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[whitespace] John Lee Hooker Boogie Father: John Lee Hooker is joined by his musical heirs on new album.



John Lee Hooker trades riffs with his 'boogie chillun'

By Nicky Baxter

WHEN JOHN LEE HOOKER migrated from Mississippi to Detroit in the late 1940s, few could guess that his recordings would help spark a blues and folk revival and that his unrelenting one-chord vamps would also supply rock with an alternative groove. Tunes like "Boogie Chillun" became classics and earned him the title King of the Boogie. His newest release, The Best of Friends (Pointblank), finds the master collaborating with a number of "boogie chillun" influenced by his inimitable style.

Many of these workouts were recorded over the past decade and can also be heard on The Healer and Mr. Lucky. Featured artists include Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Carlos Santana and Robert Cray. The musical match-up with Morrison is one of the most riveting. "I Cover the Waterfront" is a quietly reflective piece on which Hooker and Morrison trade verses. Morrison offers a gritty, gospel-drenched vocal performance churning with passion; Hooker's guitar playing is plaintive, embroidering the song. Booker T. Jones's organ offers a kind of stately, shushed sympathy.

Hooker and Morrison pair up again on "Don't Look Back." The song is similar in structure to "Waterfront," with Charles Brown replacing Jones on keyboards. Lyrically, "Don't Look Back" concerns Hooker's steely determination not to get caught up in the glory of past accomplishments; for the 78-year-old Hooker, the future is everything. Morrison, whose refusal to stay put musically is legendary offers more vocal support, chanting verses as if they were incantations.

Santana is featured on a pair of songs co-written with Hooker, "The Healer" and "Chill Out (Things Gonna Change)." Initially, it is difficult to imagine Hooker's primal Delta blues style meshing smoothly with Santana's percussion-driven Afri-Latin polyrhythms, but somehow it works; then again, Carlos' first group was called the Santana Blues Band. With Chepito Areas and Armando Peraza tapping out a moderately paced groove on timbales and congas, "The Healer" pits Santana's stinging, incisive guitar licks against Hooker's gruff declamations.

Friends aside, it is on the disc's only solo shot that the blues man's mastery of the form comes through unimpeded. "Tupelo" showcases just Hooker and his acoustic guitar, telling a story about a rainy night in a Mississippi town. This talking blues could have been recorded in the 1930s. For purists, The Best of Friends is not mandatory listening, but anyone interested in hearing how Hooker sounds in the company of his musical offspring, then it is a worthwhile purchase.

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From the January 21-27, 1999 issue of Metro.

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