John Lee HOOKER – Jack O'Diamonds,1949 Recordings 2004

John Lee HOOKER – Jack O’Diamonds,1949 Recordings 2004

Blues

Lost for more than 50 years, these sessions–engineered by cartoonist and blues fan Gene Deitch at his home in Detroit– feature a young Hooker performing solo on acoustic guitar. The clarity and intimacy of the recording is astounding. While the bluesman’s sound got leaner and meaner over the years, there is an intensity here that dazzles, all the more so for the minimalist setting. In addition, Hooker’s repertoire at the time included spirituals and songs he learned growing up, many that he never recorded again. JACK O’ DIAMONDS, then, amounts to a very unique document from this blues legend.

Navigating John Lee Hooker’s mammoth, multi-label discography can be a formidable task, one made no less daunting by a slew of compilations and reissues of early material. Given the superior quality of these performances, however, with their dark, spare atmosphere driven by Hooker’s hypnotic, primitive riffs and soulful, understated singing, JACK O’ DIAMONDS: 1949 RECORDINGS is a buried treasure.
**
Early recordings of Hook from a private party in 1949. Vocal stylings are still nascent, not as confident or wild as he’d get, but the guitar is in place, as the liners rightly point out. All enjoyable stuff for fans, not strictly for musicologists either, though killer standout tracks are in short supply.
**
This is 1949. Johhnie Lee is young. It is the moment just before big initial hits “Boogie Chillen” and “Boom Boom Boom” hit the market.

We’re not in a recording studio. We’re in the living room of a Detroit blues lover who had him over for dinner and a party. Instead of the repertoire record sellers demand so they could claim each tune for their thieving selves, we have Hooker, free, requested not to play that music. He’s playing in the African American tradition not competing for bucks with other R & B stars.

Instead, Hooker sings hymns, folk songs, blues that radiated out from recording of the great 1920s bluesmasters like Leroy Carr to become effectively traditional, tunes Hooker brought up to Detroit from Clarksdale, Mississippi. This recording shows us that while the greed and stereotyping of the record industry restricted Black guitarists like Hooker to blues, Hooker at least retained a very good selection of traditional dance tunes, hymns,and other African American folk songs.

I love “How Long Blues” and “In the Evening when the Sun Go Down.” If you don’t know Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain,” is simply a remake of Leroy Carr’s “In the Evening,” you will know that after they hear Hooker’s powerful rendition on this CD. There is more pain and more poetry in Hooker’s “Catfish Blues,” than in the sexier version Muddy Waters put out about the same time. Johnnie Lee isn’t singing about hunger for sex, but hunger for love, deep heart hunger that he will sing about for the rest of his life.

Hooker’s rhythmic power rocks the Hymn “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel.” “Jack of Diamonds” is smack dabb in the middle between banjo songs and blues. He does “Rabitt on the Log” an African American version of a song made famous as “feast here to night by the Monroe Brothers.” The Blackness of these tunes is manifest in these versions. You see the sistas and brothers back in the juke joint or in a house dance really moving to Hooker’s voice and guitar, maybe with a fiddle, a mandolin or eeven a banjo beside him to these tunes. Even Big Monroe sounds tame Johnnie Lee whose bunny seems to ache with love hunger.

I was touched by “I Wonder,” a Pop/RB tune out at the time of this recording. Hooker barely knows the words and stumbles a few times. Yet, it is an early example of the subtlety, poetry and pure heart and feeling that Hooker often reaches when he is singing non blues pop or jazz songs. He doesn’t need the perfect words to express himself. He treats them like a blues, where every singer is expected to change the words, even the melody at times to create create a their very ownmeaning, that song becoming absolutely their song at that moment, not just repeating someone else’s tune.

Hooker will do this later on standards like “I cover the Waterfront,” “Sentimenta1 Journey,” and even on “I left my Heart in San Fransisco” which Hooker will refashion into the “‘Frisco Blues.”

Here, he is singing this in someone’s living room, and you are touched. Rather than the primitive that Hooker is often viewed as, he was a distinctive and creative artist with a sensitive gift for feeling, nuance, and meaning, a creative force armed with a unique combination of the traditional African American music feel, educated in the deep Mississippi Blues, but ready with the modern technology of the electric guitar and boogie rhythm to take this out to touch the entire world.

The remastered sound here is first rate thanks to the fact that the person who recorded it had a state of the art professional tape recorder in his home, and that this CD is being reissued as part of the Hooker estate’s effort to bring out Hooker’s music in quality editions.

Hookers singing is more personal, more vibrant, and even a bit shy here compared to his other recordings. The guitar playing is apparently acoustic, but it is very rhythmic, very sharp, very much Hooker with the tunes perhaps a bit faster than normal.

If you love Hooker, you must have this album. If you are interested in the places where the Blues and traditional southern African American music meet, you must have this album.
If you want Johnnie Lee to come into your home to sing and play while you share good wine and better food, you must buy this CD!
By  Tony Thomas.
**
As I, Gene Deitch, am the man that recorded John Lee Hooker at my Detroit home in 1949 – the very tapes that over 50 years later have been issued on the Eagle Records CD, entitled “Jack O’Diamonds: 1949 Recordings,” I am extremely gratified by the warm and loving reviews appearing here. Thank you.
By Gene Deitch.
**
01.Guitar Blues Instrumental 3:20
02.Two White Horses 3:21
03.Trouble In Mind 3:57
04.Catfish Blues 2:51
05.John Henry 3:08
06.How Long Blues 3:31
07.Ezeskiel Saw The Wheel 2:57
08.Jack O’ Diamonds 2:47
09.Water Boy 3:54
10.Six Little Puppies And Twelve Shaggy Dogs 4:20
11.In The Evening When The Sun Goes Down 4:38
12.Old Blind Barnabes 2:28
13.Moses Smote The Water 1:56
14.Spoken Interlude 0:33
15.Rabbit On The Log 4:02
16.Come And See About Me 2:14
17.33 Blues 2:04
18.She’s Real Gone 2:13
19.I Wonder 2:45
20.Untitled Slow Blues 3:01
**


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