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John Lee Hooker Jr.

John Lee Hooker Jr. comes across as being wary of journalists and a little bit surly, but he warms up quickly when you get around to talking about his fans. The bluesman is a phenomenal singer/songwriter who has paid his dues on both the music scene and in life.

Hooker discussed with me is upcoming September tour of Spain, Switzerland and Germany to promote his most recent release Cold As Ice. At the time, he was in the midst of traveling across the United States for the same reason. Hooker says it is a thrill for him to see the enthusiasm that Europeans demonstrate for his music and the blues in general. "America is where it (blues) was born," says Hooker. "Americans can get it in the kitchen, upstairs and everywhere they go. These people (Europeans) appreciate it more because they are just now getting it," he says. "They are so grateful that this new music, as it were, has come to them. They stand in line and in front of the stages. They are going to be right there in front of you."

Since there is so much lyrical content to his music, I ask Hooker if language becomes a barrier when he is performing in some European venues. "They (the fans) have done their homework to find out what he or she is singing about," Hooker says. He makes the point that although the lyrics are in English, for his European fans it is all about the music.

Hooker has created a style of music that is infused with elements of R&B and bear Motown influences from his days growing up in Detroit during the sixties and seventies. "I was heavily influenced by Motown, Jackie Wilson, Stevie Wonder and all of those guys," he says. Hooker found himself listening to a lot of Marvin Gaye's music. "When I was ten to twelve years old, I wasn't about the blues I was about the Motown sound. Of course, a great influence while I was growing up was my dad (John Lee Hooker) and I went that way," says Hooker.

Hooker's lyrics also at times tell the tale of his life. He started off as an incredibly talented blues artist in his teenage years, but later descended into a life of alcoholism and drug addiction. He served time in jail for the later. Now sober and rehabbed for many years he says, "I write what I've done, witnessed and lived. That's what you hear, what I've experienced," he says. "Some of it is a little bit creative, but it is what I feel, what I saw my friends do and what I heard about. It's the life experience," he says.

He took a few moments to reflect upon what turned his life around and in a positive direction. "When you are level with the ground and you are tired of being on the ground, you are going to do one of two things. You are either going to stay there or you are going to have the desire to get up. My dad would always tell me, 'You got too much talent, to be down there.' He was a great encourager. You are tired of being in that valley (referring to himself). I didn't want to stay there. Everybody can't say that. (Some people) will say I don't want to be here, but I can't get up. I wanted to get up." Hooker credits the support of family and friends as making the difference.

The year 2004 and the CD Blues With A Vengeance signaled the return of John Lee Hooker Jr. to the spotlight. In 2005, he won a W.C. Handy Award and was nominated for a Grammy for his work on the album. The W.C. Handy Award is the most prestigious honor that is bestowed upon a blues artist for their accomplishments. It is named for William Christopher Handy, generally credited with being chief architect of the blues genre. In 2006, the name of the award changed to the Blues Music Awards.

In speaking about the award and nomination Hooker says, "It means a lot because I witnessed my dad working very hard catching a bus to work, getting a ride to work, carrying his own equipment. I watched how hard work changed his stature into a giant stature. It’s hard work that brings about these things (such as the awards) so when I won (The W.C. Handy Award) and I was nominated (Grammy), it was proof to me...not that I needed proof, but it was proof to me that it was a direct result of the hard work. This is what I am supposed to have right here, the nominations and the wins. That goes for anybody."

"If you work hard you get a paycheck or you get a promotion, you won't get it laying down and being complacent with what you are doing. You gotta' work hard and that's what I am out here doing. I'm out here on the road promoting the CD. I believe in it. I am sure one way or the other it is going to pay off." says Hooker. "That's why I am out here. I am not out here just for the money. Keep in mind, one of the rewards is seeing and hearing the requests from the people who have already purchased my CD Cold As Ice. It tells me that people are listening to what they have heard on the radio and they want to hear it live. Hard work brother, that is what it is about."

Hooker mixes traditional blues themes of lost love and heartache with modern phrases like "received a text message" (You Blew It Baby). Will "Roc" Griffin is outstanding on the keys, while the guitar duo of John Garcia Jr. and Jeffrey James Haran bend some great blues notes.

Hooker talks about the necessity to keep evolving the blues. "Music grows just like everything(else)." says Hooker. "Everything changes, but it is still the blues. We are out here (touring) and that is what we are doing--keeping the blues alive." Hooker sees combining newer styles yet retaining an element of traditional blues roots as being essential to the continual production of quality blues music.

Fans of more traditional style blues music are going to love his eighth, ninth and tenth grooves on Cold As Ice. The songs "Trapped," "In The Mood," and "Oh Baby" highlight the musicianship of Griffin and bassist Frank "Tebo" Thibeaux. Once again, Haran and Garcia lay down some terrific licks.

The title track "Cold As Ice" is not a song for the faint-hearted woman in the listening audience. The reference "Cold As Ice" is a reference to a woman who can only be described as a modern day Jezebel. Rather than using hard-hitting lyrics that leave you wondering if the man thinks all women are evil, Hooker uses parody and humor to take a lighthearted approach to examining a toxic relationship. I am sure before long, women in the audience at Hooker concerts will be singing 'He was cold as ice,' and I suspect that would put a smile on the bluesman's face.

Hooker perks up when I asked him who came up with the idea for the cover of Cold As Ice. "I did," he says. He is dressed completely in white--a suit, fedora, shoes, shirt, tie and boutonnière. He is standing on an iceberg or glacier and other than his name, all that appears on the front cover is the title, Cold As Ice, in a pale blue and white font. Not only does the image aptly communicate the name of the title track, but it sends a not so subtle message that this man is cool. The CD cover is the best that I have seen in years.

"When you say something is hot, you want to get in the desert or have some fire behind you," Hooker says laughing. "If one listens to the lyrics ("Cold As Ice") the girl was cold. If that is your title track then of course, you want to put emphasis on what you are singing about. I have to represent something about the track. You know what I'm saying? This here woman was cold and deceptive," says Hooker.

Songs such as "Four Hours Straight" focus heavily on sexual prowess, but once again it becomes more of an underlying theme for a discussion about relationships. I asked Hooker if there is a risk associated with putting out songs so heavily imbued with sexual themes. He replies quickly and strongly, "Just listen to your rap music. They are the ones that are raunchy. What I said you will hear on a bus, you will hear in a movie theater or a café. It's the blues. I am not talking about any detailed sexual content. I am not talking about body parts. I'm singing the blues. 'Four Hours Straight' is just a boast of one's sexuality. It's as simple as that. He makes muscles about his sexuality," he explains. "It's not rated x. I'm not using curse words because I don't curse. That's my answer."

"I Got To Be Me" is symbolic of the career path that Hooker has taken. Early in his career he was expected to follow in his famous father's footsteps. During hiatus, people probably whispered about the wasted talent and since his comeback too often others have inferred the influence of his father upon his career.

"He (Hooker Sr.) was so tall in stature and cast a giant shadow," says Hooker. "If I was out there trying to fill his shoes, I would fall flat on my face. I mean this was the great John Lee Hooker. I am nowhere near him. I'm not even trying to be. I am out here being me," he says. "That is the point of this whole thing, to be me, not anybody else. Like the song says, "I Got To Be Me."

Blues fans everywhere should be glad he is.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: John Lee Hooker Jr.
  • Subtitle: Cold As Ice Features Hot Blues Tracks... John Lee Hooker Jr. A Legend In The Making
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