pull_up_some_dustListen to this track by guitar virtuoso, songwriter, and John Lee Hooker campaign manager Ry Cooder. It’s his 2011 deep cut track, “John Lee Hooker For President” as taken from his most recent record, Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down.

The record is a protest album, with songs that have a razor keen satiric edge to them that is refreshing to hear in an era that sorely needs songs like that, helpfully presented in a variety of styles including rock/pop,  country, reggae, tejano, and of course, the blues. This song is certainly satirical, providing some comic relief to songs about crooked bankers, Mexican refugees, damaged soldiers, and obtuse politicians.

Ry Cooder has entered a new phase in his career, from guitar slinger, to folk music archivist, to soundtrack composer, to world-music curator, to an artist who has found a voice as a social critic with an eye for historical events informing current ones. More recent albums Chavez Ravine, My Name Is Buddy and I, Flathead, known as his “California Trilogy” all reference sociopoltical themes of the past, tying them to themes today that show that things  haven’t really changed.

As such, this album doesn’t come out of nowhere. And even if this song about John Lee Hooker has some comedy value, complete with a well-observed impression of the late lamented bluesman, there is a strain of truth to this song that makes it more than just comedy relief.

George W. Bush, Jesse James, Wall Street Bankers, backroom manipulators, and even God Himself all make appearances on this album, all playing their part in a record that pulls together the state of the world according to Ry Cooder. There is a particular focus on the late 2000s economic crisis, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and virtually immobilized social mobility in the United States. The songs touch on how wars, greed, and a lack of empathy have devastated a nation, and how those responsible have almost entirely escaped the consequences, while everyday people have been turned out of their homes.

Photo: Dani Canto

In a year that has seen GOP candidates snarling at each other in a bid to see which one of them will stand against Barack Obama in the election at the end of this year, the theme of leadership and the future of a nation that depends on its quality is very much top of mind. With that being the case, why not vote for John Lee Hooker (who, to be fair, died in 2001)? Hooker certainly was  a voice of authority, although not in the same way as a garden variety politician.

Even if we can chuckle at the idea of  Hooker promising one bourbon, one scotch, and one beer three times a day to those who “stay cool”, there is still the sense underneath in this song that what people are really crying out for where the leadership of their nation is concerned, is integrity. When it comes to the future of our world, we need leadership that is characterized by boldness, innovation, intelligence, and empathy. These are not just to be found in a single leader, but in many leaders working together in political and economic systems that are designed to foster those kinds of people,  those kinds of values, and the kinds of actions we should expect from them as a result.

The question that comes to mind here on this song, and on the others on this record is: can we turn things around in time? Or will there be nothing left but dust to pull up and sit down on?

For more information about Ry Cooder, check out the Ry Cooder page on Nonesuch records.

Enjoy!

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2 thoughts on “Ry Cooder Sings “John Lee Hooker For President”

  1. Had to tell the landlady that I got impeached/She said I don’t believe you was no president… The White House blues…

    Nice choice, Rob.

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