Tuesday, November 3, 2015

TRIBUTE TO JOHN LEE HOOKER BY KARLA DAROCAS

"Boom, boom, boom, boom, I love to see you strut, up and down the floor And when you talking to me that baby talk, I like it like that". - John Lee Hooker

This blues tribute is to pay homage to a soul who spirited his life and ours with song. John Lee Hooker had an ear for music, a great sense of humour and personal vision. He pulled it all together with hard work and dedication. Music was his mission; if it wasn't, I would not be writing this tribute.

John Lee wanted to be heard and spread his spirited message to us all. Rooted in the growing vibrations of the gospel spiritual sound, John Lee broke all the rules of the day. Instead of singing songs that reach for an ethereal life after death, John Lee chose to "keep it real" and create lyrics and rhythms that were extracted from his everyday life - rooted in the here and now.

You know, I'm a crawling king snake baby, so before I continue to slide into my tribute of John Lee Hooker, I thought it best to ask some of my friends about their feelings towards this great legend.

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MY FRIENDS

"For me, John Lee Hooker is the blues," expresses Buddy Paul, regional blues harmonica performer and music director for our CBBlues events - CrossRoads and the Blues Matinee Shows. 

"The roots of the blues rhythm can be found in all of his song. He has a cool driving groove that lasts forever. He grooves and he rolls and the beat goes on and lasts the distance. He can blues all night, never in a rush to tell a story. Not many young bloods have the patients to let it roll anymore and as John Lee says... 'One night I was layin' down, I heard mama 'n papa talkin'. I heard papa tell mama, let that boy boogie-woogie, It's in him, and it got to come out. And I felt so good, went on boogie'n just the same."

According to another good friend and blues traditionalist harmonica performer, Danny Boy Sánchez, "JL Hooker is the 'The Bluesman' who can mesmerize the public with his kind of hypnotic Blues. The first and best music of all was his recordings on the Vee Jay label (1959). Later he spread he blues by playing with rock stars. This was a good idea."

And this quote below is from Licenciado Babuino (aka. Big Pablo), yet another blues harmonica performer and his band - Baboon Blues County, are from the Murcia region. I have not met this friend yet but the blues passion keeps us connected. 

"He was a master in storytelling, with his personal style half singing half talking, with a unique sense of rhythm that straight away to the heart... or to the hips!"

Then reaching over to the blues scene in Los Angeles, a FaceBook friend actually who became a CBBlues subscriber. He has shared his music with videos and MP3 over the years. I asked Anthony Cook (The Skylarks) for some words of tribute. 

"I have been very fortunate to see the great John Lee Hooker many times. In my opinion he was the original 'Blues Trance Groover'. He had that foot stompin', guitar rompin' groove that immediately caught your attention. One could not help to move to the John Lee Hooker groove. He was an iconic bluesman with a signature sound!"

Because I am a crawling king snake, I had to slide over to Barcelona to get a few words from a devotee blues historian and promoter - Sr. Vicente Zumel. Yet someone else who I have never met but feel rooted with due to our love of the blues vibrations, he gets right down to a cultural point.

"He has been a great blues musician and a big inspiration for a wide generation of white blues musicians."

MY TRIBUTE

I am grateful to all who have shared their perspectives and insights into the man and musician who was John Lee Hooker. For me, John Lee Hooker is the great Healer. I started my sojourn into the world of Hooker via the album the Healer. It was 1989 and that album was on the turn table day and night. I still love every track on that album and all the performers too.

From this point, I collected his music and I played his music and no matter what mood I was in, I became happy, relaxed. I could let go and become myself, even though I was dancing around the house. 

Because musical vibrations connect directly to our central nervous system, long before the ear hears the sounds and the mind comprehends the words, the music has already made its impression on you. It is like a magic spell or pill that can take your boredom or depression away. 

I think John Lee Hooker fully knew and understood the power of music to console or move the soul or central core. Today, we have so much man-made noise around us, but back in the rural share cropper days, noise was nature-made. Hence, the vibrations of the music would not be disturbed. They really could work their magic and make you feel good about yourself and life. That spirited life part of John Lee Hooker was key to his success. 

The other side of John Lee Hooker was the fact that he was an artist and an entrepreneur. He knew how to work at his enterprise at a time when recorded music was a currency. 

There are so many things about John Lee Hooker that I believe to be very impressive. So here is my tribute from an artist / entrepreneur viewpoint...

Impressive Facts

Despite being illiterate, Hooker was a prolific lyricist. 

Hooker could freely invent songs from nothing. He saw the poetry in everything around him and he pulled that life into his songs and music. Not only is this a very inventive skill and a gift if you can do it, he understood the opportunities that opened before him - and he took them.

Despite being poor, Hooker knew how to generate revenue like an entrepreneur with music as his product and service. 

He did his research and outdid the recording studios by being of value to all of them. He knew how to spread is talent to generate revenue and in the process build a library of recordings. An inventory and name brand recognition. 

WIKIPEDIA: Recording studios in the 1950s rarely paid black musicians more than a pittance, so Hooker would spend the night wandering from studio to studio, coming up with new songs or variations on his songs for each studio. Because of his recording contract, he would record these songs under obvious pseudonyms such as John Lee Booker, notably for Chess Records and Chance Records in 1951/52,[13] as Johnny Lee for De Luxe Records in 1953/54[13] as John Lee, and even John Lee Cooker,[14] or as Texas SlimDelta JohnBirmingham Sam and his Magic GuitarJohnny Williams, or The Boogie Man.[15].

Despite his upbringing as a Christian, Hooker lived his life like a Humanist.

Christian Gospel music relied on hand clapping and foot stomping as rhythmic accompaniment. Most of the singing was done a cappella. Hooker kept it real and changed the tempo to fit his expressive needs within the song. He was telling the story from his human world and not from Christian scripts. Walking and traveling had their own tempos but you can tell that he had a beat for the ladies too.

Despite his love of traditional Delta Blues, Hooker performed with a modern electric guitar.

This new style of solo performer with electric guitar was so different and radical to the Gospel groups at the time who were hitting it big with record buyers, Hooker was getting back to his sharecropper roots as a freestyle artist. Selling his brand of music. However his groove was impossible to follow so this made it difficult for backing musicians to perform and record with him. His musical vagaries were too unexpected and inexplicable. As a result, his first recording producer (Besman) would record Hooker on his "Modern" label playing guitar and singing, but also stomping along with the music on a wooden pallet.

Despite being a lone wolf in the early years, Hooker recorded and toured a lot with Eddie Kirkland.

While I never met John Lee Hooker, I did meet and interviewed Eddie Kirkland. He had his gypsy turban on and decked out in a suit. He was playing a matinee show at my university pub with a night show later at the infamous blues club in uptown. It was impossible to get any good dirt about John Lee Hooker out of him in my interview because he only wanted to talk about sex. It is widely know now that he has 73 children all over the country, but at the time of this interview I was only twenty-seven and I found him so incredible strange. The story he told me is that he would shag anywhere, anytime, and I guess with anyone and he had to move around a lot because husbands and boyfriends would get him stonewalled if he returned to their town for a performance. He really knew how to charm women with his blues guitar. 

Despite Hooker living in Detroit during most of his career, he was not associated with the Chicago-style blues prevalent in large northern cities. 

Hooker remained true to his roots - the southern rural blues styles, known as delta bluescountry bluesfolk blues, or front porch blues. It was his use of an electric guitar that tied him to the rural blues and that style to the emerging post-war electric blues.

MY CONCLUSION

John Lee Hooker was a much focused man, despite that fact that his guitar style was rambling. He was an auteur of his own genre in the blues music world. He was an artist and an entrepreneur and his talents and strategies paid off. He was able to live a comfortable life and he never had to retire. He died in his sleep at age 83 knowing that the blues had served him well.