John Lee Hooker King of the Boogie

John Lee Hooker King of the Boogie
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At a hundred songs and five discs, box set King of the Boogie cuts right to the essence of John Lee Hooker.
 
The blues icon's hypnotic and idiosyncratic style — a clipped acoustic rhythmic guitar hung on a single chord and moaning vocals accompanied with his own foot taps — was captured to devastating effect on his first recording session in November, 1948 which yielded "Boogie Chillen," one of the biggest R&B hits of the post-war blues era.
 
Followup singles like "Crawling King Snake" helped cement Hooker's presence, and the wisely chronological sequencing on the first three discs not only charts his evolution as an artist (including his embracing of electric guitar and the addition of band members like guitarists Eddie Kirkland and Eddie Taylor), but the development of blues itself, with such deeply influential cuts recorded for the Vee-Jay label as 1956's "Dimples" and 1961's "Boom Boom," building blocks in the development of rock music — especially the sounds brimming across the pond.
 
While Hooker's musical mastery continues to reverberate 16 years after his death, what is equally revelatory about certain selections here is their continued timeliness. The sorrowful snapshot of a devastating flood in Mississippi, "Tupelo Blues" stings in the light of recent disasters, while "Birmingham Blues" and "The Motor City Is Burning" are pertinent dispatches given 2017's racial climate.
 
The fourth disc is comprised entirely of live selections, and while the comprehensive and informative liners note that Hooker was proud of having never been in a fight, "I'm Bad Like Jesse James" (backed by Muddy Waters' full band) is badass enough to give Ice Cube pause. The raucous "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" evokes a sense of desperation that George Thorogood and the Destroyers never captured on their more celebrated cover.
 
King of the Boogie closes with a fifth disc of collaborations, with the likes of Carlos Santana on the title track of Hooker's 1989 comeback The Healer and Bonnie Raitt ("I'm in the Mood"). The standouts are "Peavine" (with Canned Heat from 1971's oft-neglected Hooker 'n Heat) and "Up and Down" (with Warren Haynes). John Lee Hooker couldn't have asked for a better centenary. (Craft)