John Lee Hooker Im Going Home First Ever Album Session LP
Limited Vinyl LP
1. Mama You Got A Daughter (JB Lenoir)
3. House Rent Boogie
4. Trying To Find A Woman
5. Drive Me Away
1. I’m Going Home
2. Love Me All The Time
3. Lou Della
4. Bundle Up And Go
5. Wrong Doin’ Woman
Recorded on the 10th of June 1958, Chicago
All Songs by John Lee Hooker except where noted
John Lee Hooker Guitar & Vocal, Everett McCrary –Bass, Richard Johnson –Drums
John Lee Hooker – Sleevenotes
“I don't play a lot of fancy guitar. I don't want to play it. The kind of guitar I want to play is mean, mean licks.”
John Lee Hooker
Had things worked out differently, the songs collected on this disc would have comprised John Lee Hooker’s first full-length album and been released on the Vee Jay label in the final months of 1958. With the micro-grooved 33rpm record format very much in its infancy, the songs that Hooker and his backing group recorded in Chicago on 10 June that year represented the first time that the blues pioneer had committed an album length set to tape in one session.
Despite the quality of the material recorded on that showery Tuesday, Vee Jay Records opted only to release two songs from the session – A precise version of rhythm ace Freddie Williams’ ‘I Love You Honey’ emerged as a single in September, while a second cut, Hooker’s own ‘You’ve Taken My Woman’, was selected as the B-Side. Many of the remaining tracks subsequently became spun out within the complex fabric of retrospective releases and compilations that now account for so much of John Lee’s back catalogue.
The manner in which these songs were left to languish in Vee Jay’s vaults exemplifies the label’s laissez-faire approach to Hooker. Emboldened by the commercial success they had experienced with Jimmy Reed, Vee Jay’s General Manager, Ewart Abner, signed John Lee in mid-1955. Abner gambled on the notion that Hooker’s ability to create another hit along the lines of ‘Boogie Chillin’’ would serve to mitigate against any emergence of the vast amount of unreleased material he’d recorded for other R&B labels. Somewhat perversely, Vee Jay then recorded Hooker sparingly, with less than half-a-dozen singles appearing in the three years prior to June 1958. The Lou Della session was Hooker’s first for almost twelve months and the only time he recorded anything that Vee Jay deemed worthy of release in that calendar year. Such underemployment ensured that John Lee was compelled to maintain a hectic touring schedule in order to keep the wolf from his door. This policy was difficult to fathom, especially as the label had insisted that Hooker eschew solo guitar accompaniment in favour of recording with a full band, “Vee Jay wanted the big sound, “ he subsequently explained. “It was a good sound – a real good sound, a big fat sound.”
Despite this, John Lee had exhibited uncharacteristic fidelity toward Vee Jay, adhering to an exclusivity agreement throughout. The perennial problem of getting paid was also starting to rankle, “They didn’t want to give us advances of nothing,” he asserted. “They did me really in – me and Jimmy Reed. And we made them tons of money.” Hooker’s patience with Vee Jay finally reached exhaustion the following year, as after further sessions resulted in little that would find its way onto the label’s immediate release schedule, he opted to take a year-long break from the association to reassess his situation.
In retrospect, it appears that Hooker became a victim of the zeitgeist – As Berry Gordy was taking the first steps toward founding his Tamla Motown empire, his success with sweeter, vocal led R&B led to many labels – including Vee Jay – attempting to latch on to the accelerating bandwagon as a means of replicating the kind of commercial success being enjoyed by the likes of Jackie Wilson. This change of focus meant that the kind of South Side blues epitomised by John Lee’s output at the time became less of a priority.
It is perhaps telling, that of the material recorded at the 1958 session, ‘I Love You Honey’ and ‘You’ve Taken My Woman’ featured sweet piano embellishments from Joe Hunter, whereas the ten tracks featured on this collection included no such adornment. While serving to demonstrate the music industry’s customary short-sightedness, the fact that this material was allowed to languish in Vee Jay’s vaults not only suppressed some classic cuts, but also served to conceal the quality of the backing group assembled for the recording: John Lee’s lead was augmented by Jimmy Reed sideman Eddie Taylor (who had scored a hit for the label with ‘Bad Boy’ in 1955), alongside the experienced rhythm section of bassist Everett McCray and drummer Richard Johnson.
This quartet served up a series of sonic excursions notable for their subtlety and precision, with McCray’s stand-up bass particularly effective in supporting the mood of slow burning desire and crepuscular lust that infuse many of the songs included on this set. Demonstrating considerable empathy with Hooker’s customary rhythmic irregularities, the backing trio combined to create a series of rich textures onto which John Lee could project his organic, boogie-infused blues.
Lyrically, this corpus of songs reflected hardship and deprivation without undue romanticising: Raw and lusty, songs such as ‘Mama You Got A Daughter’, ‘Trying To Find A Woman’ ‘Love Me All The Time’, and most notably ‘Lou Della’ drip with an almost tangible sense of desire. The crepuscular, slithering ‘Nightmare’ again demonstrates Everett McCray’s gift for the understated, while ‘I’m Going Home’ delivers more reflective forms of subtlety. The rustic ‘Bundle Up And Go’ and the twelve-bar stroll of ‘Wrong Doing Woman’ are more direct, but the set’s pivotal track is the evocative an anecdotal ‘House Rent Boogie’. Featuring themes and perspectives that Hooker would later revisit and remodel, its spoken vocal transplants the storytelling tradition of country blues to the heart of the urban jungle. Rather than preach or opine, John Lee’s charm and humour infuse ‘House Rent Boogie’ with an indomitable, timeless spirit.
Although Hooker’s tenure at Vee Jay would ultimately result in an album in the shape of 1959’s I’m John Lee Hooker, that was a compilation of older material. Instead, it was The Country Blues of John Lee Hooker, recorded for Riverside Records that same year, which would serve to return John Lee to his unadorned best and establish his standing with a new, white audience that valued authenticity over commerciality. But that’s a whole other story. Lou Della captures a key juncture of Hooker’s career, preserved within the aspic of magnetic tape. It is a document of an artist at the crossroads, and as such represents a key stage in the long, meandering history of the blues.