JJ 10/73: John Lee Hooker – Kabuki Wuki

Fifty years ago Tony Russell recommended rolling with Hooker's embrace of modernity, including the nods to James Brown and Sly Stone. First published in Jazz Journal October 1973

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“Can you dig it? We’re doin’ our thing.” Thus John Lee, somewhere round the middle of Side Two of this latest workout. And if his ‘Kabuki Wuki’ thing is more or less his ‘Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive’ thing, and not very different from his ‘Endless Boogie’ thing, still it’s the sort of measured, hypnotic, midnight-hour, blues-and-boogie narrative that he excels at, and I can dig any amount of it.

I’m no mem­ber of the vigilante committee that would drive Hooker out of this kind of music and back a decade or two. He’s come too far to make that return-journey in any spirit of contentment – and anyway there’s plenty of vintage Hooker stuff that nobody in his senses would want repeated, or indeed remem­bered.

One of the likeable features of his present boogie preoccupation is his unembarrassed borrowing from his musical sons and cousins – little verbal nods to James Brown, Sly Stone and the like – which don’t at all strike one as the desperate plagiarism of an artist slip­ping behind the times, but rather convey a nice awareness of the integrity of black music, and moreover of its tradition.

The personnel is basically the full-time Hooker group, with sitters-in (L. C. Robinson on steel in Your Love, Mel Brown and Cliff Coulter on various in­struments elsewhere); the event was an all-night concert at San Francisco’s Kabuki theatre; the production is unpre­tentious and relaxed. The essentially un­sympathetic listener will come away from the record thinking it boring; the well-affected listener will pass through that dimension and immerse himself happily in the pithy timelessness of it all.


Discography
Your Love (Just A Little Bit); Hold It; Look At The Rain; My Best Friend (20 min) – Hit The Floor; A Little Bit Higher; I Wonder Why; If You Got A Dollar (20¾ min)
John Lee Hooker (vcl/gtr); Robert Hooker (org): Luther Tucker, Benny Rowe, Paul Wood (gtr); Gino Skaggs (Fender-bs); Ken Swank (dm). San Francisco, Ca., 14-15/8/71.
(ABC-Bluesways BLS-6052 £2.98)