Friday, September 17, 2010

375. The Ultimate Collection. The greatest hits of a blues great.

Album: The Ultimate Collection
Artist: John Lee Hooker
Year: 1991
Genre: The Blues


  1. Teachin' the Blues
  2. Boogie Chillen'
  3. Sally Mae
  4. Let Your Daddy Ride
  5. Crawlin' King Snake
  6. Weeping Willow Boogie
  7. Hobo Blues
  8. Huckle up Baby
  9. I'm in the Mood
  10. John L's House Rent Boogie
  11. No More Doggin'
  12. I Need Some Money
  13. Frisco Blues
  14. Dimples
  15. It Serves You Right to Suffer
  16. Bottle Up and Go
  17. Boom Boom
  18. Big Legs, Tight Skirt
  19. You Know, I Know
  20. One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer
  21. Let's Go Out Tonight
  22. I Cover the Waterfront
  23. She's Mine (Keep Your Hands to Yourself)
  24. Back Biters and Syndicators
  25. Think Twice Before You Go
  26. Shake It Baby
  27. I'm Bad Like Jesse James
  28. Peavine
  29. Burning Hell
  30. Terraplane Blues
  31. I'm in the Mood

The blues is full of tragic stories of artists cut down in their prime or dying in poverty while someone else got rich on their success. Some of the biggest names in blues music have been ripped off, trod on, abused and exploited without ever receiving any of the acclaim they deserve for shaping popular music. I'm delighted to say John Lee Hooker is not one of those guys. When he died in 2001 at the age of 83 he'd received the accolades and the financial success that his career deserved. He was lauded by his peers and by the generations that followed and showered with awards recognition and fame. If you're at all curious as to why he earned and deserved his success can I direct you to The Ultimate Collection, two discs of proof that Hooker is one of the greats of modern music.

Like his contemporaries (BB King, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley for example) John Lee Hooker has a distinctive style that is immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with his work. Hooker's trademark is the boogie. His signature track is a gem called Boogie Chillen which rocks and grooves and funks away with only the great man's voice and guitar to drive it. Hooker plays a riff, taps out a beat with his foot and sings over the top in his distinctive early vocal style (he would become much deeper in later years). Part of the song's attraction is the lyrical content which isn't traditional blues by any stretch of the imagination. We think of blues songs as being lament's about evil women, or the woes of poverty. Or else they're baffling innuendo like "Mama killed a chicken, she thought it was a duck, she put it on the table with it's legs sticking up" which Hooker sings in Bottle up and Go and lots of other people have quoted since (no don't ask me what it means, I'm just assuming it's rude). The lyrics to Boogie Chillen are about a much more accessible subject. The singer wants to go out and boogie-woogie and is pleading his case to his parents. It's about a teen's desire for liberation and his urge to be free. It's a universal idea that appeals to teenagers all over the world. Boogie Chillen's lasting appeal can also be attributed to the fact that it hasn't dated at all. It's been copied and ripped off for years (ZZ Top were sued by Hooker's record label for using it in La Grange) and often the latter versions sound trapped in their era. You can date them as soon as you hear them. Hooker's original version sounds like it was recorded yesterday. It's still fresh and vital which is an incredible achievement since it was actually committed to vinyl back in 1948. The song isn't just older than ZZ Top's career it's older than the band members themselves. Even if you were born before Hooker wrote the song you'll still be unable to resist the temptation to tap your toes.

But Hooker is far from a one trick pony. There are other songs on The Ultimate collection which feature Hooker alone with his guitar but there are tracks which feature drums, bass and piano and other songs which employ a bigger band sound. Pretty much everything on the album is gold but tracks like Boom Boom, One Burbon one scotch and one beer, Crawlin King Snake, I'm in the mood and It serves me right to suffer do stand slightly above the rest of the tracks. All are certified blues classics.

In the last decades of his life John Lee Hooker released a series of albums in which he played his hits accompanied by a group of A-list contributers (Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, Van Morrison, Los Lobos etc) who had all been influenced by his work. Far from being cheap cash-in's designed to pull more money from a wider fanbase, these albums (The Healer, Mr Lucky, Best of Friends) are fantastic albums which find Hooker in fine form and enjoying the company of his guests. They also showcase his amazing voice which became richer and more powerful with age. I love the 1948 version of Boogie Chillen but his later vocals are so much more powerful. Granted there is something odd about hearing a man in his seventies pleading with his parents for permission to boogie but if you can overlook that Hooker's voice is one of the greatest in popular music.

Influenced by:
Poverty, racism, a desire to boogie and his stepfather at the age of 13
Influenced: Everyone who plays the blues and pretty much everyone who plays rock and roll

Highlight: Boogie Chilllun,
Lowlight: Teaching the Blues. A strangely dull way to start the album.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote:
"The problem with compiling such a collection is implied in Boogie Man, Charles Shaar Murray's fine biography. Hooker recorded for a number of different labels, especially in his early days, and also under a variety of different names (John Lee Booker, John Lee Cooker, Little Pork Chop, etc.), so it takes a lot of legwork to figure out just which recordings were made by Hooker at all, much less obtain the rights to rerelease them. "

-That's really cool. I had no idea Hooker used other names. I love the idea of him calling himself John Lee Booker and then Cooker and maybe moving on to Dooker and Eooker before deciding to change tactics and call himself Little Pork Chop instead.

So is this the ultimate Collection or would you rather give it the ultimate rejection? Let me know below.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, Yes, Yes. I love the Healer. I heard Stubbsy play a track on 3LO and knew that this guy deserved more of my listening time. Great discovery.