"Music is a higher revelation than philosophy."

-- composer Ludwig van Beethoven

Music reviews

kaleidosound by Ken Gaillot

John Lee Hooker: Trouble Blues and Whiskey and Wimmen

Get Down

Artist John Lee Hooker
Title Set with Trouble Blues and Whiskey and Wimmen
Dates 1948 - c.1964
Label Retro Music (reissue)

John Lee Hooker is one of the great bluesman of all time, his Mississippi growl forever stamped upon musical history. This 1994 compilation of his early recordings provides an enjoyable sample of get-down-and-boogie blues, including "Boom Boom," which was immortalized in The Blues Brothers.

"When I ran off from home, I was 14 and I didn't want to be no farmer."

John Lee Hooker was born in August 1920 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, a cousin to another great bluesman, Earl Hooker. As a teenager, he ran away to the big city -- Detroit -- and began singing the blues. He lied about his age to get into the Army, getting an ID that said he was born in 1917, causing confusion for historians many years later.

Hooker got his musical start in Detroit, bringing the Mojo to Motown. His first recording, 1948's "Boogie Chillun!", was also his first hit. He continued recording for the Vee-Jay label until 1964. Like most bluesmen of his era, he just kept on singing and recording, winning a Grammy in 1989.

Retro Music compiled the best of his early music into two CDs -- Trouble Blues and Whiskey and Wimmen -- sometimes sold separately and sometimes packaged together (best bargain-bin value ever).

The standout selections here are "Boogie Chillun!", "Tupelo", "Crawlin' Kingsnake", "Whiskey and Wimmen" and "Boom Boom". "Boogie"'s start-and-stop rythym is catchy and shows up later in Led Zeppelin's live album The Song Remains The Same ("you gotta let that boy boogie ..."). "Tupelo" is a slow, moody blues history of one of the great Mississippi River floods.

"Crawlin' Kingsnake" is another upbeat blues manifesto, along the lines of Blind Boy Fuller's "Rattlesnakin' Daddy". "Whiskey and Wimmen" is a blues lament of the downfall of man, not quite the Biblical version but more believable.

1962's "Boom Boom" is classic John Lee, the ultimate bad-ass lay-it-down blues riff (how how how how ...). Hooker's widest recognition would come when he played "Boom Boom" in the Blues Brothers movie.

The other tracks on these albums are also worth listening to, although a few aren't very noteworthy. The set overall has a muddy, laid back groove, more like the gritty Texas blues of Lightnin' Hopkins than the urban Chicago blues of Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters.