John Lee Hooker and Canned Heat (reissue)
Hooker 'n Heat
Liberty/pure pleasure PPAN LST-35002 2 180g LPs
Produced by: Skip Taylor and Robert Hite, Jr.
Engineered by: Dino Lappas
Mixed by: Martin Birch and Robert Zimbler
Mastered by: Sean Magee at Abbey Road Studios
Review by: Michael Fremer
The first two sides of this double record set spotlight Hooker, his incendiary, coiled-snake stinging guitar, his foot stomping, mutable time-keeping and his chant-like, mournful singing all recorded intimately. Canned Heat co-founder Al Wilson contributes harmonica and piano on some of the tunes that are otherwise all Hooker.
On most songs the engineer puts Hooker in one channel, his guitar in the other and his foot in the center and you won’t know which to fixate upon and that includes the foot. When Wilson joins in, he’s center stage too, the harmonica bathed in reverb and therefore inhabiting a wet space somewhere other than from where Hooker plays.
Having Hooker playing and singing live and putting his guitar in effect ten feet from his voice produces an unrealistic but entertaining and useful perspective. You can zone out the voice and listen to Hooker’s adrenaline-charged guitar, appreciating the complexity he wrings from seemingly simple and familiar riffs, most of which he invented and everyone else copied.
A fierce, agitated intensity and an almost religious fervor you just don’t seem to hear anymore jump from Hooker as he chugs his way through these basic tunes. Van Morrison resonates with a similar jumpy edge. No wonder he grew up a big fan. Hooker’s song “You Talk Too Much” doesn’t go much beyond the four words except at the end where he closes it out with “Shut up.”
A few more collaborations with Wilson begin side three and then finally Canned Heat comes in for the final five tunes, ending with signature “Boogie Chillen NO. 2.”
Hooker improvises a song describing the state of the world 1970. About the young people, change, race relations, the war in Vietnam and the need for the old generation to pass away in order for there to be an end to the conflicts unsettling the world. It didn’t exactly turn out that way but the sentiment was sweet.
The hotel room cover captures the intimacy of the sonics. The recording sounds as if it was recorded in a small room like that but the inside shows you the studio recording session.
The between song patter with the recording booth serves to document the recording process: Hooker was hired for a performance that would be recorded. He was on the clock or so it sounded. Wilson and the band would be added to some tunes, but in no way was this a cooperative, collaborative effort. It was Canned Heat going for a thrill ride.
It’s pure music making of the simplest yet most complex kind, simply and purely recorded. I have to admit I was either too stupid or too frozen to appreciate this when this was first issued in 1970. I’d heard all of this kind of thing before, I thought, as a kid and so dismissed it looking for new thrills. But clearly I wasn’t listening. Al Wilson died shortly after this was recorded. Hooker lived long enough to see his career resurrected yet again as he hit old age. He kept boogie-ing until the end, attracting yet another generation of kids to his particularly visceral place in the sun. Highly recommended.
Thanks to Michael over at http://www.musicangle.com/ for the exclusive rights to reprint this material.
Copyright © 2008 MusicAngle.com & Michael Fremer - All rights reserved Reprinted by Permission