John Lee Hooker

Whiskey & Wimmen - John Lee Hooker's Finest

by John Paul

18 May 2017

Adding to an already voluminous catalog of John Lee Hooker compilations, Whiskey & Wimmen offers up still more of the same without anything new to say.
 
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John Lee Hooker

Whiskey & Wimmen: John Lee Hooker’s Finest

(Vee-Jay)
US: 31 Mar 2017
UK: 31 Mar 2017

Bluesman John Lee Hooker is without question a legendary figure within the genre, one primarily responsible for the modern electric blues sound and profoundly influential to countless blues-obsessed rock stars in the 1960s and ‘70s. His is a catalog of virtual blues standards that have seeped into the very fibers of public consciousness, becoming part of the pop cultural collective unconscious and absorbed the same way in which classical music was once used to soundtrack children’s cartoons. Because of this, his work has been collected and anthologized time and time again. Whiskey & Wimmen: John Lee Hooker’s Finest offers yet another reminder of the late guitarist’s irrefutable contributions to not only the blues but popular music—namely rock and roll—in general. With his “crawlin’ king snake” groove and world-weary delivery, his approach is the sound of post-war blues that most often comes to mind.

So why another compilation when there already exist so many on the market? That’s a good question, one Whiskey & Wimmen doesn’t seem too terribly concerned with answering. Music journalist Bill Dahl offers some insight on Hooker in his expansive liner notes. However, he has already done a great deal of expounding upon Hooker’s legacy and influence elsewhere, so nothing here reads as particularly new or revelatory. So the ostensible reason given for this particular collection of oft-collected tracks is that 2017, according to some accounts—including, from time to time, Hooker himself—corresponds to the 100th anniversary of his birth. So to celebrate his possible centennial, Vee-Jay has assembled 16 of his finest from the most influential stretch of his career.

Beginning with the instantly recognizable and iconic (not to mention oft-covered) “Boom Boom”, the collection rolls through the usual suspects (“Boogie Chillun”, “Crawlin’ Kingsnake”, “Big Legs, Tight Skirt”, et. al.) from his prime period recording for Vee-Jay, Stax, Riverside and Specialty Records offering little in the way of unexpected surprises or new revelations. Instead, it’s more an updated primer for those unfamiliar with Hooker’s work. In this, the collection succeeds handily, offering up a fine amount of evidence for his elevation to god-like status among post-war blues fans and players alike.

“Crawlin’ Kingsnake” carries a groove as evocatively slinky as its name, Hooker pushing and pulling the beat with a workmanlike approach to his Detroit-via-Mississippi electric blues. More than anything, Hooker is rightly revered for his ability to imbue a performance with the weight of the world, conveying a level of emotionality that makes the blues palpable. His inflection, vocal nuance and overall tonalities are head and shoulders above the majority of his peers. You can hear attempted recreations of his delivery all over records by the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, Canned Heat, Fleetwood Mac and countless others.

Elsewhere “Boogie Chillun” offers up an early electric blues template upon which performers like George Thorogood and ZZ Top (just try not to hear “La Grange” in the track’s strutting rhythm) would go on to build an entire career. In all, Whiskey & Wimmen is a perfectly fine, if somewhat unnecessary, collection of Hooker’s most well-known performances. Those looking for the perfect John Lee Hooker primer need look no further.

Whiskey & Wimmen: John Lee Hooker’s Finest

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