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John Lee Hooker – The Modern, Chess and Veejay Singles Collection 1949-62

John Lee Hooker (vocals and guitar) with various accompaniments

Recorded 1949-62

ACROBAT ACQCD7103 [72:38 + 70:19 + 73:52 + 71:45]

Listing at the bottom of the review

The world is not short of John Lee Hooker compilations but Acrobat is to be congratulated for spreading out to four CDs and focusing on the Modern, Chess and Veejay singles of the years between 1949 and 1962. Hooker’s idiosyncrasies of metre and structure set him very apart from the mainstream and one of the more interesting features of a set like this is to note the freedoms he enjoyed but also the constraints placed upon him by his various record companies. The repetitive stomping boogies, so powerfully percussive, could be replaced by a more generic sound when Hooker was backed by studio musicians.

The rather crude sound of the Modern singles from 1949 onwards hardly disguises some of the classic sides Hooker made for the company:Boogie Chillun, prominently, but the classic Hoogie Boogie as well, with its guitar distortion and boot stomping rhythm. Whistlin’ and Moanin’ Blues is self-explanatory but the electric guitar licks are impressive as ever. There are flickeringly bad surfaces on some of the transferred sides which, allied to the original discs’ hardly hi-fi sound, can create aural distractions - but they pass quickly. James Watkins adds boogie piano from time to time but mostly it’s the hypnotic Hooker who is sole master of his musical fate.

The second CD takes the Modern discs to 1952, when they overlap with the Chess releases. I’m in the Mood shows the echo-laden, overdubbed ethos of some of the Moderns whilst the more sympathetically recorded Chess sides show the distinct improvement in his studio fortunes. The old vulgar RnB numbers foisted on him, like Rock Me Mama, show a cash cow in operation but at least even the worst of the Moderns, amongst which I’d also class – surprisingly so – It Hurts Me So, still possess a totally rugged sound world. There’s a strange detour to the world of lyrical romance in the Leveen-Grant song I Wonder Little Darling – Hooker sounds a little like a parlando Lonnie Johnson here - but otherwise the third disc gives us more Moderns and introduces the Veejay years as well as the very thinly veiled cover version of Shake, Rattle and Roll called Shake, Holler and Run, obviously based on the Big Joe Turner hit. You’ll find another classic, Dimples, on this third disc.

Disc four is all-Veejay - the label which, from 1957 onwards, sometimes sported a rather audience-pleasing profile, smoothing out Hooker’s cussed irregularities. That said, they had the sense to reprise Hooker’s earlier material and his remakes of things like Boogie Chillun have their own vitality. Boom Boom unleashed a tidal wave of rhythm and blues and rock bands worldwide and it just makes it, beating the cut-off date neatly. It’s interesting to read that it reached only 60th place in the US Pop charts and number 16 in the RnB charts.

The booklet is good. There are full discographic details, following every session, some well-known but nice photographic reproductions and an appreciative, insightful programme note from Paul Watts. It caps a fine 4-CD set.

Jonathan Woolf

CD1

Sally May

Boogie Chillun

Hoogie Boogie

Hobo Blues

Whistlin’ And Moanin’ Blues

Weeping Willow Boogie

Crawlin’ King Snake

Drifting from Door To Door

I'm a Howlin' Wolf

Playin' the Races

No Friend Around

Wednesday Evening

Give Me Your Phone Number

Roll and Roll

Let Your Daddy Ride

One More Time

John Lee's House Rent Boogie

Queen Bee

Tease Me Baby

Women In My Life

Mad Man Blues

Boogie Now

Leave My Wife Alone

Ramblin' By Myself

Louise

CD2

High Priced Woman

Union Station Blues

I'm In The Mood

How Can You Do It

Anybody Seen My Baby

Turn Over a New Leaf

Ground Hog Blues

Rock Me Mama

Cold Chills All Over Me

I Got Eyes for You

It Hurts Me So

Bluebird Blues

Key To The Highway

Walkin' The Boogie

Sugar Mama

It's My Own Fault

Women and Money

It's Been a Long Time Baby

Rock House Boogie

It's Stormin' and Rainin'

Ride 'til I Die

Love Money Can't Buy

Please Take Me Back

Too Much Boogie

CD3

Need Somebody

Down Child

Gonna Boogie

I Wonder Little Darling

Jump Me (One More Time)

I Tried Hard

Let's Talk it Over

Bad Boy

Cool Little Car

Shake, Holler and Run

Half A Stranger

Taxi Driver

You Receive Me

Hug and Squeeze

The Syndicator

I'm Ready

Lookin' for a Woman

Mambo Chillun

Time Is Marching

Every Night

Trouble Blues

Baby Lee

Dimples

I'm So Worried Baby

The Road Is So Rough

CD4

I'm So Excited

I See You When You're Weak

Rosie Mae

Little Wheel

Unfriendly Woman

You Can Lead Me, Baby

I Love You Honey

You've Taken My Woman

Maudie

I'm In The Mood

Boogie Chillun

Tennessee Blues

Hobo Blues

Crawlin' Kingsnake

Solid Sender

No Shoes

Dusty Road

Tupelo (a.k.a.Backwater Blues)

I'm Mad Again

I'm Going Upstairs

Take Me As I Am

Want Ad Blues

Boom Boom

Drug Store Woman

Let's Make It

John Lee Hooker

She's Mine

A New Leaf

 



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