Everybody loves John Lee Hooker. The dude had style for days.
I had the chance to see him live on three separate occasions and I can tell you the first performance of his I saw had a huge influence on this impressionable 15 year old flipper. Hooker was around '66 years of age on my virgin foray into the deep, dark growling blues in a live setting. I knew the manager of the venue, The Palms in Davis California, and was escorted back stage after the show. There I saw Hooker seated in the middle of the room on a rusty fold out chair sipping from a beer can. People filtered in with my group and one woman snapped a photo. Hooker snapped back: "You didn't ask to take my picture and I didn't say you could." The shutterbug pushed the camera back into her purse and retreated back into the the plank wood walls that gave away the venue's original purpose as a barn. The person who had escorted me and my older friends back to the room signaled to us to be quiet around the surly figure seated with legs wide apart in the middle of the room. The bassist for the band looked my friend over and said something along the line of "it's time to finish our business", and with that an envelope was passed. Most all the gawkers had left the room and Hooker looked up like a bulldog at the bassist who opened the envelope, looked in and gave Hooker an affirmative nod of the head. Hooker said something about getting a beer in this town and my friend suggested the only bar likely to still be open, The Paragon. Directions began to be given to the bassist and Hooker barked out again, "damn, we're never going to find it like that."
Suddenly I find myself and my friend climbing into the fourth row of Hooker's white Ford Econoline Van and heading off to the bar across the street from the record store at which I worked, Barney's Records. I followed the whole gang into the bar. I was way underage. Hooker and three of his bandmates took a table in the empty bar. Others in his band sat at the next table. My friends and I sat across the aisle in the narrow bar and I stared at John Lee Hooker with awe and fear as he drank from a bottle of Miller High Life.
Hooker had been on the road for about 52 years at this point. He had played many barns, music halls from Germany to California and Juke Joints along Highway 61. He had played festivals and he had played more than one house party. Today's song of the week is from one of those nights. It was recorded in 1949 in a house in Detroit, Michigan. The song is the sublimely titled Six Little Puppies and Twelve Shaggy Dogs. It takes a little bit of time to get going -- like Hooker himself -- but once he gets going it's a song with a great minor chord groove that is as hypnotic as the man himself.
I never did say a single word to Hooker. He never even acknowledged my presence. It was still damn cool.