Hooker [Box Set] review by John Lee Hooker

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  • Released: Oct 31, 2006
  • Sound: 10
  • Lyrics: 9
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reviewer's score: 9.7 Superb
  • Users' score: 9.8 (11 votes)
John Lee Hooker: Hooker [Box Set]

Sound — 10
When you listen to the John Lee Hooker box set aptly titled Hooker, you're in store for an amazing chronicle not only of the blues singer/guitarist's life, but also of his influence on the music world as a whole. The collection is thorough beyond belief, ranging from his earliest raw acoustic performances up to his duets with more contemporary artists. For lovers of the blues and those wanting a better grasp of America's musical roots, Hooker is an essential addition to your music collection. The 4-disc box set spans 1948 to 2003, and the change in sound is evident from decade to decade. The earliest tracks like Boogie Chillen' and Sally Mae are gritty in their delivery, which will likely throw a lot of younger audiences off at first. With today's overproduced albums abounding, the stripped-down approach may take a while to adjust to, but the honesty that Hooker conveys is undeniable. If you enjoy a good storyteller who can back up what he's saying with classic blues riffs, you'll find the tales Hooker conveys in his songs fascinating. Probably the most fascinating aspect about the box set is discovering the multiple songs that John Lee Hooker wrote that were later made famous by rock bands. The best examples are Crawling King Snake, a song that Jim Morrison and The Doors later shaped into their own hit. If you're familiar with George Thorogood's songs, other than the infectious Bad To The Bone, that is, then you might also know the tune One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer. The barroom classic is yet another example of Hooker's work that has popped up years after its initial release by the bluesman. The 4th disc in the collection is comprised of duets with everyone from Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt to Carlos Santana and Van Morrison. If you're under the impression that a blues song is the same no matter who performs it, then the 4th disc will clear up this mistake quickly. When Santana and Hooker tackle The Healer, there is a completely different feel than when only Hooker was at the mic. This effect makes each duet a new experience and keeps the box set consistently fresh. As box sets go, Hooker could not have been more complete. Will audiences who listen to primarily today's bands find John Lee Hooker's music a smooth transition? Probably not, but the singer's impact on contemporary bands merits at least making an effort to explore Hooker's contribution to the music world. There are so many elements to his songs that can be heard in any blues-derived chords and it's worth the trip back to see how it all started.

Lyrics — 9
The lyrics that Hooker writes range from humorous to basic to thought-provoking. Not every song will have words that connect with everybody, but the singer always keeps the songs extremely personal and often addresses himself as Johnny in the songs. It's moments like those that you know Hooker is writing from experience and not just going through the motions. In I Cover The Waterfront, Hooker tells the story of watching ships go in and out of the harbor. This track is just one of the examples where Hooker makes it clear to listeners that it is he who is the main character of the tale. He sings, I was still, coverin' the waterfront; Said, 'Johnny, our ship had trouble, with the fog; And that's why we're so late, so late; Comin' home, comin' down.' Probably the most moving lyrical content comes in Tupelo, which could easily have a parallel drawn to an event like Hurricane Katrina. Hooker sings, It happened long time ago, in a little country town, way back in Mississippi; It rained and it rained, it rained both night and day; The people got worried, they began to cry; 'Lord have mercy, where can we go now?' This track is hands-down the most moving of all the songs, primarily because you can hear the desperation that Hooker conveys through his lyrics.

Overall Impression — 10
Before listening to the Hooker box set or reading the historical liner notes accompanying the collection, it's hard to truly have a good grasp on the significance of John Lee Hooker. The bluesman is noted as being the best-known, most-honored and best-paid figure in blues, followed closely by his dear friend B.B. King. It's easy to see why. There is an honesty in Hooker's music that just hasn't been captured by blues artists or many other genres in a long time. If you're not a fan of the blues, then you might feel like bypassing the box set is a right decision. But Hooker is a lot more than just listening to any average singer-guitarist and is worth your time. There's a reason why artists like The Doors and Eric Clapton have paid homage to Hooker in their own music, and the box set will give you a better glimpse of why the bluesman has continued to make his mark nearly 60 years after his first recording.

6 comments sorted by best / new / date

    "Tele" Steve
    I usually don't buy boxsets because they're too expensive but this one does seem pretty cool. John Lee Hooker was the biggest badass that ever lived.
    John Lee Hooker is a legend. I wish there were more blues lovers on UG, and less metal fanatics. Although still rocks!!!!