John Lee Hooker – The Modern, Chess & Vee-Jay Singles And Collection 1949-1962 – Acrobat Music (4 CDs)

John Lee Hooker – The Modern, Chess & Vee-Jay Singles And Collection 1949-1962 – Acrobat Music ACQCD7103 (4-CDs) mono box set [10/7/16] ****1/2:

This is a seminal anthology of a blues icon.

(John Lee Hooker – guitar & vocals)

Among the icons of blues, John Lee Hooker stands tall. In classic legendary cult persona, his birthplace is one of two places in Mississippi. But that’s Delta country and Hooker would represent the sub-genre with his own inimitable style. in 1948, he recorded the standard “Boogie Chillen” in Detroit, which was released on Modern Records out of Los Angeles. The single became the biggest “race” record of 1949, launching a memorable career. Throughout his years with various labels including Modern, Chess, Vee-Jay, Atlantic, and Verve (and others), he added songs like “Boom Boom”, “Crawling King Snake” and “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” to the blues landscape. His early work was renown for its unusual rhythmic structures (which made it difficult for musicians to accompany) and guitar-based boogie music. Due to money (or lack of money issues), Hooker recorded a lot of music under assumed names.

Acrobat Music has released a 4-CD box set highlighting Hooker’s catalog with Modern, Chess and Vee-Jay. In spite of the minimalist original technology, this music is potent and moving. CD 1 has Delta cuts like “Sally Mae”. The roots-based connection is palpable. But when the dynamic groovers like the irrepressible “Boogie Chillun” and “”Weeping Willow Boogie” take off, the unique “one-man-band” foot-stomping Hooker takes over. There are over 100 songs on this retrospective, and they are consistently listenable. But it’s the diverse musical style that stands out. On “Women In My Life” you get a template for ‘50s rockabilly.

CD 2 showcases music from the years 1956-1964. Hooker has tapped into a more sophisticated form of blues, often with additional musicians. “Ground Hog Blues” could be a Sun Records rock and soul number, but it has more authenticity. Even on a standard like “Key To The Highway”, his blues pedigree is visceral. The Chess material is potent. “Union Station Blues”, “Women And Money”, “Walkin’ The Boogie’ and “Sugar Mama” are strong follow-ups to the brilliant Modern catalog. CD 3 has another generous helping of Modern releases. Here, the earlier Vee-Jay tunes are introduced. It appears that Hooker’s accessibility levels are expanded. “Mambo Chillun” is lively, bluesy rock and roll. The addition of harmonica on “Time Is Marching” and an urban feel on “Every Night” are stellar. This continues on the freewheeling “Trouble Blues” (practically a primer for rockers). “Baby Lee” has a unique loping tempo that adds texture to classic blues. But John Lee is never too far removed from the source. Listening to “The Road Is Rough” is evidence of that.  (…Have Mercy!, the road is rough…”)

CD 4 is all Vee-jay. A lot of blues retrospectives include a certain number of collaborations with rock stars to augment the commercial appeal. John Lee Hooker – The Modern, Chess & VeeJay is not one of them. It is unadulterated, pure blues. As his career progressed, John Lee Hooker’s vocal performances got even better. “I’m So Excited”, “Rosie Mae”, “Little Wheel” and , and “I Love You Honey” draw on a variety of arrangements, but are equally compelling. Hooker updates his inimitable “Boogie Chillen” with confidence and a boost in studio aesthetics. And of course there is “Boom Boom”. This may be the most recognizable John Lee Hooker” recording of all time. It is inspirational and bristles with up-tempo energy. Many artists have done credible versions of this song, but this one is by far the best. “Crawlin’ Kingsnake” is as good as blues can be.

The box set includes an informative booklet that offers background anecdotes and session details. This is an historical document of a bona fide American musical legend!

TrackLists:

CD 1: Sally May; Boogie Chillun; Hoggie Boogie; Hobo Blues; Whistlin’ And Moanin’ Blues; Weeping Willow Boogie; Crawlin’ King Races; Drifting from Door To Door; I’m A Howlin’ Wolf; Playin’ The 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

CD 2: High Priced Woman; Union Station Blues; I’m In The Mood; How Can You Do it; Anybody See My Baby; Turn Over A New Leaf; Ground Hog Blues; Rock Me Mama; Cold Chills All Over Me; I Got Eyers For you; 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 ‘Till I Die; Love Money Can’t Buy; Please Take Me Back; Too Much Boogie

CD 3: 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 Chillin’; Time Is Marching; Every Night; Trouble Blues; Baby Lee; Dimples; I’m So Worried Baby; The Road Is So Rough

CD 4: I’m So Excited; I See 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; She’s Mine; A New Leaf

—Robbie Gerson

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