Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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John Lee Hooker

  • Endless Boogie [ABC, 1970] B+
  • Never Get Out of These Blues Alive [ABC, 1972] A-
  • The Healer [Chameleon, 1989] B+
  • Mr. Lucky [Charisma/Pointblank, 1991] A-
  • The Ultimate Collection (1948-1990) [Rhino, 1991] A-
  • Boom Boom [Pointblank/Charisma, 1992] Neither
  • Chill Out [Pointblank, 1995] Neither
  • The Best of Friends [Pointblank, 1998] A-
  • Hooker [Shout! Factory, 2006]

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Endless Boogie [ABC, 1970]
I like this double-lp more than either of two recent Bob Hite efforts. Hooker 'n' Heat (Liberty) features too much unaccompanied Hooker and tends to play on his status of a minor blues relic with hot-off-the-tape studio rapping, although the last side really boogies, as the saying goes. Coast to Coast Blues Band (United Artists) collects 14 20-year-old masters, mostly previously unreleased solo takes. The white audience hasn't much changed Hooker's sound, so the timeliness of Endless Boogie is an unmitigated plus, and producers Bill Szymczyk and Ed Michel get a relaxed groove out of a cast of supporting musicians (Brown, Miller, Davis, Radic, Naftalin) who can boogie Canned Heat right out of the studio. B+

Never Get Out of These Blues Alive [ABC, 1972]
The Hook, being the Hook, almost never makes a bad album, but he does tend to be a little too boogieing even. This one breaks the pattern, with an agonizing version of "TB Sheets," an apt contribution from Van Morrison, and great studio work from guitarist Luther Tucker, Mel Brown, and Elvin Bishop. A-

The Healer [Chameleon, 1989]
Pushing 130 now, Hook will still walk anybody into the studio for cash up front. Though the pickings have been getting leaner, here anybody includes Carlos Santana, George Thorogood, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray, Canned Heat, and Los Lobos, most of whom commit crimes against his ageless essence that tone up the product considerably. And for the purist market, the product ends with four solo stomps. B+

Mr. Lucky [Charisma/Pointblank, 1991]
So primal he subsumes all corruption, the old man--he turned 131 in August--accepts as his due ace solos etc. from Robert Cray, Albert Collins, Carlos Santana, Johnny Winter, etc. The rock moves don't impede the groove any more than unaccompanied stomps would, and rarely has he enjoyed a shuffle as definitive as the one Jim Keltner, Nick Lowe, Ry Cooder, and to-the-session-born Johnnie Johnson lay under "This Is Hip." He hasn't released a more thrilling or hypnotic album since he was 112. A-

The Ultimate Collection (1948-1990) [Rhino, 1991]
An ageless modern, the first blues primitivist-not-primitive: "Ain't no heaven/No burnin' hell/When I die." I could do with less Delta solitude and more urban anger, from 1948's "War Is Over (Goodbye California)" (on Specialty's stretched-thin Graveyard Blues) to 1967's "The Motor City Is Burning" (on MCA's boogieful The Best of John Lee Hooker 1965 to 1974). But just by collecting signature songs from 11 different labels, this 31-track double-CD captures his primal-not-simple beat at an unprecedented level of specificity. A-

Boom Boom [Pointblank/Charisma, 1992] Neither

Chill Out [Pointblank, 1995] Neither

The Best of Friends [Pointblank, 1998]
With the millennium approaching as speedily as Hook's 140th birthday, his brain trust devises an easy yet effective celebration, mining the interchangeable output of his hundred-thirties for standout cameos and adding yet more special guests. And though he was warned not to overtax himself with these, you'd never know it from the Claptonized "Boogie Chillen" that sets him in his groove. Carlos Santana, Ry Cooder, Jimmie Vaughan, Los Lobos, and Bonnie Raitt also get him hard. A-

Hooker [Shout! Factory, 2006]
Dead at 83 in 2001, John Lee Hooker transformed the unflappability of his drawl and the unstoppability of his beat into good records for half a century. Mississippi primitive turned man of the world, he boogied solo and combo, with white blues bands and superstars. Though there were classic songs in his kit--"Boom Boom," "I'm in the Mood," "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer"--Hooker was not a greatest-hits kind of guy, which is one reason this 84-track four-CD overview is a more enticing introduction than the 31-track Rhino twofer it blows away. Box set excess does his magnitude justice, allowing you to luxuriate in the idiosyncrasies of his monolithic groove. Play it for five hours and you won't get bored. You'll just live in it. [Blender: 4]

Further Notes:

Subjects for Further Research [1970s]: Greil Marcus's comment on the Hook's Detroit Special says it all: "Hooker has put out scores of albums in his thirty-year career; all I've heard are good, because all I've heard feature his crawling kingsnake guitar, his pounding foot, his stoic, doomy rage." My own favorites are on ABC/Bluesday, especially 1969's Simply the Truth, which leads with "I Don't Go to Vietnam," and 1972's Never Get Out of These Blues Alive, which has Van Morrison, Luther Tucker, Mel Brown, Elvin Bishop, and "T.B. Sheets." I can also say I've never gotten into The Cream, his 1978 live double on Tomato. But I wouldn't think of arguing my case on the merits.

See Also