John Lee Hooker is one of our national bluesman treasures. But, while he is no longer with us, having passed in 2001, his legacy of albums including the classic Boogie Chillen (1948), is rich and leaves no doubt as to his pedigree. His electric guitar style is heard and recognized in many rock personas’ works; his style of blues is familiar to Delta blues aficionados, all which leaves his music timeless. Hooker recorded many albums throughout his career, many of them brilliant in their blues purity. He used the acoustic in some but played plenty with the electric guitar, and, at any moment, you are mesmerized by his music. This is particularly true if you come in for the first time at various points of his career.
Many Hooker fans can easily list the value, quality, and sheer listening pleasure of each of his albums, all recorded for a variety of labels. Some will tell you that one album lacks the spirit of a predecessor, while another sounds lazy, while yet another is the embodiment of excellence. I’m guilty of this for many artists. Cite what you will but oftentimes plenty of money, lots of love and goods will separate an artist from his pool of blues. John Lee Hooker had his moments, some of them classic and some of them so-so. But what you can easily say about Hooker’s music is this, it’s highly addictive.
Jealous (1987 – reissue on PointBlank) and Don’t Look Back (1997 - PointBlank) are the subjects for this review of Hooker titles. Jealous is an album that represents a comeback after a self-imposed 8-year layoff. Self-produced, the album landed a nomination for a Grammy and other awards for the bluesman. It begins with the excellent “Jealous,” which is punctuated with a horn accompaniment, a little different for Mr Hooker. It’s followed by the “Ninety Days” demand to a woman to return home or it’s all over. Blues, he sang. He kept the blues elevated to an artistic level, true to its Delta roots yet electric and influential. Jealous is an album that embodies that blues perfection in its 10 songs that includes a reprise of “Ninety Days” at the end of the album. This expanded remaster includes two bonus tracks in “Lonely Man,” and “Decoration Day.” “Decoration Day” was originally heard on It Serves You Right to Suffer (1966) while “Lonely Man” is a sessions outtake.
Don’t Look Back, recorded some years after Jealous is a more full-bodied recording, produced by Van Morrison with Mike Kappus. It begins with “Dimples,”a heartier re-recording of his own song from his 1960 I’m John Lee Hooker on Vee-Jay Records. This Grammy award-winning album – it won Best Traditional Blues Album in 1998 – also features covers by Van Morrison (“The Healing Game”), Freddie Williams (“Honey, I Love You”), and Jimi Hendrix (a smoking “Red House”). It’s filled out with the bonus tracks of “Send Me Your Pillow,” and the “Blues before Sunrise” sessions outtake.
Each exceptionally remastered album also contains an 8-page booklet that offers new liner notes for the reissues from Jas Obrecht (noted blues and rock critic, who has written for Rolling Stone, Living Blues, Guitar Player, and others), photos, and extensive crediting. The reissues campaign was attended to by Zakiya Hooker, daughter of John Lee Hooker, who looks after his estate of recorded music.
With the Hooker Remastered series revisiting John Lee Hooker in multiple titles (what an undertaking), this gives Hooker fans the ability to replenish an aging catalogue with the latest, clearest, versions of Hooker titles - great, good, and so-so. Throw in previously unreleased bonus tracks and you have to be happy. Boogie never sounded so good as when John Lee Hooker was playing them. As stated in the booklet for Don’t Look Back, there will never be another John Lee Hooker. But Hooker himself states, “They won’t see me in person, but I will forever be here in the hearts and minds of people.”