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John Lee Hooker, Jr. - Live in Istanbul Turkey
(CD and Bonus one-song DVD animation)
Steppin’ Stone Records
14 tracks; 64:20 minutes; Splendid
Styles: Full Band Electric Blues, R&B, Funk
I first saw John Lee Hooker, Jr. perform live at the inaugural Luther Allison Memorial Blues Fest produced by Peoria’s still flourishing River City Blues Society in August of 2005. I was immediately impressed with his singing ability: powerful, dynamic, and with a wide range. His stage movements and presence, facial expressions, and audience rapport made for an impressive and unforgettable performance. I was also made aware that he is no imitator of his legendary daddy.
If Hooker Junior does play guitar (or any instrument), he never demonstrated it, nor does he play any instruments on his first live CD, “Live in Istanbul Turkey .” His voice sounds more like B.B. King than the gruff growl of his father. And, Junior is clearly from the next generation reared in Motown and Funk sounds and, later, well introduced to Rap and Hip-Hop music. His show (and this modernized-music CD with 21st Century lyrics) is definitely not a tribute to his father (like Mud Morganfield’s is as he recapitulates the voice and look of Muddy Waters.)
“Live in Istanbul Turkey” on Hooker, Jr.’s own Steppin’ Stone Records is a well recorded and produced, full-band set that is energetic and has raucous, rave up song endings typical of a live set. When Hooker, Jr. shouts “Istanbul, are you ready for the blues?” at the onset, you can practically feel the electricity in the stadium. At the Efes Pilsen Blues Festival, Junior and up to nine other musicians at a time perform material from three studio albums (2004's “Blues with a Vengeance,” 2006's “Cold as Ice,” and 2008's “All Odds Against Me”). The inclusion of additional, new “bonus” songs, “It’s a Shame,” “You Make My Life Brand New,” and “They Hatin’ On Me” recorded at the Pajama Studio in Oakland, CA serve to extend the CD’s party. He does include one Hooker, Sr. standard in this set (“Boom Boom”), but, as suggested earlier, it’s done in Junior’s own style.
Born in 1952 in Detroit, he was exposed the life of the blues from a young age. At eight years old, Junior performed on Detroit's WJBK radio and knew from that moment that he wanted to follow his father and become a musician. Touring alongside Hooker, Sr. throughout his teens, Junior had already performed in prestigious venues such as Detroit's Fox Theatre with acclaimed musicians like Jimmy Reed by the time he was 16. In 1972, an eighteen year-old John Jr. was singing vocals alongside his father for the recording of Hooker, Sr.'s album “Live at Soledad Prison” (ABC Records).
Unfortunately, while living the "life of a bluesman" he succumbed to drugs and alcohol. Divorce, incarceration, and death brought his once promising career to a halt. But by 2004, Junior was back and released his first CD. Since then, he has released two more albums and been nominated for Grammys and won a Blues Music Award in 2005.
Blues are indeed an international language understood around the world. For an artist’s first live CD, Turkey provides an interesting setting and enthusiastic audience. If you enjoy great vocals joined by a full band, this CD is for you.
Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and longtime Blues Blast Magazine contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at www.wkccradio.org in Kankakee, IL.
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