One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer

John Lee Hooker

Song Review by Bill Janovitz

The first thing that strikes a listener of John Lee Hooker's classic "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" is how untogether it is, even as the crack studio band keeps it together; Hooker is singing one thing, seemingly oblivious to the 12-bar blues pattern that the band is playing, while the group tries to keep him grounded. The experience is like watching Chuck Berry in his later days, visibly fuming while some poor, unrehearsed pick-up band (he would travel solo, paying new bands in each town to sit in with him) tries to follow his uneven measures and spur-of-the-moment key changes. Hooker's M.O. must have been like that of another singer/songwriter used to playing solo acoustically, Bob Dylan. Dylan also seemed to flummox bands as he dragged out lines, following a whim. The track -- from the 1966 LP Real Folk Blues -- features some of Chicago's best blues session players, like Lafayette Leake on piano, Eddie Burns on second guitar, and Fred Below on drums. They all do a pretty good job of playing along, but it is the uncredited bass player who can't really fake it and does not try to; he plows ahead as if Hooker is right with him. Nevertheless, the record manages to swing convincingly, and most listeners would focus on Hooker's story, "One bourbon, one scotch, and one beer/Well, my baby she gone, she been gone two nights/I ain't seen my baby since night before last/I wanna get drunk till I'm off of my mind/One bourbon, one scotch, and one beer." It is certainly a crowd-pleaser for bar bands everywhere, as Hooker intended. While his sad-sack narrator is clearly hurting, his choice of remedy -- trying to drink his woman back to him, or at least off of his mind completely -- rings with bar-room humor, a sentiment with which most audience members could sympathize.

Delaware bar-room kings George Thorogood & the Destroyers did a more coherent -- if slightly overlong -- version of "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" for their 1977 self-titled debut album. It is surely an audience favorite for them as well. Thorogood answers his own vocals with blistering and raunchy-toned guitar riffs.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
The Ultimate Collection (1948-1990) 1991 Rhino 3:06
The Very Best of John Lee Hooker [Rhino] 1995 Rhino 3:07
One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer 1998 Hallmark Recordings