Earl Hooker was not the most famous of the blues guitarists who grew from the fertile blues soil of the Mississippi Delta. But you'll be hard pressed to find a more innovative and influential player. As the title of this collection suggests, Earl Hooker was simply one of the best ever.
Simply The Best contains three cuts from Hooker's time with Chess Records and it's various subsidiaries, covering the years 1956, 1961 and 1962. The rest of the album consists of selections from several 1969 albums recorded in Los Angeles, one on Blue Thumb and the others on BluesWay. The music on Simply The Best is superb, and shows why Hooker had such a profound impact on blues and rock guitarists who followed him.
The album opens with a Muddy Waters number, "You Shook Me," on which Hooker was the guitarist on this particular Chess session. From the Chicago cuts, the hottest number is the 1956 single on Argo, "Frog Hop." In addition to Hooker's guitar work, there's also a great uncredited piano solo. In fact, there must have been something about Hooker that brought out the best in his piano players, as the keyboard work on all cuts is solid.
Hooker backs his more famous cousin John Lee Hooker on "Messin' Around With The Blues," later added as a previously-unreleased cut on the latter's album Urban Blues.
The Blue Thumb LP, Sweet Black Angel, was produced by Ike Turner, who adds his usually stellar piano work on "Sweet Home Chicago."
Hooker was never afraid to experiment with the various sounds he could get out of his guitar and amplifier, especially evident on the instrumental "Universal Rock." Here he punctuates some incredible guitar runs with tasteful use of a wah wah pedal. From the same session, released on the BluesWay album Don't Have To Worry, came a song by the same name, featuring Johnny "Big Moose" Walker on piano. Walker handles the vocals on another fine tune, the jump blues "Would You Baby," with honkin' sax from Otis Hale.
Closing this collection are several cuts from BluesWay albums by Andrew "Voice" Odom, Charles Brown, and John Lee Hooker, all with Earl on guitar.
Earl Hooker has never received all of the acclaim due him. Simply The Best will hopefully expose his seminal guitar work to a new audience of blues fans.
--- Bill Mitchell
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