Ry Cooder Sings “John Lee Hooker For President”

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.

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Bluesman John Lee Hooker Performs “Boom Boom”

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.