Live At Newport

John Lee Hooker

Vanguard Records, 2002

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


Vanguard Records' commitment to keeping great American roots music alive continues with their latest offering from their Sessions series, a collection of live tracks from blues great John Lee Hooker from the glory days of the Newport Folk Festival. Hooker as a musician is an anomaly; he was one of the few bluesmen from the Mississippi Delta group -- Hooker, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Skip James -- who made a career out of his music, whose career continued until his death in 2001, and who had had recent chart success before he appeared at Newport in 1960. In many ways, Hooker was the most commercial of the Mississippi Delta bluesmen.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

So perhaps the first tendency for the serious listener might be to dismiss Hooker.

One word: don't.

Fact is, John Lee Hooker was relatively successful because John Lee Hooker was good. His trademark, unique style -- often imitated but never equaled -- and the deep boom-boom of his strumming and foot-tapping is original, powerful, and still relevant today. Fact is, they're still ripping off John Lee, and they'll BE ripping him off until his music is completely lost. And Live At Newport is a great introduction to one of the two (I refuse to make a decision between Hooker and John Hurt) greatest Delta bluesmen ever.

This CD is stacked, packed, locked, and solid all the way through. It includes the original introductions from the festival, solid live tracks, alternate versions of two of Hooker's signature tunes ("Hobo Blues" and "Boom Boom"), all with the original bass reverb restored (the bass sound had been lost on previous LP and CD releases of these performances). It is as if Hooker is right there, once again, foot stamping and strings ringing -- and for a man who said the blues don't come from the guitar, but from the heart and the head, that sense of imminence is a precious gift.

For both the blues enthusiast and the beginner, Live At Newport is a must have. Don't miss it.

Rating: A

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© 2002 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Vanguard Records, and is used for informational purposes only.