Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Earl Hooker Play Your Guitar Mr. Hooker

Earl Hooker
Play Your Guitar Mr. Hooker
Blacktop

Buddy Guy has cited Earl Hooker as the greatest blues guitarist he ever saw, and many of his contemporaries remember his mastery of the guitar, both straight and his use of a slide. Possessing an awesome technique, timing and musical imagination, he was a favorite of many of his contemporaries, although he died of tuberculosis within a couple weeks of Otis Spann in April, 1970. What a loss, Chicago’s best blues players cut down within weeks of each other.
 
He was known as a guitarist, being an inadequate vocalist who usually let others handle the vocals. He recorded for King and Rockin’ Records and later recorded for Sam Phillips, although these sides remained unissued for years. The early sixties found him on Age and Chief, before he connected with Jim Kirstein’s Cuca label out of Sauk City, Wisconsin. After Cuca, Hooker recorded albums for Arhoolie, Bluesway, Blue Thumb (with Ike Turner on piano) and Blues on Blues, and played on Bluesway albums by cousin John Lee (Hooker), Charles Brown, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Big Moose Walker, leaving a substantial legacy for those years.

Cuca actually issued an album titled The Genius of Earl Hooker, which suffered from the programming of all instrumentals. In the mid-eighties the Dutch Black Magic label issued Play Your Guitar, Mr. Hooker, which made available unissued Cuca recordings and alternate takes, along with two instrumentals, Earl Hooker Blues, and Dust My Broom, that pioneering European blues researcher George Adins recorded in 1968 at the Alex Club on Chicago’s West Side.

This is probably my favorite Earl Hooker album, with his vocal and guitar on the opening Swear to Tear the Truth being particularly urgent sounding. Most of this is comprised of instrumentals or accompaniments to assorted singers. A.C. Reed emulates the vocal style of namesake Jimmy Reed on She’s Fine, while Frank ‘Crying Shame’ Clark ably handles You Took My Love, and The Misfit (Got to Keep Movin’), and the gruff Muddy Waters Jr. sings Everything Gonna Be Alright.

There’s plenty of hot guitar as Earl shows his mastery of a variety of styles while A.C. Reed or Bobby Fields adds some hot tenor sax. Particularly impressive are his renditions of Albert Collins’ classic Frosty, and Otis Rush’s All Your Love. The two live recordings give Earl a chance to stretch out, and also contain a bit of Fred Roulette’s pedal steel guitar which increases their interest despite the sound quality of the location recording.

While this is a musical feast, an instrumental rendition of James Brown’s I Got You (I Feel Good) is omitted in this 13 track, 37-odd minute compact disc. Also the original vinyl album came with a detailed booklet with plenty of information on Earl Hooker, Cuca and its head, Mr. Kirstein. While it would have taken an extensive booklet to reprint all of the original notes, certainly some liner notes should have been included. While this is recommended, Black Top could have done better with this reissue.

I likely received a review copy from the record label. This review originally appeared in the September 1993 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 184). This may be available on the used market but as a collector's item. Here is Earl Hooker, likely in Europe.


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