JJ 03/63: John Lee Hooker – The Folk Lore Of John Lee Hooker

Sixty years ago Derrick Stewart-Baxter saw the master bluesman enjoying a popularity that did not rely on commercialism. First published in JJ March 1963

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There is little more I can say about John Lee Hooker, having dealt with him fully in last month’s Blues On Record column. Hooker is one of the finest living blues artists and with each year that passes his reputation grows.

Of late he has been taken up by the Folknik section of the blues world, but this does not seem to have affected him adversely. He makes his electric guitar shout and roar on the faster R & B numbers yet his performances never become brash or vulgar. The two titles “Tupelo” and “The Hobo” taken from the Newport Folk Festival where he was an outstanding success, are among his best blues, “Hobo” being based on his own experiences on the road.

I am at a loss to understand why so many critics disapprove of John using the acoustic guitar on some items. Hooker is a man who has bridged the gap between the early country style of his youth and the slicker city blues of today. That he still remembers the older type of song is to his credit, and I can see little bowing to commercialism in such things as “Tupelo”.

John Lee Hooker is a professional blues singer and as such earns his money by singing. Naturally he must please his public or starve, but (and here is the point) his public is comparatively small. If he wanted to pander to commercialism he could have become an out and out Rock & Roller. This he has refused to do. There is nothing on this extremely fine disc which will appeal to the pop buyer. Even the lovely ballad “Take Me As I Am” (composed by John) is sung with blues overtones.

One word of warning – every copy I have played, and I have tried several, jump on tracks 1 and 2 on each side. So don’t blame the poor dealer if yours turns out to be faulty.

Discography
(a) Tupelo; (c) I’m Mad Again; (c) I’m Going Upstairs; (c) Want Ad Blues; (b) Five Long Years; (b) I Hate To See You Walk (17½ min) – (a) The Hobo; (c) Hard Hearted Woman; (b) Wednesday Evening Blues; (b) Take Me As I Am; (b) My First Wife Left Me; (b) You’re Looking Good Night (20 min)
(Stateside SL 10014 12inLP 30s. 11d.)