I've been listening this weekend to the John Lee Hooker CD Live at the Café au Gogo (and Soledad Prison). The album collects music from two electrifying live sets. The first is from 1966, with Hooker backed by the Muddy Waters blues band, including Waters playing guitar and Otis Spann on piano. (There is, unsurprisingly, no harmonica — whether by necessity or design, Hooker tended towards a sparser sound.) Hooker and Waters, born in the early 1910s, were already in their fifties at the time. The second set is from 1972, when Hooker was 59. The age the bluesmen bring to the proceedings is demonstrated not by any decline in technical skill or passion but rather the advanced craftsmanship that comes with decades of dedicated experience. Hooker is in fine voice throughout the record, strong and soulful. Sometimes Waters and the band hang back a bit, with their focus on supporting Hooker, and sometimes they let loose a bit more, as on "I Don't Want No Trouble" and "I'll Never Get Out of These Blues Alive". The Soledad Prison set also makes for a great listen, rowdier and more energetic than the Café au Gogo performance. It's all infectious, grooving blues you can really lean into.
Hooker started his music career in the 1940s, and he kept recording and touring until his death in 2001 at 88 (or 88ish — the exact date and location of his birth is in dispute). Early on, to scrape together money to live on, he'd record with several different record companies at once under various pseudonyms. "Boom Boom", "Boogie Chillen'", and "Crawling Kingsnake" may be his most famous songs. And George Thorogood had a hit when he combined "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer", a song Hooker had covered and adapted, with a Hooker-composed talking blues called "House Rent Boogie". Like Muddy Waters, Hooker was one of the blues artists whose work found a wider audience with the reevaluation and revival of the blues in the 1960s. And on his late period albums, including the Grammy-winning Don't Look Back, he was joined by a host of big-name talent eager to play with the legend.
Hooker had a unique sound, whether playing solo or with accompaniment — his signature was a driving, rhythmic boogie beat underlying each piece, sometimes changing tempo within a song. Hooker alternated easily between electric and acoustic guitar.
One strength of music is that it can be done by one person — many John Lee Hooker recordings are just the man himself, singing, playing guitar, and stomping the floor for percussion — or a collaboration of several great artists working together — this live album being a prime example of the latter.
And one thing I love about comics is that they can be done in collaboration — with different people doing the writing, drawing, coloring, and lettering — or all by the same person.
This week marks the one year anniversary of my solo comic Flesh Machine. I've been posting new pages every Tuesday at michaelavolio.com, where you can read it for free, for a full year now. I'm taking this week off in celebration (and to finish the sample comic pages for the secret project my Patreon patrons know about), but I'll be back next Tuesday with new Flesh Machine pages. And the Tuesday after that. Etc...
You can share Flesh Machine with anyone you think might enjoy this sci-fi war romance — the whole comic so far is archived there on my site, with a lot more to come.
Thanks for reading, and here's to the next year of making comics!