John Lee Hooker – King of the Boogie

John Lee Hooker

Title: King of the Boogie

Artist: John Lee Hooker

Label: Craft Recordings/Concord Bicycle Music

Format: 5-CD Box Set

Release Date: September 29, 2017


Turning 100 calls for a celebration regardless of who you are, and in the case of musician John Lee Hooker, only a “Go Big or Go Home” mentality will suffice. In honor of this boogie master’s centennial, Craft Recordings has released a career spanning, retrospective 5 CD box set honoring this guitar-driven, legendary artist. King of the Boogie features not only Hooker’s iconic hits, but also rarities, live recordings and several previously unreleased tracks. Housed within a 56-page hardcover book, the collection includes a wide selection of photos, taken throughout the musician’s life, plus new liner notes by writer and John Lee Hooker historian Jas Obrecht, as well as by the artist’s longtime manager and friend, Mike Kappus.

The collection is part of a year-long celebration and commemoration to Hooker and as a complement to his musical recordings, the GRAMMY Museum® in conjunction with the John Lee Hooker estate is exhibiting Hooker’s performance outfits, guitars, photos, and awards in his home state of Cleveland, Mississippi through February 2018. At that point the exhibit travels west to the GRAMMY Museum® at L.A. LIVE.

John Lee Hooker (1917-2001) was born 100 years ago, near Clarksdale, Mississippi to a sharecropping family. Throughout the years, there has been some academic debate about his original birth year. However, The Hooker family maintains 1917 as the de facto date. Says daughter Zakiya Hooker, “As we all know there was no great push for accuracy back then in that portion of the community. But we just stick to what my father told us, which was what he was told by his mother.”

As a young man, Hooker worked his way up north to Detroit to pursue his passion of music. By 1948, the artist had a hit on his hands with one of his earliest recordings, “Boogie Chillun‘.” From there, Hooker would record over 100 albums throughout the course of his six-decade-long career, building a diverse collection of fans along the way—from folk musicians and beatniks, to the stars of the British Invasion. The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana are among those who cite Hooker as a major influence.

Mike Kappus recalls in his liner notes, “Everyone who knew John Lee Hooker loved him and felt privileged to be in his presence. While he influenced generations of musicians with his incomparable style, that impact on musicians stepped up to yet another level once they got to know and, universally, love him.” In his later years, as Hooker found himself in one of the busiest, most productive eras of his career, the bluesman was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Blues Hall of Fame and Memphis Music Hall of Fame; was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and took home four GRAMMY® Awards, plus a coveted Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.

The album is organized chronologically, showcasing Hooker’s influential recording career from start to finish. Disc one begins with his first release, “Boogie Chillen.” The remainder of the disc provides Hooker’s classics the way he was first known—as sole commandeer of pulsing rhythms on the electric guitar. Disc two and three offer stunning recordings of previously unreleased sessions—“Unfriendly Woman” and “Meat Shakes on her Bones”—as well as the more widely-known “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” and “Homework.”

Disc four is a completely live tribute section, featuring Hooker’s performances at various Newport Folk Festivals, the American Blues Festival in Hamburg, Germany, Café Au Go-Go in New York and California’s Soledad Prison. The final disc of the collection features Hooker’s collaborations with other musicians such as “Little” Eddie Kirkland, The Groundhogs, Canned Heat, Santana, George Thorogood, Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, Joe Cocker, Robert Gray, Warren Haynes, Jimmie Vaughn, Los Lobos, Eric Clapton and B.B. King.

Timeless and classic, cutting-edge and influential—all describe John Lee Hooker’s storied life and career as the undisputed boogie ruler. Whether solo and unplugged or accompanied and wired up, Hooker’s guitar and vocals prove that in the world of the Delta and blues, no one else but Hooker can wear the Crown.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

Grady Champion – One of a Kind

Title: One of a Kind

Artist: Grady Champion

Label: Malaco

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 16, 2016



Mississippi’s Grady Champion may have started his career as a rapper, but after learning to play the harmonica he became an advocate for the blues. He now endeavors to keep the Delta traditions alive while racking up numerous awards along the way.  Though Champion experimented with the fusion of hip hop and the blues in his early years, his 10th album is more conventional, but in no way stale. On One of a Kind, he delivers 12 original tracks that play to his eclectic fan base: those who love traditional blues, and those like their blues with a dash of Southern soul.  Recorded at the historic Malaco Records’ studio in Jackson, Mississippi (now part of the Mississippi Blues Trail), the album features local backing musicians including Eddie Cotton Jr. on guitar, Carroll McLaughlin on keyboards, Sam Scott on drums, Myron Bennett and Ken Smith on bass, and the Jackson Horns (Kimble Funchess, trumpet; Jesse Primer III, tenor sax; Sydney Ford II, bari sax; and Robert Lampkin, trombone).

Opening with the slow and sexy “Bump and Grind,” Champion’s deep, raspy vocals and suggestive harmonica solos mimic the action on the dance floor. The lively “House Party” is a rollicking 12-bar blues featuring a trio of background vocalists accompanied by the lush chords of a Hammond B3 and the punchy Jackson Horns. Continuing with the party theme, “Move Something” and “Heels and Hips” are grooving dance numbers with a more contemporary vibe.

Shifting back to a slow grind, “What a Woman” is another traditional blues track featuring the legendary Elvin Bishop, who punctuates the song with his edgy slide guitar.  Representing the R&B side of the spectrum, “One of a Kind” and “When I’m Gone” are notable for their funky instrumentals and soulful backing vocals harkening back to the glory days of Malaco. The album closes with the instrumental “GC Boogie,” a showcase for Champion and Eddie Cotton who trade harmonica and guitar solos, converging at the end for a satisfying finale.

Champion’s One of a Kind is a great follow-up to his 2014 release, Bootleg Whiskey, offering plenty of diversity while showcasing the best of the contemporary Southern blues scene.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss


Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music, by Ted Gioia. (W. W. Norton, October 20, 2008)

A comprehensive new history of the Delta blues by noted jazz author Ted Gioia, which journeys from Mississippi to Chicago while tracing the careers of many famous blues recording artists, including Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and B.B. King. This book will make a fine addition to any blues collection, and is recommended for public as well as academic libraries.

Blues Empress in Black Chattanooga: Bessie Smith and the Emerging Urban South, by Michelle R. Scott. (University of Illinois Press, August 2008).

The latest biography of Bessie Smith (1892-1937), the famous blues singer and entertainer who was originally known as the “queen of the blues” and gradually worked her way up to “empress.”  While this might not be the definitive biography (there are several others in print, most notably Chris Albertson’s Bessie),  it does include interesting discussions of the black entertainment industry, as well as the African American community within Chattanooga.

Swing Along: The Musical Life of Will Marion Cook, by Marva Carter. (Oxford University Press, September 2008)

Will Marion Cook was one of the most important African American composers in the early 20th century, and a comprehensive biography is long overdue. Carter draws upon  Cook’s unfinished autobiography as well as his wife Abbie’s memoir, and includes analyses of his most important works, including the musicals In Dahomey and Swing Along.  This is a must read for anyone interested in Black music and musical theater between 1890-1920.

Icons of R&B and Soul: An Encyclopedia of the Artists who Revolutionized Rhythm, by Bob Gulla (Greenwood Press, 2008).

A wonderful two volume survey of artists including Ray Charles, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Ruth Brown, Sam Cooke, Etta James, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, Temptations, Berry Gordy, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, Ike & Tina Turner, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and Prince. Intended for public and school libraries, the volumes include selective bibliographies and discographies, as well as a multitude of side bars addressing everything from social issues to record labels, timelines, and chart topping hits.

The Funk Era and Beyond: New Perspectives on Black Popular Culture, by Tony Bolden. (Palgrave MacMillan, August, 2008)

In the words of our Director, Dr. Portia Maultsby, “This engaging book takes the reader on a journey across the multi-layered and multidisciplinary terrain of funk. This series of essays on music and the visual and literary arts reveal how ‘da funk’ represents innovation and aesthetic principles rooted in the Black vernacular, which defines the uniqueness of Black creativity. The Funk Era and Beyond is a must-read to understand funk as a philosophy, an attitude, a way of life, and more broadly, a cultural phenomena.”

A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AAMC and Experimental Music, by George E. Lewis. (University Of Chicago Press, May 2008).

This nearly 700 page tome documents the history of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and the avant-garde jazz scene in Chicago. A major contribution to jazz research, the book is scholarly yet highly readable and entertaining. The author also does a more than admirable job of entertwining the music scene with the racial and cultural aspects of the Chicago landscape.

Pay Me No Mind

Title: Pay Me No Mind

Artist: Homemade Jamz Blues Band

Label: Northern Blues

Catalog No.: NBM0048

Date:  2008

The first thing anyone will mention about this band is the age of its members.  The Homemade Jamz Blues Band are kids, literally. Guitar player and lead vocalist Ryan is 16, bass player Kyle is 14, and the drummer Taya is 10.  They are also siblings.  So what we’ve got here is an astonishing amount of talent for their age, with the added novelty that they’re all family. The band began when Ryan, age 9, picked up his fathers’ worn Stratocaster knock-off that he’d gotten in Korea while serving in the military. Under the tutelage and guidance of their parents, the three siblings have broken into a tradition that is usually reserved for musicians twice their age. A discussion of the instruments was also featured in a recent NPR interview.

Recorded in their hometown, Tupelo, Miss., Pay Me No Mind is an energetic debut of fresh and up and coming talent. All songs were written by their father, Renaud Perry, except for the last track, a fired up version of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom.” Renaud also makes an appearance on four songs, blowing a very “proud papa” harmonica. The album is reminiscent of sixties electric blues with bright tones from the leads, a strong walking bass, and a simple back beat keeping time. Sixteen-year-old Ryan’s voice has a rich and full quality that cuts and growls and will only blossom as he gets older.

One of the most interesting things about Homemade Jamz is their instruments.  Ryan plays what appears to be a muffler, welded and wired into an electric guitar, while Kyle plays “Thunder,” a six string bass that has been fashioned out of what looks like a Ford muffler. Both instruments were handmade by Renaud, and speak to a “homemade aesthetic” that connects the band to a greater blues tradition. Renaud cites that he had intended to re-build a car with his son but when the muffler came in, he took one look at thought it was just the right size for a guitar. He was even more satisfied with the sound it produced.

The Perry family band has been hard at work with a grueling tour schedule of festivals and club dates that have landed them third place at the 3rd Annual MS Delta Blues Society of Indianola’s Blues Challenge in 2006, second place at the 2007 International Blues Challenge, and they were recently voted Best New Artist of the year at the 2008 West Coast Blues Hall of Fame. More than just a gimmick, these kids have talent, and with nods of encouragement from the likes of legendary bluesman B.B. King, this passing of the torch ensures that a new generation will carry on in the blues tradition.

Posted by Thomas Grant Richardson and Heather O’Sullivan


Title: Alliance
Artist: Afrissippi
Label: Hill Country Records
Catalog No.: 8095
Release date: June 3, 2008

Afrissippi’s Alliance represents a skilled fusion of Mississippi blues and Senegalese musical traditions. Guelel Kumba, guitarist and lead vocalist, is a member of the Fulani from the Futa Tooro region of West Africa. Not content with restricting his musical efforts to learning the molo (a one-stringed guitar) and several centuries worth of griot songs and oral traditions, Guelel also picked up the six-stringed guitar, fell in love with delta blues, andfollowing an invitation from Eric Deatonmoved to North Mississippi to study the work of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough.

Upon his arrival in the States, Guelel and Deaton quickly drew together a number of other musicians, including Kinney Kimbrough, Papa Assane M’Baye, and Justin Showah, and formed Afrissippi. Although the group released its first album, Fulani Journey, in 2006 and has a large fan following, its efforts have received scant attention from and Amazon, both of which have stuffed Afrissippi’s albums into the rather non-descript “world music” genre. Even Wikipedia seems to have passed them over. At least the Fund for Folk Culture has proven more attentive and in 2007 it awarded Guelel with a grant to support the recording and release of Alliance.

For the most part, the album leans more heavily to the Senegalese side of the musical spectrum. The blues’ influences are the heaviest on “Singha,” “Ngoppe Kam,” and “Debbo Ndoogu,” where the guitars take on a grittier American sound. In the case of Debbo, the rhythms, harmonic patterns, and Guelel’s vocal timbre are solidly in the blues’ tradition and the drum kit nearly overpowers the ever-present sound of the saubaru. For the most part, however, the singing, ostinato guitar parts, and laidback rhythms are more reminiscent of Senegal than Mississippi. “Raas” even drops the guitars in favor of a more traditional combination of solo voice and polyphonic percussion. The final track of the CD consists of a heavily reverbed version of “Gede Nooro,” sung solo and a capella by Guelel.

The one fault of the promo copy is an utter lack of liner notes. Hopefully this isn’t the case with the officially released version. Not understanding Fulanior even being certain that Guelel is actually singing in Fulaniit’s difficult to comment on the lyrical content of the CD. Although translated lyrics aren’t necessary for enjoying the album, it does leave room for speculation on the part of listeners and a few online sources have already commented on its “ancient” feel and “future primitive” vibe. With the exception of “Raas” and “Gede Nooro,” the album really falls more towards popular as opposed to traditional Senegalese music. Although Afrissippi’s promotional material does encourage some degree of exoticization as a marketing ploy, it would be nice to balance this out with a bit of cultural information within the album itself.

All and all, Afrissippi is a good band that definitely deserves more attention than it’s currently receiving. Hopefully this recent release and the band’s 2008 United States tour will push it more into the limelight.

Posted by Ronda L. Sewald

John Work III: Recording Black Culture

Title: John Work, III: Recording Black Culture

Artists: Various

Label: Spring Fed Records

Catalog No.: SFR 104

Date: 2007

In 1993 Alan Lomax published his book The Land Where the Blues Began, to great popular and critical acclaim. The book told the story of his collecting adventures in the Mississippi Delta fifty years earlier, “discovering” and recording artists such as Son House, Muddy Waters, and David “Honeyboy” Edwards. In their co-edited book Lost Delta Found: Rediscovering the Fisk University-Library of Congress Coahoma County Study, 1941-1942, Robert Gordon and Bruce Nemerov detail the larger picture of the same collecting trips made by Lomax in the early 1940s by including the equally large contributions of Fisk University scholars (a collaboration which was almost completely obfuscated in The Land Where the Blues Began) and paying particular attention to the work of John Wesley Work, III. With the release of the CD John Work, III: Recording Black Culture, we now have the music to match the text of Lost Delta Found (through it’s not a companion piece), along with greater evidence of the variety of black musical culture in the early part of the twentieth century.

Recording Black Culture separates its14 tracks into six categories: Social Songs (fiddle and banjo tunes), The Quartets, Work Song, Congregational Singing, Blues, and Colored Sacred Harp (shape note congregational singing). On display here are both secular and sacred musics, though the liner notes indicate Work was mostly interested in secular “folk” musics. The wide range of music that is offered was almost entirely recorded before Work and his Fisk colleagues joined forces with Lomax and the Library of Congress for the trip to the delta. Work’s recordings were done in and around Nashville Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi. Many of the recordings have poor fidelity (even for historical recordings) and lend some insight as to why Fisk may have contacted the Library of Congress about a joint venture into the Delta: they wanted the more sophisticated equipment used by Lomax. In this regard Work was right, the tracks that surfaced later in Lomax’s collections are much higher in fidelity (e.g., The Land Where the Blues Began Rounder CD) and Work’s recordings are surely more interesting to a scholar than to most casual listeners.

Of the highest fidelity and given five tracks on the compilation are songs of The Quartets, including, with an egalitarian sprite, the Holloway High School Quartet, The Fairfield Four, The Heavenly Gate Quartet (a group of Work’s friends who sang together), and two unnamed groups. Here we have vocal harmony groups singing religious music in jubilee style with tight vocal parts and pulsating rhythms. The intimate sound of the quartets, specifically on the two tracks of the Heavenly Gate Quartet, provide great examples of vernacular presentations of popular stylings of the day, including “If I Had My Way.” Other tracks on the album, such as the congregational version of “Amazing Grace,” are harder to hear and are best left for academic scrutiny rather than pleasure listening. Many of these recordings are of particular interest because of their rarity; for example, the only known recording of blues street musician Joe Holmes singing “Ain’t Gonna Drink No Mo’,” as well as the ulta-rare recordings of fiddle and banjo players Ned Frazier and Frank Patterson that lead off the compilation.

The CD is packaged with comprehensive liner notes written by Bruce Nemerov and aided by archival photos of the people, places, equipment, and songbooks used during this era. Though the recording quality lacks the fidelity of other field collections of the time, and the repertoire is perhaps too wide ranging for some tastes, the packaging and release of this material (a joint effort between local, state, and federal arts agencies) offers further proof of what many musicians have known for years, that rural black music is not, and was never solely the blues.

Posted by Thomas Grant Richardson