John Lee Hooker never met a record contract with an exclusivity clause he felt he needed to honor, and he recorded under countless different names for any label that would pay him the cash in the early going, filling the start of his imposingly lengthy discography with probably more questions than answers. During the period of time covered by this single disc set (roughly 1951 to 1954), Hooker officially was tracking in both Detroit and Chicago for the Chess and Modern imprints, but he may or may not have cut sides under different names (including as John Lee Booker) during this time period for King, Savoy, Deluxe, Fortune, Gotham, Specialty and who knows how many other companies. Luckily for his listeners, he always sounded exactly the same, delivering a raw and only slightly (emphasis on slightly) urbanized version of the country blues, and it mattered little if drums, horns or anything else was thrown into the final mix. It always sounded exactly like John Lee Hooker. This set is a collection of Chess and Modern sides, most of them with Hooker doing his rugged blues as a solo act, but joined on occasion by Eddie Kirkland on second guitar, Bob Thurman on piano, Tom Whitehead on drums or Jimmy Miller on trumpet, although never all of them at the same time. The only constant is Hooker's rough vocal roar, his raw, surging and time-challenged guitar style and his continual foot stomping. But true artistry is never really about perfection, and these Hooker sides have an intense vitality that easily overcomes their musical limitations. There are countless collections of this early Hooker material on the market, but this one does try to get the recording dates, locations and personnel correct, so it gets points for that.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett