John Lee Hooker: New vinyl, old photo, “I’m in the Mood”

Just recently, I noticed a new release of John Lee Hooker music, a double vinyl album titled “Live at Montreux – 1983 & 1990,” on Eagle Records.

I might not have mentioned it, since it’s a double album in vinyl, but I know that more and more music is being released in this great old format for its sound quality, and also so you can have those nice big album covers to hang on the wall for artwork. Like we did in the ’60s. With beads.

This is a live album (I know, that should be obvious), and as far as I can tell, not yet streaming. On the other hand, the music has been previously released on two earlier, separate albums, which are streaming, at least on Amazon Music. So what’s new here is the double set, the vinyl, and a pair of video packages for each concert.

If you’ve ever paid any attention to the blues, and maybe if you haven’t, you’ve heard of John Lee Hooker, one of the all-time greats. He left the Mississippi Delta when he was 14, apparently never looked back, and after performing a while in Memphis, moved around until he settled in Detroit, and was working as a janitor in a steel mill when he recorded “Boogie Chillen” in 1948.

He wrote and recorded prolifically, and like many bluesmen of his era, recorded under different names to avoid label contract problems while trying to earn more money. He sometimes recorded under the names John Lee Booker, Johnny Lee, John Lee, John Lee Cooker, Texas Slim, Delta John, Birmingham Sam and his Magic Guitar, Johnny Williams, and the Boogie Man.

His music was unusual — he often played with his own beat and tempo, making changes to suit the song, or maybe even his mood. It was sometimes repetitive, often hypnotic. Plus, he always looked really sharp. Usually with a fine fedora.

Another reason for wanting to write about this new release is that I’ve been looking for a chance to show off some of my blues photography. I don’t come anywhere close to the massive and creative body of work of my favorite blues boxman, Joe Rosen, but I do have a few things that I like, and which generate fond memories.

Jim White photo

This Hooker photo is one of them. It was taken around 1980, in a club called Mancini’s Lounge, in the town of McKees Rocks, just outside Pittsburgh, where the blues flourished for a few years.

Hooker was starting his set, and as fans kept coming up to the stage and popping their flash cameras in his face (yes, Virginia, there was a time before cell phones existed), he quickly grew annoyed. So he told everyone to cut it out, or he would cut out – no more Hooker.

Well, I was standing around with my camera and long lens, and I didn’t usually use a flash anyway, but I didn’t want my big lens to scare him away. But I did want a photo. So I hid behind one of the speaker towers at the side of the stage, poked my lens around the front, and snapped off a few pics with the stage light available. Which happened to be red. And this red profile is the result.

It’s a decent photo, but it brings back great memories as well.

Hooker’s blues are unique and memorable, but one song I find among the most memorable is his duet recording of “I’m in the Mood” with Bonnie Raitt for the 1989 album, “The Healer.”

It’s about as sexy and sensual as the blues gets, and as much fun as it is to listen to, here’s a video that gives you a good idea of the interplay. Raitt has described the 1989 recording as “one of the highest erotic experiences of my life.”

Here are the tracks on the new double album:

1983 – LP 1
SIDE A
1. “It Serves Me Right To Suffer”
2. “I Didn’t Know”
3. “Hi-Heel Sneakers”
4. “If You Take Care Of Me, I’ll Take Care Of You”
5. “Boom Boom”

SIDE B
1. “Worried Life Blues”
2. “I’m Jealous”
3. “Crawlin’ King Snake”
4. “Boogie Chillen’”

1990 – LP 2
SIDE A
1. John Lee Hooker Introduction
2. “Mabel”
3. “I’m In The Mood”
4. “Crawlin’ King Snake”
5. “Baby Lee”

SIDE B
1. “It Serves Me Right To Suffer”
2. “Boom Boom“
3. “The Healer”
4. “Boogie Chillen’”

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