John Lee Hooker

Unknown John Lee Hooker: 1949 Recordings

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In 1949, Hooker played for a private gathering in the Detroit dining room of cartoonist, animator, and music fan Gene Deitch. Deitch had the foresight to record the performance on a portable machine. That acoustic performance -- together with four tracks made a few days later in another casual gathering of music fans -- was retrieved from Deitch's archives 50 years later for this hour-long, 20-cut CD. Hooker at this time had only just become a recording artist, and with the exception of four early 1949 sides done for Elmer Barbee, The Unknown John Lee Hooker represents the only known acoustic recordings by Hooker prior to the late '50s. Deitch and his friends asked Hooker to play older and more traditional songs, resulting in a set that included a greater concentration of country blues, spirituals, and folk tunes than Hooker was doing in his commercial recordings of the time. "Two White Horses," "Trouble in Mind," "John Henry," and "Jack O' Diamonds" are all here, for instance. Still, it's really not too far removed from what he was doing in the studio, given the inimitable Hooker stamp by his trademark omnipresent foot stomps and idiosyncratic rhythms. As both singer and guitarist Hooker, in this informal setting, sounds just as committed and inspired as he was on his studio dates; "Trouble in Mind," for instance, has guitar work as distinctive (and, at times, irregularly patterned and dissonant) as anything he did in the period. Nevertheless, this is primarily of historical interest, particularly as Hooker did do a wealth of similar folk/blues crossover sessions in the late '50s and early '60s that were captured in much better fidelity. The sound on this disc is listenable and certainly okay given the conditions of 1949 home recordings, but still a little hissy and muffled. This means that studio acoustic albums such as 1959's The Country Blues of John Lee Hooker are more highly recommended.

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