Blues Bytes


March 2007

an associate

Order these CDs today:

The Healer

Mr. Lucky

Boom Boom

Chill Out

Don't Look Back

The Best of Friends

John Lee Hooker
Boom Boom
Point Blank/Shout! Factory
Chill Out
Point Blank
/Shout! Factory
The Best of Friends
Point Blank
/Shout! Factory

Anyone who thinks John Lee Hooker was running out of gas in his later years needs to re-listen to these 1990s gems. Boom Boom, Chill Out, and Best of Friends are chill-generating master works that not only point to the reverence in which the master was held by his peers, but the continued enthusiasm and chops he brought to the sessions.

John Lee HookerThe 1970s and '80s were slow for Hooker, but things perked up with the release of The Healer (1989, Chameleon), an album that garnered first time Grammy awards for both Hooker and Bonnie Raitt for their re-make of “I’m In The Mood.” Mr. Lucky (1991, Point Blank), Boom Boom (1992, Point Blank), Chill Out (1995, Point Blank), and Don’t Look Back (1997, Point Blank) followed to equally strong popular appeal.  The Best of Friends (1998) culled from various of these sessions, with additional tracks with Charlie Musselwhite, Ry Cooder and Ben Harper, gets my vote for the standout re-issue of 2007 thus far.

Boom Boom is closer to root Hooker than the others, though like the others is heavy on the guest star list. The title cut has Jimmy Vaughan guesting, and Robert Cray and his band sit in on a superb “Same Old Blues Again.” Pianist Mitch Woods is the guest star on “Trick Bag (Shoppin’ For My Tombstone),” Albert Collins and organist Deacon Jones top the list on “Boogie At Russian Hill,” and John Hammond sits in on “Bottle Up and Go.” As impressive as the guest list is, all of the players, even the irrepressible Collins, bend themselves to Hooker’s personality. Indeed, the real standout numbers are the solo Hookers: “I’m Bad Like Jessie James, “Sugar Mama,” the country-imbued “Hittin’ The Bottle Again” and “Thought I Heard,” the latter a duet with Charlie Musselwhite’s harp. The bonus material, “Dimples” and “Ain’t No Love In This House,” are stellar and add more excitement to a thoroughly exciting disc.

The opening title cut on Chill Out, “Chill Out (Things Gonna Change),” features Carlos Santana’s sizzling guitar work and is among the strongest pieces found on any of these three wholly impressive discs. It re-appears on The Best of Friends disc, as well. The version of “Kiddio,” with Charles Brown’s tasty piano supplying counterpoint, is delightful; the medley of “Serves Me Right To Suffer/Syndicator,” with Booker T supplying that instantly recognizable organ underpinning and Hooker’s pal Van Morrison sharing vocals, is killer; and “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” with Roy Rogers on board, is a blast. Rogers is the lynchpin to this and the other collections, serving as producer and visionary partner throughout.

John Lee Hooker“Annie Mae” brings Charles Brown back in, the gorgeous “Too Young” pairs Hooker with guitarist Billy Johnson, and “Talkin’ The Blues” and “If You’ve Never Been In Love” offer delightful duo dialogue between Hooker and Rogers. “We’ll Meet Again” is a fantastic country-style blues that features organist Deacon Jones. Pianist Johnnie Johnson sits in on “Down So Low” and the closing “Fire Down Below” adds guitarist Johnson and others. The latter two are bonus tracks. Again, the solo cuts are superb. “Deep Blue Sea,” the stirring “Tupelo,” and “Woman On My Mind” are Hooker distilled.

The Best of Friends is, not surprisingly, the best of the lot. Here are “Boogie Chillen” redone with Eric Clapton burning behind that glorious Hooker voice. Recorded specifically for the anthology, this is nothing short of a spectacular collaboration. With Bill Payne (keys), Jim Keltner (drums), Reggie McBride (bass), and Johnny Lee Schell and Rich Kirch (guitars) on the session, it serves as a brilliant opener to a 14-song collection that never fails to mesmerize.

“This Is Hip,” from Mr. Lucky, has Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and the dynamic vocals of Bobby King and Terry Evans spicing it up. Count this as another of the most exciting of the tunes on the three collections. “The Healer,” with Carlos Santana and band, is the song that started the Hooker renaissance, and it impresses still. Van Morrison and Booker T are back in the saddle on a moving “I Cover The Waterfront,” a Hooker original, not the jazz standard. Following “Boom Boom,” John Lee and Bonnie Raitt do a wonderful remake of “I’m In The Mood,” a duet that sent the two back home with their first ever Grammy awards. It was a song fully deserving of the accolade.

“Burnin’ Hell” recorded in 1998 for the collection spotlights guitarist Ben Harper and harmonica great Charlie Musselwhite. At the tale end, after Harper takes it out stratospherically, Hooker says, “What is that? Sounds like a freight train going through there…” The solo “Tupelo” is reprised, followed by “Baby Lee,” from The Healer, with Cray and band on hand, “Dimples,” from Don’t Look Back, features the members of Los Lobos with Juke Logan on harp.

“Chill Out” is followed by a re-make of “Big Legs Tight Skirt.” Another song recorded exclusively for the package, it features Ry Cooder, Ike Turner, Terry Evans and others. The title cut from Don’t Look Back, a disc scheduled for release later this year, is spellbinding. Danny Caron’s guitar work is chilling here. The final cut, “Up and Down,” also cut specifically for the collection, pairs Johnnie Johnson, the great pianist who came to prominence with Chuck Berry, with the great blues master.

Hooker tried to “retire” in 1990, then opened a club (The Boom Boom Room) so he could play when the muse struck. He had the boogie woogie in him and it had to come out. When he died June 19, 2001, it was a dark day, indeed. These Shout! Factory reissues help keep the flame alive. The packaging and liner notes are typically flawless and the re-mastering brings nuances to light that spark the eardrums.

--- Mark E. Gallo


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