Blues, blues, blues: John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf cross the color line

 

In the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, the Blues, a folk music born out of the sorrow songs of enslaved African people, evolved into a bonafide music genre independent of the canon of American traditional music. It was the bridge to rock ‘n’ roll.

The Real Folk Blues was a series of records put out by Chess. These are two compilations from 1966.

Blues musicians had made record deals and gained a following across racial boundaries. But even as artists like John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf were crossing the color line, others were being arrested  for the very same thing.

Hooker and The Wolf were both sons of Mississippi, as were a great many other blues artists, both started their careers in the 30s and 40s, but they didn’t reach widespread fame until 60s when both exploded in popularity in the British Isles.

The following is a sound and vision tribute to two great artists.

 

Hooker plays his first hit “Boogie Chillen”  from 1948 (performance from 1992).

 

Wolf sings “Killing Floor” (performance from 1970). He passed away in 1976.

 

It’s a striking feature of the next few performances that they are in front of an entirely white, British audience. These men were international stars, but still would have been called names and given dirty looks in many places in the states.

Note the cornball follow-up act that we supposedly are going to “remember for a long time.” Yeah…right.

 

The Rolling Stones introduce Howlin’ Wolf on Shindig.

 

The Wolf performs his signature tune, “Smokestack Lightning,” while on tour in Britain.

 

John Lee Hooker – “Boom! Boom!” (on BBC)

 

An old, acoustic Hooker tune: “I’m Wandering”

 

In 1970, Wolf went to London with his guitarist, the great Hubert Sumlin, and recorded with British rock artists, hardcore blues devotees, who had became stars in their own right: Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Steve Winwood and Ringo Starr.

 

“Sitting on Top of the World”

 

“The Red Rooster”

 

In that same year, Hooker recorded an album with American blues band Canned Heat. While Wolf’s session are certainly significant, the Hooker ‘n Heat album marked a new era in American music. The accomplishments of the Civil Rights era were on display. It was Hoooker, not Canned Heat, who got top billing.

 

“The Feelin’ is Gone”

 

“It’s All Right”

 

Nick Skiles is arts & entertainment editor for The Aviso AVW.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Thanks for including Canned Heat’s collaborative album with John Lee Hooker in your essay. Recognition for the older artists who inspired them was extremely important to Canned Heat. They were also significant in the revival of Albert Collins’ career, and even before forming Canned Heat, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson had played a part in the rediscovery of elderly Delta master Son House. Later, when they recorded Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Work Together”, they made sure to wait until Harrison’s version of the song had peaked, so as not to “steal the thunder” from the original artist’s single.

    Thanks again for remembering Canned Heat’s great work with John Lee Hooker! Keep on boogeying.

    Like

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