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Records - John Lee Hooker

Records - John Lee Hooker image
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Saturday afternoon at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival is dedicated to good old Motor City USA, that little suburb to the east of the festival site.

And joining some of the resident blues artists still plying their trade (though not too successfully, since Detroit seems to have lost its feel for the blues) will be some of famous alumni, including one of the greatest modern blues artists alive.

John Lee Hooker has always been a man of his own. One of the most distinctive of blues singers, as well as guitarists, who has developed a style immediately recognizable and never imitated, John Lee picked his own route north as well. While hundreds of others turned toward Chicago during the northward march in the 40’s, John Lee went his own way to Detroit to pick up a factory job in the auto plants turned to war production.

It was in Detroit that he became famous, recorded hundreds of songs, and made his home for many years, leaving only when the riots of Twelfth Street made him disillusioned. There’s no dearth of John Lee Hooker albums. He’s almost as proficient as Lightnin’ Hopkins in that regard. But one of the most interesting of all is a recent release by United Artists – UA LA 127-J3 – a three record set of material recorded during John Lee’s prolific Detroit period, for Bernard Besman, at the old United Sound Studios.

This is historic material – 42 cuts recorded but never before issued. and made from 1948 to 1952.

Besman, who ran the Sensation label of blues and jazz artists, has had these masters in his own files, unreleased until now, and there’s some beautiful stuff on them. Instrumentals like the powerful “Snap Them Fingers Boogie” – Interesting cuts such as “Hummin” The Blues,” which contains, in addition to some fine guitar work, John Lee humming and whistling the blues – experimental cuts like the double and triple voice on John Lee’s adaptation of Arthur Crudup’s “I’m In the Mood” – as well as a lot of typical Hooker blues and boogies.

The material is not always polished, but then John Lee never was a polished bluesman anyway. And in these early cuts a dedicated Hooker fan can find the germs of some ideas which he later developed into other and more well-known version.

One of the more interesting and valuable blues records of this year. and one that Hooker fans. at least, won’t want to miss.

-Doug Fulton