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John Lee Hooker, Alone

Hooker_alone_cover

This week's vinyl digitization is Alone, an out-of-print 1970 compilation of John Lee Hooker sides originally recorded between 1948 and 1951. The sound is heavily rhythmic, stripped-down and raw - most of the songs are just Hooker, with his voice accompanied only by his guitar for melody and his stomping foot for percussion. And with a unique recording method, as explained in this Wikipedia entry for Hooker's first hit, "Boogie Chillen'":

To make the sound fuller, a microphone was set up in a pallet that was placed under Hooker's foot. According to Besman's account, a primitive echo-chamber effect was created by feeding Hooker's foot-stomp rhythm into a speaker in a toilet bowl, which in turn was miked and returned to a speaker in the studio in front of Hooker's guitar, thus giving it a "big" or more ambient sound.

Everything here is so good, and the sound so consistent, that it's hard to single out just one song, so I'll give the nod to "Boogie Chillen' #2", the followup to his first hit. It's a great tune, and also an example of Hooker's relentless drive to record and sell songs (his motto was "You pay, I play"), which lead him to cut dizzying number of recordings, many under pseudonyms (my favorite of which is "Birmingham Sam and his Magic Guitar").

I was heavily into blues from my freshman year in college through the first few years after graduation, and Hooker was my blues god. I was no completist of his work (given his prodigious output, that would have bankrupted me) and had only about a half dozen of his albums, but I listened to them obsessively, especially Alone. Like most of my blues vinyl, right after I bought this I made a cassette copy for listening in order to preserve the LP in pristine condition. My car doesn't even have a cassette player, so other than digging out my old Walkman and burning through batteries, I've had no good way to listen to my blues albums on the go, which is where I do most of my listening these days. I'm hoping this will revive my interest in John Lee Hooker, and the blues in general.

March 13, 2016 in Music | Permalink

Comments

If you don't already have it — Hooker 'n Heat is a great John Lee Hooker session, with Hooker alone, with Alan Wilson, and with all of Canned Heat (minus Bob Hite). I'd say it's the most sympathetic backing Hooker ever had. With an old tube amp and a platform for the stomping.

Posted by: Michael Leddy at Mar 13, 2016 10:21:30 PM