Title - 'Hooker' (Shout! Factory)
Artist - John Lee Hooker
The wonderful, and ever-so talented John Lee Hooker was a recording artist for (give or take) somewhere close to fifty years. Jumping ship from label to label, he started his career cutting sides for singles, later recording proper albums. Having heard most all these recordings on repackaged and reissued formats for many, many years - a seemingly endless series of compilations (sometimes cheap, sometimes now!) appearing on a regular Christmas basis, we finally (and thankfully) now have an extremely comprehensive, career-spanning box set, (thank you Shout! Factory) in the form of this 2006 four-disc set, plainly entitled, 'Hooker.'
The 4-disc box set spans 1948 to 2003, and the change in sound is evident from decade to decade. The earliest tracks like “Boogie Chillen’” and “Sally Mae” are gritty in their delivery, which will likely throw a lot of younger audiences off at first. With today’s overproduced albums abounding, the stripped-down approach may take a while to adjust to, but the honesty that Hooker conveys is undeniable. If you enjoy a good storyteller who can back up what he’s saying with classic blues riffs, you’ll find the tales Hooker conveys in his songs fascinating.
Probably the most fascinating aspect about the box set is discovering the multiple songs that John Lee Hooker wrote that were later made famous by rock bands. The best examples are “Crawling King Snake,” a song that Jim Morrison and The Doors later shaped into their own hit. If you’re familiar with George Thorogood’s songs, other than the infectious “Bad To The Bone,” that is, then you might also know the tune “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.” The barroom classic is yet another example of Hooker’s work that has popped up years after its initial release by the bluesman.
The 4th disc in the collection is comprised of duets with everyone from Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt to Carlos Santana and Van Morrison. If you’re under the impression that a blues song is the same no matter who performs it, then the 4th disc will clear up this mistake quickly. When Santana and Hooker tackle “The Healer,” there is a completely different feel than when only Hooker was at the mic. This effect makes each duet a new experience and keeps the box set consistently fresh.
But, in truth, whether or not one will buy this killer box set may depend on the amount Hooker material you have in your collection. There's no question that this magnificent box set is the difinitive collection of John Lee Hooker material. Yet still it's a drop in the bucket considering the vast wealth of material he recorded over his 50 year career. One wouldn't be able to carry or afford his entire recording output. For new fans or people who may be a little "thin" with Hooker material, this is, without a doubt the way to go.
In celebration of John Lee Hooker's first-ever career-spanning box set, the four-CD collection Hooker, Shout! Factory and Gibson Guitars are giving away an Epiphone Sheraton II, one of John Lee Hooker’s favorite guitars, courtesy of Epiphone.
To enter to win, please visit: www.gibson.com/johnleehooker
Also, be sure to check out the feature story on John Lee Hooker in this month's edition of Backstage Pass, Gibson’s award-winning web magazine:
JLH - Backstage Pass