John Lee Hooker - I'm John Lee Hooker
Mar 30, 2020
85
The History of the Albums - n° 113

[I invite you to read my previous reviews on Jimmy Reed and Howlin' Wolf, see the list below, in order to better understand the context of the Blues Revival and all the influences they had, like John Lee Hooker]. There are 3 important things to know about John Lee Hooker, first of all he is a legend of the Blues, more particularly of the Delta Blues and Electric Blues, one of the greatest guitarist in history who has an atypical style and techniques that he has democratized. Secondly, secondly, he is one of the most influential bluesman both in his own genre and for the whole future rock generation from the second half of the 50's onwards. Finally, I will say that he is also one of the artists who best represented this period of the Blues Revival. As a reminder at the very end of the 50s and especially during the 60s, the Blues knew its commercial "renaissance", just like folk music. Imagine, John Lee Hocker must have been at least 40 years old when his first album came out, with already more than 10 years of career. In 1959, there were 3 different album releases in the same year, by 3 different and competing labels. In the space of 5 years, from 1959 to 1964 there were at least 18 official albums released by at least 5 different labels, even though they were often more compilations than albums as we know them today. However, this shows you how much the Blues was living its "second wind". Finally the new generation paid tribute to their cultures and to those who influenced them.

Even if several sources indicate that it would have been born in 1917, many elements of its childhood remain unclear, imprecise or mere logical assumptions. What is known is that he is originally from Mississippi, that he grew up in a religious family and very numerous. At the beginning of his childhood, the family was limited to church gospel singing, but after his parents' separation, his mother got together with a bluesman, so he took up the Blues and the guitar. His first influences came from his father-in-law, and also from his brother-in-law who taught them how to play the guitar. For unknown reasons, he decided in his teenage years to go off and live his own life. To get by, he took a series of jobs at the factory and performances in clubs, bars and other parties. Since guitarists were scarce, he had many opportunities. That's how his career began. Despite his growing local popularity and the fact that he was often called upon to play in clubs, John Lee Hocker continued to have a side job to support himself. In order to diversify and differentiate himself from others, he acquired an electric guitar. For me it is this choice which will remain one of the most important of his career, because it will of course metamorphose his playing. In 1948, he signed a contract after auditioning for Modern Records. It was then that the Boogie Chillen cult, now a real reference, was released. Boogie Chillen is a song entirely written/composed and played only by Hoocker, using notably the electric guitar, which will become an instant success, reaching the 1st place of Billboard R&B, which is very (very) rare. It might seem like a miracle, but Boogie Chillen, like many other Hooker songs will have great impact on other artists, like B.B King, Bo Diddley or later the ZZ Top for this song.
Before the Blues Revival, Blues artists didn't make a good living from their musical income (and that despite being number 1). They earned most of their income from label signings. This explains why John Lee Hocker counted and juggled at least 10 different labels. While he was building an impressive musical legacy, creating and releasing wonderful songs, it actually took more than 10 years before he made a (sufficiently) substantial commercial comeback. In fact, it is especially from 1962 onwards that he will feel the benefits of the Blues revival on his career. So why did I choose and recommend I'm John Lee Hooker rather than another ? As I told you, there were 3 releases in 1959, there's I'm John Lee Hooker, then Highway Of Blues an interesting collaborative album with Sticks McGhee but let's say it's very forgettable and then to finish House of the Blues was released by Riverside Records, and I can tell you that the choice was not easy. Yet I'm John Lee Hooker is for me a much better album. Released in May 1959 by Vee Jay Records who had acquired a large handful of the singles released from 1948 to 1955 by Modern, the label had done a great job by getting their hands on Boogie Chillen and I'm in the Mood and putting them on the album (which have 2 similarities, they are great blues classics and they reached the first place of Billboard R&B). The collaboration between Hooker and Vee Jay Records to start in 1956, with many singles releases, but with the addition of some songs from Modern, the expanded catalogue offered on I'm John Lee Hooker is much brighter and richer than House of the Blues which was restricted to 1951 to 1954. In addition to the exceptional content, it's important to say that apart from a few small appearances, notably Jimmy Reed who comes to play harmonica and Eddie Taylor who comes to support him on guitar, Hooker is often alone in the vocal and musical interpretation, which is really impressive when you think about it. Without forgetting that he composed all the tracks present. Hooker is also the very example that it was mainly the labels that made the albums at the expense of the artist's artistic choices.

Related albums I've reviewed:
> 1956 : B.B. King - Singin' The Blues
> 1959 : Jimmy Reed – I'm Jimmy Reed
> 1959 : Howlin' Wolf - Moanin' in the Moonlight
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