John Lee Hooker, Jr. puts the life of the blues behind him and focuses on inspirational themes

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:: John Lee Hooker, Jr. :: Samana Lounge (Vail) :: February 21 ::
:: The Goat Tavern (Keystone) :: February 22 ::
:: The Little Bear :: February 23 and 24 :: 

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By Neil McIntyre

“That’s what it’s about, sharing love — loving people even when they’re on the ground,” said John Lee Hooker, Jr. in a recent interview with The Marquee. This mantra has been the basis for the powerful bluesman’s career and it seems to be working. After all, he learned the lesson from none other than his father, blues legend John Lee Hooker.

“It feels good to know all that he has done throughout the world. It’s great,” said Junior in a phone conversation from his California home. Junior is busy carrying on the tradition his father created. Being the son of a musical legend is no easy task. Big expectations follow Hooker everywhere he goes and many people feel he has impossibly large shoes to fill, but he is approaching that in a unique way that allows him to eschew some of that pressure. “I’m not trying to fill (my father’s shoes). I’m just trying to walk behind them,” he said with a laugh that speaks to his easy demeanor.  

When most people think about blues music they think about pain and suffering. Often a blues musician is seen as the victim of the hard-knock life that has been the inspiration to sing and share his or her misery. But many a talented blues musician find themselves uplifting their audience, and that is where Junior finds his comfort zone, even though he too struggled with demons for the better part of two decades, going through his own battles with drugs, alcohol, divorce and incarceration, all of which could have brought his once-promising career to a screeching halt.

Junior was his father’s prodigy early on, even performing with his father in the early 1970s as a teenager. But it took Junior living out the aforementioned hard-knock life to appreciate and understand how to make something meaningful of his talent and the lessons his dad taught him on stage and off.

John Lee Hooker, Sr. was known to perform inspirational miracles, captivating his audiences and transporting them other places. The master of the sexual innuendo, Senior, who was thought of as racy for his time, was clever and subtle by today’s standards.

These signature analogies and similes became the standard for future blues writers. In this work-a-day world it’s been said that we all have our own proverbial cotton field somewhere — our cubicle has become our crucible and our master the all-mighty-dollar; we all need a songster to spin a song for us, to poke fun at the boss man to get us through the day’s work. 

John Lee Hooker, Jr. might just be this super-hero we need to save the day. When one talks to Junior they can immediately sense that his father’s dedication to traditional blues continues in his son’s heart. “He raised me from a baby … I traveled with him, performed in his band and everything,” he said with boyish enthusiasm. Many children of musicians, much less bluesman, do not have the luxury of knowing their fathers, nor the joy of spending time with them to help pass on the family trade. This fact is not lost on Junior, he appreciates everything his dad taught him and the time they spent together. When some second generation musicians seek to distance themselves from their roots and carve a niche of their own, Junior is content to be a chip off the old block. “My father told me to work hard, be honest, dare to be different and love all people,” he said.

Working hard has been exactly what Junior has been up to lately. With a new CD, Cold as Ice, Junior has been touring relentlessly.

Cold as Ice follows on the heals of Junior’s 2004 debut, Blues with a Vengeance, which earned him rave reviews. That debut album won not only the W.C. Handy Award for best new artist debut and the California Music Award for outstanding Blues Album of the year, but also a Grammy nomination.

Taking his father’s advice to dare to be different, Junior incorporates funk and R&B into his music to keep the dance floor moving. And being honest in his love for all people is reflected in his no nonsense approach to his trade. Junior gives it to his listeners as-is, with an amazing ability to connect with his audience and with today’s aspiring artist.

“We’ve got some great musicians out there. Send a message to all aspiring musicians and entertainers to work hard, dare to be different, look at your roots — the B.B. Kings the John Lee Hookers, the Buddy Guys, Elmore James — study them, do your homework, then put that homework to use. Go out in the field and work hard, you might sing in front of two or three people and that’s okay. It’s not about the crowd (size). It’s about influencing people with the love of music and certainly it will grow at some point. Work to show people love through your music,” he said.

 

:: John Lee Hooker, Jr. ::

:: Samana Lounge (Vail) :: February 21 ::

:: The Goat Tavern (Keystone) :: February 22 ::

:: The Little Bear :: February 23 and 24 ::

 

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