After moving to Detroit from his Clarksdale home, 1948 found him with his first opportunity to make records, and he made many until his death in 2001. This 20 track compilation from Indigo is as good a place to start as any, covering Hooker's first couple years, including many well-known cuts and a few making it to CD for the first time. Sound quality is great from the kickoff to the closer, and informative liner notes from Les Fancourt, which explain his many pseudonyms, finish the set off nicely.
Anyone hearing John Lee Hooker for the first time will be captivated by his hypnotic, droning rhythms, just as surely as they will take notice of his commanding vocals. Over his lengthy career, he recorded solo countless times, mainly because his off-kilter changes didn't easily translate to musicians unfamiliar with his style. Primarily alone here with his guitar and a sheet of plywood for stomping, Eddie Burns joins in on harmonica for the riveting shuffle, "Burnin' Hell." What first brought John Lee Hooker to the charts also contributed to his comfort in later years; royalties from waxing the classic "Boogie Chillen" in 1948. Perhaps one of the most influential records of all-time for its relentless boogie pattern, it helped launch Hooker's career, and the many artists who took his cue; from George Thorogood to ZZ Top, among them. While Hooker's guitar work wasn't dazzling, amazing was his ability to use it as the foil to his powerful voice, which broke off into long talking patterns on "Lowdown Midnite Boogie," and sometimes conversed throughout the entire length of a disc. Playing acoustic, or making use of a small amplifier, as with the heavily distorted "Goin' Mad Blues," he knew exactly what it took to make his statements. While gripping on his intense, rocking grooves, he was just as convincing with a slow blues, as "I'm Gonna Kill That Woman" shows. Other bonuses here are the startlingly vacant "Landing Blues," the desperation in "Nightmare Blues," or the equally fine "Helpless Blues," with its train-like rhythm.
John Lee Hooker's veracity and determination made him an artist of the highest order. Whether recording under his own name, or using aliases like Texas Slim, Delta John, Birmingham Sam, and many others, he rarely faltered. These wonderfully recorded sessions of decades past will certainly add to a canon that goes on for pages. For more information, check out www.trojan-records.com and peruse the catalog that includes releases on other labels like Receiver, Mooncrest, and many more.
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