John Lee Hooker Jr – Not JLH Sr Rebooted

What would Muddy Waters be playing now if he were still with us, and wanted to appeal to the music loving public of today?  Elvis?  Buddy Holly?  The music would have to have evolved into something a little more complex than those Blues standards we know and love.  Maybe a listen to their offspring would bring answers.  In the case of John Lee Hooker there was a chance to match that typical Hooker growl with a 21st Century sound and style as Hookers highly rated son, John Lee Hooker Jr, took to the Harmonie stage last week.

This was certainly one of those evenings when you have no idea how much space will be taken up by listeners in the Harmonie.  Truly you can’t help wondering if perhaps spme people might have turned up a little behind the times and missed the ‘jr’ part of the concert posters (we did have Johnny Winter here not so very long ago so a living legend is not inconcievable, although sadly of course Mr Winter has now joined Mr Hooker Sr in that great Blues gig in the sky).  I’m equal parts surprised and pleased to see that a fair smattering of under 30’s are present too, so there is clearly a part of the younger generation still eager to catch the echoes of a glorious Blues past no matter how faint those echoes may have become.  Excited as I remember being seeing Memphis Slim many moons ago in the Polytechnic concert hall.   Such thinking though would be a dis-service to the 65 year old ‘Jr’ on stage tonight.

A winning Blues combination: Horan and Lee Hooker Jr

John Lee Hooker Junior has a style that is indeed more modern, more refined than that of his famous father, but it is very definitely his own and forged from the colourful life he has lived.  “I’ve been shot twice, stabbed in the back, and spent years on drugs” he  confided before an emotionally apt ‘Amazing Grace’.  There is then a good grounding for Hooker to be singing the Blues.  He was first jailed at the tender age of 15 for burglary and, unlike Johnny Cash, he didn’t visit San Quentin just to play a gig.  It’s a life that led to time in a Correctional Centre and ultimately later to a Degree in Biblical Studies and that’s what ultimately finds it’s place in the Gospel part of Hooker Juniors Blues.

JLHjr-46

Heart of the band – Jeffrey James Horan has time for a smile

Hooker is a big man that you wouldn’t want to argue with, so when someone in the audience exhuberantly but innocently shouts out an expletive word Hooker’s quiet and simple reply of “That’s not nice” hits the entire audience like a KO punch from Cassius Clay.  The good Lord did indeed save ‘a wretch’ like John Lee Jr and it’s to our benefit as well as his because the result is a defining sound of his own that perfectly melds Blues with Gospel and a funkiness that, even without any brass backing, is still a key part of much of Hooker Jr’s sound.

 

‘You know that’s Right’ from the new CD is a perfect example of the mix of JLH’s parentage and experience, Blues feeling and Religious influence.  As is ‘Tell it like it is’ which does exactly what it says in the title:

“You can keep on smoking and drinking,  and getting drunk every single day                            One of these days and it won’t be long, you gonna wind up in your grave”

There is of course a gap here in the father/son lifestyle that Junior is happy to not only embrace but deals with in good humour.  It would be easy to just crank out a couple of Seniors hits verbatim, Junior has his old man’s raspy, gutteral voice for sure, but instead there is a ‘revised’ version of the classic ‘One Bourbon, one scotch and one beer’.   It gets two messages across – Junior can sound like his Dad as he proves by the long drawn out spoken narrative with a Blues backed rhythm (courtesy of the excellent guitar skills of Jeffrey James Horan) but he is his own man when he gets to the chorus line –  ‘One Coke, one Sprite and one beer!’.  There’s no messing with  another Hooker Senior classic though as a sprightly ‘Boom Boom’ brings the evening towards it’s close.

For lovers of traditional Chicago Blues much of the evening might not be what you expect, but then music needs to move on and John Lee Hooker Junior rightfully has his own sound and his own beliefs at his shows.  His lyrics are often painfully biographical and heavy on the religious side but from the heart.  There is plenty, maybe too much though? of reminiscing on family.  Set one includes a lengthy acoustically backed number inspired by “What my Dad wrote about my Mom when we were teenagers and they had argued”. as Hooker describes it.  They must have been difficult times too, as the book ‘Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker’ by Charles Shaar Murray describes a time when Maude Hooker broke her husbands guitar afer he refused to leave a show where the girls were shakingto his music.

I came away from the show with mixed feelings: feeling happy that I had heard some excellent Gospel Funk Blues from a man with a voice that doesn’t disappoint from the expectations you might have of a Lee Hooker.  I heard though also a little too much of an admittedly good (German) backing band led by Hooker’s excellent American band guitarist Jeffrey James Horan, and too little of the man himself.  When he was onstage though JLH Jr had a presence, a history and a voice that made the visit worthwhile.

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