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Specialty Profiles: John Lee Hooker

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Album Review

John Lee Hooker's brief association with the Specialty label doesn't immediately come to mind as do his recordings for, say, Modern, Chess, Vee Jay, or ABC/Bluesway. In 1954 the founder of Los Angeles-based Specialty Records, Art Rupe, bought 35 Hooker tunes, several of which had been cut in Detroit four years earlier. Rupe issued one single to test the market: "I'm Mad" backed with "Everybody's Blues." The record sales were disappointing and the tapes remained in the can until surfacing in 1970. Like so many John Lee Hooker compositions, over the years these songs were re-recorded, sometimes with different titles, and then slapped on one of the many albums released by a mixed bag of labels. However, these 14 tracks represent a composite of those raw early sides, featuring both solo Hooker (with his guitar and stompin' foot) and fronting a raucous juke joint combo. As an extra bonus, the Specialty Profiles series includes a sampler that showcases R&B gems by Specialty acts of the era, including Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Larry Williams, Roy Milton, Lloyd Price, Percy Mayfield, Don & Dewey, Joe Liggins, Jesse & Marvin, and Guitar Slim.


Born: August 22, 1917 in Clarksdale, MS

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

He was beloved worldwide as the king of the endless boogie, a genuine blues superstar whose droning, hypnotic one-chord grooves were at once both ultra-primitive and timeless. But John Lee Hooker recorded in a great many more styles than that over a career that stretched across more than half a century. "The Hook" was a Mississippi native who became the top gent on the Detroit blues circuit in the years following World War II. The seeds for his eerily mournful guitar sound were planted by his stepfather,...
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