3/29/15

Groundhogs - Singles As and Bs (1968-76)

I'm beginning to read Eccentric Man, the definitive biography about Tony McPhee written by Paul Freestone (great name) that I encourage any visitor to buy (eg. here) since it's more than only the musical life of a man, but the description of how a little English boy falls in love with blues (the roughest one, the one played in particular by John Lee Hooker or Howling Wolf) and travels through the muddy and changing musical fashions of UK, trying to stay true to his passion and creative. This is the occasion to compile all the A and B sides of the singles that Tony McPhee (or sometimes some bosses in his label) released under the band name during its glorious days. Sad that neither Who Will Save The World or Hogwash provided any single, since there were some possible standards on it. But it's true Groundhogs were not a singles band. Sometimes, solo Tony McPhee tracks were thrown on the B side. Not a good idea to help the singles buyers, unfamiliar with the band, to discover the musical universe of this unusual trio. Last, I can't help to think that Tony McPhee could have touched stardom with "Pastoral Future", his last single in 1976. Totally different from all the band's repertoire, it sounds as a crossover between "Europa"'s Santana (released in 1976) and Dire Strait (whose 1st album was not released in 1976). Tony McPhee's life would have been totally changed if this instrumental had been a hit. But not sure it would have been for the better since he surely would have some difficulty to adopt definitively this style. So, no regret. Catch this fantastic collection here. PS. I did the cover sleeve with a picture from the French photographer Jonathan Abbou (a post about him here).


John Lee Hooker - The "That's Where It's At" session (1953)



My fave JLH session any period any style. Gathered on one LP. If you had to have one Hooker album, it should be this one. Catch it here.

This is the first post of a series about John Lee Hooker, my favorite bluesman so far. His discography is really a nighmare for those who want to listen in chronological order to his sessions since recordings are spread on various compilations, often wrongly dated, as (surely) the one presented today. If I begin with this one, it's because it's one of my favorites and considered so by many Hookers amateurs. Released in LP format in 1979 on Stax under the title of That's Where It's At (I kept the title but changed the cover sleeve I did myself), it was said to be recorded in Miami in 1961, but many connoisseurs thought Stax had only bought this session to the produced Henry Stone and, judging by the music John Lee Hooker plays on it, was more probably recorded during summer 1953, just after another session in Miami released by Atlantic under the name of Don't Turn Me From Your Door. Actually, 4 songs of this Atlantic album, and in particular the eponymous song, were from this second sessions and missed on the Stax album. So here are the 14 (in the order of recording such as stated by some reliable sources) that should have been on the Stax LP of 1969 and not even included in the CD version. Is still missing "Talking about my baby", which features only on a split album with Lightnin' Hopkins I never localized. I must say I have almost a hundred CDs or LPs from John Lee Hooker but this is not enough to cover all his sessions. But back to the music. Here John Lee is only backed by a bassist (maybe Steve Alaimo but not sure he's the only one throughout the session) and he provides the quintessence of muddy and swamp blues, nothing less that what Creedence Clearwater Revival would cultivate 15 years later. I even see something as the beginning of sludge in this dirty sound and slow pace. If blues has to be modern, it's here I find it to be, not in pale copies of white guys playing the rock 'n roll stars.



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John Lee Hooker - Let Me Play My Blues Alone Fake EP (1959)



A re-up of the second session JLH did for Vee Jay. Used this wonderful picture as cover sleeve. Catch it here.

Here's the next session John Lee Hooker did for Vee Jay, I mean the next after this one here. We are 6 months later, in January 1959. And once again, he came in the studio to record 2 rather commercial songs ("Maudie" and "Tennessee Blues") with the rock 'n roll flavor of the moment, backed by a 2nd guitar and drums. But then, when the "job"'s done, he stays and plays his style, more lonely with each song, even leaving his electric guitar for the accoustic one on "Hobo Blues", and covering no less than 4 blues styles in 4 songs (the reason I chose the cover sleeve). And it's really magical. This session will actually be released the same year, first on three 2-song 78 rpm and then compiled with songs recorded for Vee Jay over the previous 2 years on an album called I'm John Lee Hooker. The irony is that with the old rural blues style that he played on "Hobo Blues"(and in which Vee Jay was not interested), he would reach success among white University students the same year, with sessions recorded for the label Riverside and which provided the famous Country Blues and That's My Story album. I long thought that this neo-rural blues revival was not sincere and only a way to win some more money for him (and many Hooker's experts wrote that) but actually, hearing that he would end some of his 1958 and 59 sessions with these kind of songs when he came in to record some bandwagonned songs make me think it's maybe wrong. The fact is this fake EP makes us participate during some rare minutes to the more intimate part of the singer, alone in the studio, singing for none than him, and seeming to ask that he's left to play his blues alone. PS. If I knew the bastard in charge of the recording who faded the end of each song, I would punch him to death.



Below, John Lee takes his accoustic guitar and offers a great version of "Hobo Blues". And some said he didn't know to play guitar.

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John Lee Hooker - Shake It Baby EP (1962)



A re-up of this fantastic set of JLH at the American Folk Blues Festival in 1962. Not surprising that young teenagers such as Tony McPhee became Hooker addicts when listening such excitating gems. Catch it here.

While the little whitey called the Beatles were singing"Love Me Do" or "She Loves You" (and the further year "I Wanna Hold Your Hand", what a joke) for young virgins wetting their underwear for the first time, John Lee Hooker sang the real thing for women who knew what it was to have a male sex in them, how to shake their butt to make it grow or how to shake it with hands if needed. This extraordinary hot version of "Shake It Baby" with Willie Dixon, T-Bone Walker and Jump Jackson smells the spontaneity but was a big hit in the European charts. Who say best? I never a more sexual incitation in all music history. The 3 other songs are from the same concert, actually a travelling festival with bluesmen freshly rediscovered by little white students in USA and by those of working class in UK (they will be the bluesboom). Not so hot but nice too. Enjoy it here.



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John Lee Hooker - Big Legs Tight Skirts (The Last Vee Jay Session) fake LP (1964)



A re-up of the 1964 session. More details below. Catch it here.

As the title says, this is the last session John Lee Hooker recorded for Vee Jay, in Chicago, surely at the Universal Sound studio, but unfortunately musicians are unknowns. Since only 4 of the 10 songs/tracks recorded for the session were released, and on 2 45 T, without album to find the whole, it could seem that Vee Jay was no more interested by the old bluesman, but let's not forget that the label would be in bankrupt 2 years later and it's more likely that they couldn't afford to issue a JLH album anymore. So here's the LP that could have been. This session, that I thought to call Pretty Women, Sweet Babes and Big Girls since all the songs are about problems JLH seems to have with the female genre (with the quite old-fashion misogynistic view of these times), either on a sexual or sentimental plan, is interesting cos' it shows that John Lee Hooker was in a "band mood" at the time, and it's no surprise that some months later he would be touring and recording with the Groundhogs in England. Actually the session is not totally satisfying cos' songs miss the dereliction dimension I love so much in this genre, but all in all it's a welcome addition to any John Lee Hooker collection, and since only some songs were spread in various compilations and others not available at all, it's good to have them all in one homogenous set. Sorry, I mispelled the title, it should have "skirt" and not "skirts", but impossible to get back so I leave it this way. After all it's only a virtual cover sleeve.



Big Legs, Tight Skirt
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