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JOHN LEE HOOKER
BURNIN'

Known as the “King of the Boogie,” Mississippi-born bluesman John Lee Hooker rose to prominence performing an electric guitar-style adaptation of Delta blues. The hypnotic drone of a guitar tuned to open G, a relentless stomp and an evocative, quavering baritone made up the formula of his signature sound. With these primitive, but powerful ingredients, Hooker inspired generations of rock guitarists, altered the DNA of the blues and became an internationally renowned legend.  

Recorded in a single session with drums, bass, second guitar, piano, tenor sax and baritone sax, 1962’s Burnin marked a departure from previous Hooker albums, where he often played with just a guitar and a piece of plywood to pound his foot on. His backing band for this Vee-Jay release includes members of the Funk Brothers, best known for being the Motown Records house band. They do an admirable job of following Hooker, one of the form’s most idiosyncratic players, wherever he leads. The album opens with the single "Boom Boom," which has become a blues standard over the years. Music critic Charles Shaar Murray called it "the greatest pop song [Hooker] ever wrote.” About the tightest musical structure of any Hooker composition, its verses diligently adhere to the twelve-bar format over which he more often rides roughshod. And the quality doesn’t drop off after the strong opener. Instead, the album provides a cohesive and engaging listening experience that will hold you captive from beginning to end. Pure, 100-proof electric blues. 

RECOMMENDED READING 

📰 10 of the Best from the Blues Legend - The Guardian

A look at the most essential tracks from an artist who altered the course of blues and rock ‘n’ roll forever. 

📰 May 1997 Interview - Living Blues

Jason Brecht talks to John Lee Hooker in his Redwood City, California home. They discuss his childhood, his early musical career, favorite collaborators, spirituality and more in a wide-ranging, candid conversation. 

📰 1991 Interview - Newport Jazz Festival

Hooker reflects on how “everything come from the blues: the blues was here when the world was born.”

DEEP CUTS WE LOVE…

Thelma”  - This slightly menacing love song rides along on a propulsive horn riff and emotive playing by Motown’s leading pianist, Joe HunterHooker's assurances that he forgives his cheating lover grow more frenzied and forceful as the song builds, until he’s howling with anguish, keys pounding beneath his voice. It’s heartbreaking and deliciously groovy at the same time. 

 

“Let’s Make It” - The directness of this uptempo number is intensified through the complete lack of chord changes—one chord, one simple concept—what more do you need? Pianist Joe Hunter once again provides pitch-perfect embellishments that let Hooker’s incantatory song structure shine, and Andrew “Mike” Terry’s baritone sax contributes to the raucous mood. 

 

Blues Before Sunrise”John Lee Hooker’s dark voice and moody, haunting ambiance are a perfect fit for this mournful take on the Leroy Carr trackTormented by a cheating woman, he sways in raw despair. This is a track where you’ll especially appreciate the backing band: plaintive sax, driving drums and especially the boogie-woogie-style piano elevate the proceedings. An absolutely awe-inspiring version. 

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Aaron Thibeaux "T-Bone" Walker, pioneer of the electric blues and jump blues sound, gave John Lee Hooker his first electric guitaran Epiphone  
  • Hooker credited the Beatles, Van Morrison and other U.K. rock bands for helping to popularize the blues, although–of course–they were taking their inspiration from him and his contemporaries like B.B. King and Muddy Waters. 
  •  In a 1984 interview with author Bruce Pollock, John confided that he was actually happy when writing blues music: “[People] think you gotta be down and out to write the blues - hungry, broke. It's not true. I write when I've got a good feeling, when I'm happy. When things are going well for you, you write. You have to be in the groove to write. . . . Sometimes you feel something deep down and write it to get it out, get it off your chest. But I cannot write a song when I'm feeling blue. I can't think when my mind is on my troubles. 
  • Like some other postwar blues singers who became embroiled in legal disputes with their record companies, Hooker recorded for other labels under an array of pseudonyms, including Birmingham Sam and His Magic Guitar, Johnny Lee, Texas Slim and John Lee Cooker, among others. 
  • John Lee Hooker often felt his music so deeply, it would bring him to tears. In fact, this is the reason why Wayfarer sunglasses became a signature part of his onstage look.  

Listen to Burnin' in its entirety on your preferred streaming platform or shop our John Lee Hooker vinyl collection below.  

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Words: Katherine McCollough

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