Here’s a clip of the immortal John Lee Hooker performing his hit “Boom Boom”

John Lee HookerThe blues is easily parodied – 12 bars, 3 chords, 3lines of lyrics for each verse, with subject matter about feeling bad. Yet, to reduce the blues to these cliches, as easy as it may be for some, is to forget how primal the blues really is as a form. And this isn’t just about how many genres of music it’s given birth to and fed. It’s about the basic human need to express something physical, something (for want of a better word) base. These expressions are as true to the human experience as anything to be found in any sacred text or scientific journal. For these purposes, singing the blues has few rivals. And Hooker’s tune is all about physicality, a celebration of arousal – “I love the way you walk/I love the way you talk/when you walk that walk/and talk that talk”. Grrr, baby! This is one of the songs about lust for the ages, and certainly one that has caused a ripple effect through into rock n’ roll.

“Boom Boom” was released by Hooker in 1961, marked by its unique guitar riff and Hooker’s own lustful growl. It was a staple song in the set of many blues and R&B acts on both sides of the Atlantic soon after. It became a single for the Animals, who were admirers of Hooker, a few years later along with another Hooker hit, “Dimples”. The “twelve bars-3chords-3 lines of lyrics” model for which the blues is known is entirely discarded here. What we get instead is a call-and-response drone, with Hooker’s guitar used more as a rhythm instrument, almost a percussion instrument, rather than the now-expected guitar histrionics with which electric blues is often associated. This song is much akin to Hooker’s earlier side “Boogie Chillun” which is a single riff on one chord, with only Hooker’s boot on the studio floor as a secondary instrument. It’s here that the world of the blues is taken out of the clubs of Chicago, and Hooker’s adopted hometown of Detroit, and is transported back to Africa.

Malian musician and innovator, the late Ali Farka Toure was always annoyed when he was compared to John Lee Hooker. “When I hear John Lee Hooker,” said Toure, “I hear African music”.

Thanks to www.allaboutjazz.com for use of John Lee Hooker’s image.

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