I'm In The Mood : John Lee Hooker(part two)©2008JCMarion


Chess Records releases "It's My Own Fault" and "Women And Money" on #1562 early on in 1955. In May "Taxi Driver" and "You Receive Me" is released on Modern # 958. In August "The Syndicator" and "Hug And Squeeze" is the latest on Modern with # 966 followed by "I'm Ready" and " I Need Love So Bad" on # 978. Late in the year Vee-Jay Records gets into the act and signs John Lee to the label and quickly releases their first with "Mambo Chillun" and "Time Is Marching" on # 164. The Vee-Jay sides are recorded with Jimmy Reed's combo which features Reed on harmonica, Eddie Taylor on guitar, George Washington on bass, and Tom Whitehead on drums. Hooker continued to work on the road mostly as a solo performer and mostly in the Detroit area. He appeared many times at the Club Caribe and the Harlem Inn in the motor city.

In 1956 as the majority of American teenagers became immersed in rock 'n roll as personified by Elvis Presley, the record business did not treat the southern blues singers kindly-especially someone as uncommon in style and presence as John Lee Hooker. Vee-Jay Records who also had Jimmy Reed on the label kept a number of new songs coming during this time. In June Hooker made a rare appearance at a large venue with a show at the Labor Temple in Minneapolis. He appeared with Eddie Taylor and Jimmy Reed's Combo (without Reed). "Every Night" and "Trouble Blues" was released on # 188. "Dimples" and "Baby Lee" are issued on # 206, and "The Road Is Rough" and "I'm So Worried Baby" on # 233. In October Hooker does a week in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and gets good reception to his new song "Dimples". At years end "Dimples" is a solid seller, the best showing by John Lee in a number of years. It gets good airplay on top R & B radio stations and soon becomes a top seller in Atlanta and Columbia, South Carolina.

Beginning the year 1957 Fortune Records from back in Detroit has two tunes in the can by John Lee that they release on # 846 - "Curl My Baby's Hair" and "609 Boogie". In February Vee-Jay Records exec Ewart Abner tells the trade press that Hooker's sides for the label sell in markets other than the traditional areas for what is termed "Southern blues". Hooker himself enjoys an extended engagement at the Palms in Hallandale, Florida. Sam Evans, Chicago radio dj announces plans to feature John Lee Hooker for a midnight show at the Central Park Theater. Also on the bill will be The Kool Gents, Andre Williams, Otis Rush, and others. Vee-Jay releases "I'm So Excited" and "I See You When You're Weak" on # 245 in late April. In August Hooker dies some shows in the Newark, New Jersey area, and Vee-Jay's newest is "Rosie Mae" and "Little Wheel" on # 255.

In early February of 1958 "You Can Lead Me Baby" and "Unfriendly Woman" is released by Vee-Jay on # 265. The session was recorded with Frank Bradford on piano, Eddie Taylor on guitar, Everett McCrary on bass, and Richard Johnson on drums. "I Love You Honey" and "You've Taken My Woman" is out later in the year on # 293 with Joe Hunter on piano. In January of 1959 Vee-Jay Records announces an upcoming LP album by Hooker to be recorded without modern technology intruding on the basic "down home" blues style of the artist. In March Hooker records a new version of "I'm In The Mood" his hit song from eight years before for Vee-Jay. The other side is a new tune called "Maudie" on # 308. In July another remake for Vee-Jay - "Boogie Chillun" is paired with "Tennessee Blues" on # 319. In September Vee-Jay releases the LP album "I'm John Lee Hooker" on # 1007. In October more remakes with "Crawlin Kingsnake" and "Hbo Blues" on # 331. From a session in California there are two singles released on the Lauren Records label. "Ballad To Abraham Lincoln" and "Mojo Hand" is on # 361, and "Deep Down In My Heart" and "I Lost My Job" on # 362. At year's end a Detroit session with Jim Miller on trumpet, Johnny Hooks on sax, Bob Thurman on piano, and Tom Whitehead on drums result in Fortune # 853 - "Cry baby" and "I Love You Baby" and Hi-Q # 5018 - "Blues For Christmas" and "Big Fine Woman".

As the world entered the nineteen sixties, John Lee Hooker became another of the traditional blues artists that experienced a "re-discovery" of sorts. John Lee played the Newport Folk Festivals in the early sixties, a solo performance that was heavy in dramatics on songs such as "Tupelo Flood" and "Bus Driver Blues". A bigger reception was awaiting in Europe especially in England. His tours on the continent with the American Folk Blues Festival, and his recognition by musicians in the British invasion bands went a long way in securing his importance. Eric Burdon & The Animals had a world wide hit with Hooker's "Boom Boom Boom", and back in the United States his appearances went from small dance clubs to coffee houses, folk music clubs, and college campuses. He continued recording, now mostly in the LP album format beginning with the Bluesway label (although a few singles were released by Vee-Jay in the sixties, and one by Chess). He partnered with American boogie band Canned Heat for a very successful double LP album called "Hooker & Heat". In 1969 he performed at the Bluesmasters Sessions at the Electric Circus in New York City. John Lee Hooker then became inactive from the mid seventies through the late eighties when his album "The Healer" resurrected interest in his music. He recorded a few more albums for Point Blank and was widely acknowledged as a true American master of the blues.

The blues and boogie was stilled in June of 2001 as John Lee Hooker passed away at the age of 83. He was alone in his style, fondly remembered for his talent and personality, an enormous influence on the music of the world, and will be greatly missed by a huge cross section of the population of this planet.

As a representative selection of cd recordings of Hooker's are listed, the usual caution of duplication of songs should be noted.

For those who want a concise cross section of Hooker's work there are two cds that will fill the bill - "The Definitive Collection" from Hip-O in '06 contains 20 essential tracks; and "The Ultimate Collection : 1948-1990" from Rhino in 1991 with 31 tracks covers a lot of the same ground. Either one is a good starting point with a competent overview of the man's great career. MCA has a set from Hooker's "re-discovery years" with "Best Of : 1965-1974" with 16 tracks from 1992. From the same period comes the remastered 1970 double LP "Hooker 'n Heat" from Capitol featuring John Lee and Canned Heat. For the more completist listener there is "Hooker" a 4cd box set from Shout Factory in '06 with 84 tracks covering his entire career. But now it gets interesting - for those who want only the full story and the sounds of the times there are a number of recordings that are very label specific. For the short version there is "The Legendary Modern Recordings : 1948-1954" from Virgin in 1994 with 24 tracks. But that is only the beginning. "Jack 'O Diamonds - The 1949 Recordings" from Eagle released in 2004 features rare one offs, unreleased, and alternate takes of John Lee Hooker's early work. And then there is the treasure trove of these years. A 2003 series called (and they are not exaggerating) "The Complete John Lee Hooker" from Body & Soul. This is a mind boggling six volume double set (each with at least 44 tracks) covering the years 1949 to 1954. Next there is the "Vee-Jay Box" a six cd set from P-Vine covering that label's output from 1955-1964. Chess Records not to be outdone offers "The Best Chess Sides" from 1997 with 16 tracks for that label by Hooker. The best of the live recordings are also available. "Live At Newport" from the early sixties has John Lee on the verge of re-invention. From Vanguard in 2002, this double cd features 17 tracks. From MCA is "Live At The Cafe Au Gogo" a remastered cd from 1996 features Hooker in 1966 at the club plus a few tracks from Soledad prison in 1972. There are 13 tracks on this interesting recording. And finally there is the two volume "Live At Sugar Hill" from Ace (UK) in 1993, or the shorter version from Fantasy in 2002.

I am left with the memory of meeting John Lee Hooker, alone on a street corner in the East Village of Manhattan one night at one a.m. in 1969. He had earlier performed at the Electric Circus series of weeknight Blues Masters programs. What lasted most in those few minutes was someone who seemed at peace with himself, finally able to enjoy some of the rewards of a long life of making a go of what he knew best-his interpretation of life around him and what he endured to reach the place at which he was. He remains a truly important influence to so many.

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