Charlie Grimes

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If the many diverse fans of blues messiah John Lee Hooker felt any emotion in common during the '70s, it might have been disappointment. "The Hook" had taken to showing up at gigs with more than one extra…
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If the many diverse fans of blues messiah John Lee Hooker felt any emotion in common during the '70s, it might have been disappointment. "The Hook" had taken to showing up at gigs with more than one extra lead guitarist, a sign of an aging artist's insecurity as well as an honest reaction to the thundering, multiple lead guitar rock & roll scene of the day. Yet a set of live recordings dating back to the 1963 Live at Sugar Hill, featuring a lead guitar matchup of Charlie Grimes and Luther Tucker, comes across much more powerfully than a routine Hooker nightclub or festival set from the '70s. This particular Grimes should not be confused with the Charlie Grimes who performed and recorded on alto and tenor saxophone in the '20s and '30s.

The Bay Area was home ground for guitarist Grimes; Hooker was one of two major bandleading figures who plucked this picker out from an almost quivering quorum of West Coast guitarists trying to get their names on album covers. Researchers into the Grimes mystique who are on low budgets would do well to remember that the "discard" or "free" section of the used record pile inevitably will include several copies of Down the Road by Stephen Stills and his Manassas band; a copy without scratches is possible for one dollar circa 2005. Grimes played on this album and with this band in the early '70s, establishing his own versatility as well as satisfying Stills' stomach for authentic urban blues. His connections on the '70s rock scene led to some session work as well. From the same year as the aforementioned Manassas LP but much more pleasing to the eye is 1973's Phew! by soul-rocker Claudia Lennear, featuring Grimes alongside guitarists Jim Dickinson and Ry Cooder.

The lingering and prolific presence of the latter two performers stands in stark contrast to what happened with Grimes, best expressed in the question "Is there life after Lennear?" He seems to have crumbled into the rock guitar session scene, the clearest images of his musicality not surprisingly present throughout his relationship with Hooker, an obvious nurturer of talent. During the '60s, the younger Grimes had the benefit of working with Tucker, a lead player already seasoned with Chicago blues experience. In the '70s, Grimes did not enjoy such brilliant company in Hooker's Coast to Coast Blues Band, which by then included the insipid John Lee Hooker Jr. But this became the period when Grimes was allowed to become most expansive with his playing. Veteran urban blues producer Ed Michel even noticed this in the din of a 1973 Lightnin' Hopkins extravaganza with a throng of guest guitarists, in his liner notes mentioning "Charlie Grimes, to whom John Lee was making available a lot of solo space."