Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Mississippi Roots of John Lee Hooker



We’ll take a look at the Mississippi John Lee Hooker, his roots and influences, the music that impacted him when he was young. John Lee Hooker’s music has an undeniable urban grit that came from his detroit surroundings, but Mississippi was at his core and you could hear it in every song he ever recorded. The Hook was born August 22, 1912 outside of Clarksdale. His early years would have been musically defined by church music. But before long he discovered the blues.

Hooker’s earliest blues influence was another Clarksdale bluesman, Tony Hollins. Hollins is best remembered today because he’s associated with two songs that became standards: Crawling King Snake and Cross Cut Saw. The story of his association with John Lee Hooker begins with Hollins dating a young John Lee’s sister. The sister had responsibility for taking care of her younger brother. Hollins was quick to discover that when you stuck a guitar in Hooker’s hands, the kid would be occupied for hours, freeing up the sister for some alone time. Hollins gave Hooker his first guitar and John Lee would go onto to cite his influence his whole life.Let’s start with a song of Hooker would later incorporate into his own music: Traveling Man Blues:

Boys, when my first wife quit me, Lord, it put me on the road
I said, when my first wife quit me, boys, it put me on the road
I ain't got no home, ain't got no place to go
Lord, and I've been traveling ever since my wife been gone
Lord, and I've been traveling ever since my wife been gone
I ain't found nobody that I could call my own
Lord, she was a kind-hearted girl, just as good as she could be
Lord, she was a kind-hearted girl, just as good as she could be
But the reason we ain't together today, baby, I wanted every woman I'd see
Lord, when I started to traveling I never had no place to go
I said, when I started to traveling, never had no place to go
But if I get my wife back again, ooh boys, I ain't gonna travel no more

Crawlin' King Snake:

I'm gonna crawl into your window, baby, crawl into your door
Got anything I want, mama, gonna curl up on your floor
'Cause I'm a crawling king snake, and I rule my den
Don't wanna catch you hanging around my mate, gonna use you for my friend
Well I need feeding mama so I can get it down
If you don't feed me I'm gonna crawl back in the ground
'Cause I'm a crawling king snake, and I rule my den
Don't wanna catch you hanging around my mate, gonna use you for my friend
Well you caught me crawling baby, the bed was very high
Gonna keep on crawling mama until the day I die
'Cause I'm a crawling king snake, and I rule my den
Don't wanna catch you hanging around my mate, gonna use you for my friend
I'm gonna crawl into your window, baby, crawl into your bed
Make you remember the words that you have said
'Cause I'm a crawling king snake, and I rule my den
Don't wanna catch you hanging around my mate, gonna use you for my friend

More than anyone else, John Lee Hooker credited his stepfather Will Moore as the key influence in developing his sound. Hooker always said it was Moore that put the boogie in the music. Will Moore never recorded, but he was an associate of Charley Patton and one of Patton's numbers, Pea Vine Blues was a song that Moore frequently played:

I think I heard the Pea Vine when it blowed
I think I heard the Pea Vine when it blowed
It blow just like my rider getting on board
Well, the levee sinking, you know I...
(spoken: Baby, you know I can't stay!)
The levee is sinking, Lord, you know I cannot stay
I'm going up the country, mama, in a few more days
Yes, you know it, she know it, she know you done done me wrong
Yes, you know it, you know it, you know you done done me wrong
Yes, you know it, you know it, you know you done done me wrong
Yes, I cried last night and I ain't gonna cry anymore
I cried last night and I, I ain't gonna cry anymore
'Cause the good book tells us you've got to reap just what you sow
Stop your way of living and you won't...
(spoken: You won't have to cry no more, baby!)
Stop your way of living and you won't have to cry no more
Stop your way of living and you won't have to cry no more
I think I heard the Pea Vine when she blowed
I think I heard Pea Vine when she blowed
She blowed just like she wasn't gonna blow no more

John Lee Hooker recorded his own version of Pea Vine Blues that on his Country Blues of John Lee Hooker album released in 1960:

Well, I thought I heard that pea vine when she blow
Well, I thought I heard that pea vine when she blow
You know it blow just like it, ain't gonna blow no more
I'm gonna catch my pony boys, saddle up my black mare, oh yeah
I'm gonna catch my little pony boys, gonna saddle up my black mare
I'm gonna find my baby, she's in the world somewhere
I ain't got no money boys, I can't ride the train
I ain't got no money boys, I can't ride that train
But I thought I heard this morning that pea vine when she blow
Carrying my baby away, carrying my baby away
Carrying my baby away, carrying my baby away
Carrying my baby away
You know it blow just like
Ain't gonna bring my baby back no more
I'm gonna catch my pony boys
Gonna saddle up my black mare
I'm gonna leave ya jogging
Jogging on away from here
John Lee Hooker was of the generation that learned not only from the people they knew, but had the opportunity to learn music from records. Blind Lemon Jefferson was one of the most popular of the eraly coutry blues musicians. John Lee Hooker would have known is records and probably listened to the frequently as a young man. See That My Grave is Kept Clean:

Well, there's one kind favor I ask of you
Well, there's one kind favor I ask of you
Lord, there's one kind favor I'll ask of you
See that my grave is kept clean
It’s a long lane got no end
It’s a long lane and it's got no end
It’s a long lane and it's got no end
It's a bad wind that never change
Lord, it’s two white horses in a line
Well, it’s two white horses in a line
Well, it’s two white horses in a line
Gonna take my to my burying ground
My heart stopped beating and my hands got closed
My heart stopped beating and my hands got closed
Well, my heart stopped beating, Lord, my hands got closed
It wasn't long 'fore they took me to a cypress grove
Have you ever heard a coffin sound?
Have you ever heard a coffin sound?
Have you ever heard a coffin sound?
Then you know that the poor boy is in the ground
Oh, dig my grave with a silver spade
Just dig my grave with a silver spade
Well, dig my grave with a silver spade
You may lead me down with a golden chain
Have you ever heard them church bells toll?
Have you ever heard them church bells toll?
Have you ever heard them church bells toll?
Then you know that the poor boy's dead and gone

In 1949, John Lee Hooker was recorded playing a private party with just an acoustic guitar. The songs included Two White Horses in a Line:


Two white horses in a line
Yes, two white horses in a line
Gonna take me to my burying ground
Dig my grave with a silver spade
Dig my grave with a silver spade
Let me down with a golden chain
Dig my grave with a silver spade
Yes, it's a mighty long lane ain't got no end
Yes, it's a mighty long lane ain't got no end
Yes, it's a mighty bad wind, don't never change
It's a long long lane ain't got no end
You can dig my grave with a silver spade
You can dig my grave with a silver spade
And let me down with a golden chain
Yes, there's two white horses in a line
Yes, there's two white horses in a line
Gonna take me to my burying ground
And dig my grave with a silver spade
And lay my guitar by my head
And lay my old guitar down by my head
Yes and dig my grave
All you can say I'm dead and gone
Yes, there's two white horses in a line
Yes, there's two white horses in a line
Gonna take me to my burying ground
Long long lane ain't got no end
Leroy Carr was arguably the most popular blues musician of his time. His records certainly influenced John Lee Hooker including When the Sun Goes Down:

In the evening, mama
When the sun goes down
In the evening, baby
When the sun goes down
Well, ain't it lonesome
Ain't it lonesome, babe
When your love is not around?
When the sun goes down
Last night, I laid a-sleeping I was thinking to myself
Last night, I laid a-sleeping I was thinking to myself
Well, what I been thinking Is why that the one that you love
Will mistreat you for someone else? 
When the sun goes down
The sun rises in the east and it sets up in the west
The sun rises in the east, mama and it set's in the west
Well, it's hard to tell, hard to tell, which one will treat you the best
When the sun goes down
Good-bye old sweetheart and pals, yes, I'm going away
But I may be back to see you again some old rainy day
Well, in the evening, in the evening when the sun goes down
When the sun goes down
John Lee Hooker played When the Sun Goes Down at that same 1949 party:

In the evening, when the sun goes
In the evening, when the sun goes
That’s when I miss you darling
I can’t keep from crying, just can’t keep from crying
You know I miss you, I just can’t keep from crying
I want you by my side darling everywhere i go
Because night time is the right time to be with the one you love
With the one you love
You know I miss you so
I can’t stand to see you go baby
You know it hurts me so
Because night time is the right time to be with the one you love
With the one you love
Every morning when I wake up
You know I hang out my tears darling
My tears to dry
You know I miss you darling
Can’t stand to see you go
Just to see you go
Although I miss you, you so far away
Because night time is the right time to be with the one you love
With the one you love

John Lee Hooker continued the great Mississippi blues tradition of describing natural disaster when he recorded the song about the Tupelo, Mississippi flood. Hooker's describing events of decades earlier when he recorded Tupelo Blues for the 1960 Country Blues album.

Did you read about the flood?
Happened long time ago in Tupelo, Mississippi
There were thousands of lives destroyed
It rained, it rained both night and day
The poor people was worried, didn't have no place to go
Could hear may people, crying "Lord, have mercy"
'Cause You're the only one that we can turn to
Happened a long time ago
A little town  way back in Mississippi, in Tupelo
There was women, and there was children
They were screaming and crying
Crying, "Lord, have mercy
You're the only one now, that we can turn to
Way back down in Mississippi, a little country town
I know you read about it
'Cause I'll never forget it
The mighty flood in Tupelo, Mississippi
Been years ago
Lord, have mercy
Wasn't that a mighty time?
Tupelo's gone
John Lee Hooker repeatedly said that Mississippi had the best blues because it was the worst state. His experiences as a child and young man in the state clearly shaped the musician he became.

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