Bernard Besman

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Bernard Besman was not active in the record business for long, but he made an important contribution to the development of urban blues music as the producer of John Lee Hooker's early discs. Once a pianist,…
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Bernard Besman was not active in the record business for long, but he made an important contribution to the development of urban blues music as the producer of John Lee Hooker's early discs. Once a pianist, Besman got involved in record distribution in Detroit after World War II, selling mostly to the African-American audience. In 1948 he formed his own label, Sensation, and was approached by John Lee Hooker, who was looking to record.

Besman felt that Hooker would sound best if he was recorded as a soloist, and did a lot to give his guitar and voice a cavernous sound. He put a mike on Hooker's guitar, and put a speaker in a toilet bowl for echo. He also put a board under Hooker's feet to pick up his tapping feet. One of the songs that came out of their first session together was "Boogie Chillen," which became a huge hit, selling up to a million copies (estimates vary, but surely it sold at least a few hundred thousand). It also helped define Hooker's recorded sound, which has often relied upon heavy walking beats, boogies, and eerie atmosphere.

Besman did plenty of sides with Hooker in the late '40s and early '50s, often solo, but sometimes with accompanying musicians. One of his best ideas was to double-track the voice and guitar for "I'm in the Mood," a technique that was very advanced for 1951; the result was another huge hit. When he moved to California in the early '50s, Besman ended his association with Hooker and left the record business.