Canned Heat and John Lee Hooker

Hooker 'N Heat (Liberty, EMi 72) Rating: B+
It amazes me how much good music is out there waiting to be discovered by those willing to make the effort. Take this rarely remembered live album, for instance, on which blues legend John Lee Hooker teamed up with the underrated blues boogie band Canned Heat for a summit that exceeded expectations. Actually, the first six songs are Hooker solo, and he offers up solid but hardly revelatory renditions of the type of spare, stomping swamp blues songs that he's best known for. The unsung hero of the album, harp player Al Wilson, then joins Hooker on track seven ("Drifter"), and their mutual admiration is obvious (Hooker: "I don't know how you follow me but you do"). The music is agreeably raw, and my visual image is seeing these guys playing dingy clubs due to a sheer love of their music, and that spirit is what makes the best bits on this album so special. The album really takes off when the rest of Canned Heat joins Hooker on track 13 ("Whiskey And Wimmin'" - that's track 3 on disc two now), making it easy to see why way back when this album made quite an impression with rock audiences (I myself rarely listen to disc one, which can be a bit boring at times). Anyway, being that both of these artists have about as much range as The Ramones or Motorhead, it's pretty easy to know what to expect when they get together. Still, these loose, largely improvised jam sessions really pick up a full head of steam towards the end of the album (I can see why Rolling Stone recently proclaimed guitarist Henry Vestine as one of the 100 greatest ever; not that I necessarily agree, mind you), culminating with the almost 12-minute "Boogie Chillen No. 2," for my money the highlight here. When Hooker exhorts "I feel good" and "I wanna boogie" it's easy to believe him, and though his "boogie woogie" vocalizing seems silly at times and I can do without the unnecessarily overdubbed studio chatter between the songs, by and large this was a very successful union that increased the stock of all involved. I can practically see Hooker stalking the stage as the band stomps away behind him, but I can also picture him cracking a smile on several occasions, such was the positive vibe in the air that was almost perfectly captured on most of the second cd of Hooker 'N Heat.

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