Goodbye, John Lee!
So John Lee Hooker goes toes-up on us—on the same day as Archie Bunker, no less—and now there'll be a media frenzy of well-deserved, loving obituaries. It's sad but not unexpected. The old guy had been carrying himself like a mummy for years now, though his beef-jerky visage was always a welcome sight among his legions of fans.
But rather than getting all effusive about the importance of Hooker's career as others shall do (I don't like to effuse), I prefer to remember the smaller delights the man provided me with over the years:
• A HOOKER VIRGIN The first time I heard a Hooker record was at a swap meet in about 1975. Someone was blasting a tape at their booth; I was spellbound by That Voice—humid with lecherous intent, an exquisitely greasy and malevolent brand of horniness. It sounded as if the guy was singing while sporting a purple, skin-popping boner. That same day, I went out and bought two of Hooker's albums; I never enjoyed Canned Heat and ZZ Top as much again.
• NOT ACTING Hooker stole the 1980 film Blues Brothers with a no-bullshit, bad-assed presentation of his signature song, "Boom Boom." In the midst of a filmic experience as crappy as Pearl Harbor, I was nonetheless transfixed by Hooker, who shone like a hot lantern in the face of so much cartoon jive, thrumming with hard-assed ghetto cool and a just-removed-from-African-tribal-drums musical vibe. He also looked like he'd smell bad, a rancid mixture of sweet, oniony B.O. and cheap lime aftershave. This is how you want your molding bluesmen to smell.
• KING HOOKER Around the same time, I took in my first Hooker concert. I was struck by his essential Lee Marvin-ness—same dangerous, beady little eyes, the arrogantly macho swagger, that same ill-intentioned little grin, that creepy baritone resonance to the tone of his voice. He would have made a swell bad guy in filmland had his career taken a different course. Hooker was regal!
• HOOKED When I interviewed Hooker some years ago, he clearly relished being playfully uncooperative. Rather than addressing the questions I posed, he just kept yelling, "I'M THE ORIGINAL BOGEYMAN!" and cackling like an idiot. It was among my most memorable interviews, though the resulting profile sucked as a result of his disinclination toward conversation. I had been dissed by the best!
• IMMORTAL Every time I tried to write off Hooker as a used-up old geezer in his later years, he surprised me. His '93 duet with Van Morrison on "Gloria" was among the most ferocious performances of his career, and his '98 take on "Burnin' Hell" with Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite backing him made Satan toss his salad. The world salutes your legacy, tough guy!
In just three years, western swingsters ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL have put out five (five!) greatest-hits compilations—quite an accomplishment for a group that never quite broke through to the mainstream. But through all the shit-slogging years of modern country music, Asleep at the Wheel has remained steadfast in their dedication to the vision of Bob Wills and his re-boppin' brethren. The Wheel's Ride With Bob was a long-overdue Wills tribute album and a purposeful attempt to drag a bunch of modern hat acts through the rich mud of history. To that end, the group recruited the services of such swillmongers as Clay Walker, Mark Chestnutt and Tim McGraw along with kindred spirits Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett and Dwight Yoakam to help them realize the vision. While the album was certainly a good'er and its intentions admirable, Ray Benson and company didn't really need any help in harvesting a crop of happy-assed Wills covers; they've been the Next Best Thing since Mr. "Haaaw-now!" was planted back in 1975. Get a good, strong whiff of that San Antonio Rose Monday night at the Crazy Horse Steak House.
I'm happy to report that JACKIE DeSHANNON is back with an often superb new album, You Know Me, which some are calling the best of her career. I disagree, but there you go. The pixie-ish singer/songwriter disappeared for a couple of decades, but her instinct for glorious pop melody—which borrowed freely from country and R&B sources—remains keen as ever. The gal had a remarkable run from the 1950s to the '70s, beginning with a string of rockabilly singles like "Should I Cry" and "Buddy" that sounded like a caged death match between Brenda Lee and Wanda Jackson with Owen Bradley refereeing. Later, toning down the grit and growl, DeShannon was instrumental in the creation of early-1960s jangle pop, co-writing "Needles & Pins" and "When You Walk in the Room" for the Searchers. She opened for the Beatles on their first American tour and had several hits in the mid- to late '60s, including "Put a Little Love In Your Heart" and "What the World Needs Now Is Love," which were the best Dusty Springfield records never recorded by Dusty Springfield. She finally won a Grammy for penning "Bette Davis Eyes" in 1975 after it became a huge hit as butchered by the frog-voiced Kim Carnes. DeShannon's sunny brand of Anglo pop was and is charmingly fluffy without being vacuous, naive and innocent without being overtly girlish. Her vocals retain the pretty inflection and lack of pretension that made her a staple on AM radio for many years. It's an unexpected pleasure to have her back in action, so let DeShannon put a little love into your hard old arteries next Thursday night at the Coach House; it's about the most un-punk rock thing you'll do all year.
Asleep at the Wheel perform at the Crazy Horse Steak House Saloon, 71 Fortune Dr., Irvine, (949) 585-9000. Mon., 8 p.m. $15-$35. All ages; Jackie DeShannon performs at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930. Thurs., July 12, 8 p.m. $17.50. 18+.
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