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Published: 2017/03/31
by Larson Sutton

John Lee Hooker's Finest
Whiskey & Wimmen

Muddy Waters had the mojo. Howlin’ Wolf had the howl. Bo Diddley had the beat. But, John Lee Hooker had the groove. This year marks 100 years since Hooker’s birth, and really, this album recognizes, in its own way, the birth of that blues-boogie that so many artists have been borrowing for decades. Both a primer for the unaware and a tidy summary for his most ardent, Whiskey & Wimmen covers John Lee’s best moments of his Chicago years on the Vee-Jay label, with vastly improved sound from the original recordings that date back to 1954.

This 16-song collection of his finest begins, appropriately, with the one-two punch that would come to signify Hooker throughout his career: “Boom Boom” and “Boogie Chillun’.” Not sequenced chronologically, the album instead slides from one iteration of Hooker’s trademark rhythms to another, creating a wholly pleasant examination of those emblematic grooves, his amber-dark vocals, and lyrics loaded with devilish winks. Hooker’s guitar work was deceptively simple. While not often following the standard chordal progression of the blues, it was his riffing on the lower bass strings that became a lasting, influential way of approaching the instrument in that context.

The post-war blues became evermore electric. Though Hooker certainly embraced plugging-in, the beautiful cover shot of a dapper John Lee and his acoustic typifies an artist that was carrying forward, as well, his formative predecessors Robert Johnson and Son House. Hooker, as much a folk bluesman as he was an electrified progressive, was a critical link between the early Mississippi country blues and the urbanized Chicago brand that had migrated north up the river. From there, rock-and-roll took it and ran, from the Rolling Stones, Duane Allman, and ZZ Top to Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, and Los Lobos. But, this is where it starts. This is where the groove that still booms, seduces, and shakes was born.

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