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Posts Tagged ‘John Lee Hooker’

I am at work on a large commissioned piece. As a rule, I don’t like doing commissions because I sometimes fear the client’s aims and expectations will somehow cloud my creative process and ultimately make the painting less than it might otherwise be. And for me, trying to please someone else’s eye rather than my own is not usually conducive to good work.

And at the beginning of this particular painting, that definitely seemed the case.

I had several reference photos that were provided by the client to give me context and as general guidelines for the kind of landscape they hoped for in the painting. I don’t normally– actually, I never– work from reference photos. I don’t know why but in this case I tried to remain absolutely faithful to them.

It wasn’t good.

I spent a few frustrating days repeatedly laying out the piece then painting it over to restart again. It just didn’t move, didn’t feel alive. It made me tense and a little angry to where I finally came to a place where I determined that I was being too fixated on accuracy and was setting aside the things that I felt were important to me in my work– rhythm, line and pattern.

This was my painting so it had to excite and please me first. I made the decision to have it do just that and began making big changes that would imbue it with the things I needed to see and feel in it. I began to move things around, cutting away elements in the composition and changing the flow of the landscape.

It began to grow in a more organic and less thought out way. Each step got me more engaged and more excited, each subsequent layer of color bringing it a bit more vibrant and alive. I worked last night on it, leaving as it came to a point where it is has all its momentum steaming forward. All of it’s potential seems now evident to me and it feels like it is a balloon filled to the absolute limit, ready to burst at any instant into a mass of color and movement.

For me, this is the most exciting point of a painting. It’s there and I just have to tear away the shell that is keeping it restrained. I feel a palpable excitement looking at it this morning.

I feel good.

I can’t show you any in progress shots because I believe this is meant to be a surprise gift. So I will instead show a very old watercolor from around 1994 which acts as a segue to a little music from the venerable John Lee Hooker and a song whose title and feeling absolutely hit the mark this morning.  It’s his boogie classic I Feel Good.  I call the painting Leroi’s Yellow Guitar.

I could paint to this all day long…

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I was going to write something this morning about the craziness going on in the current administration. But after a while I began to think that there was no point in it. Those of you who see things as I do with me would nod in agreement.  

And if you still believe there is a single bit of honesty, decency, empathy, or any other positive qualities residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, then you most likely will never be swayed by my opinion.  If you honestly believe that this person cares about anything but himself and the fortunes of a few friends and family members, then you and I reside on two different planets, my friend. 

So, to spare myself the aggravation, I decide to focus on an old favorite who I’ve neglected in the last year or two, blues legend John Lee Hooker. I wrote the following here back in 2008 and didn’t include any of his music.  I was new to this blog thing and didn’t even know how to embed a video at that point. So, here’s that post with the music.

Have a good day, if you can.

I remember coming across an old John Lee Hooker album at a used record shop on Market Street in Corning, NY in the 1970’s.  It was a beaten piece of vinyl titled Folk Blues.  I was just a kid and had no idea who John Lee Hooker was but the album cover had a certain gritty, real feel to it and besides, it was only a buck.

It was from the early 60’s, scratched and worn,  and I remember the pops and crackles when I first put down the needle.  Didn’t sound hopeful but when his guitar and rhythm section kicked in on songs like Bad Boy and Rock House Boogie ( both tracks from the early 1950’s) it was pure magic.  It was simple, direct and raw. The guitar sound was like downed power lines arcing in a storm.

I was hooked by Hooker.

To the casual listener, Hooker’s music could seem repetitive and narrowly focused but to me that was the genius of it.  His reexaminations of certain grooves revealed nuance and subtlety that could be easily lost in the distraction of an insanely hypnotic rhythm.

I view my work at times like Hooker’s music.  There is sometimes repetition of form, of compositional elements but that is by design.  Because I am working in a defined form it allows me to spend more creative effort on nuance– texture, color subtlety and quality of line.  The result is a piece that fits easily into the body of my work but has its own feel, its own life.  Its own groove.

As John Lee would say, boogie, chillen…

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GC Myers- Song of Searching smSunday morning.  Time for some music to fit the mood of the early day.  It feels kind of bluesy today but in a quiet way, typical for many Sunday mornings.  I immediately go to my default guy, John Lee Hooker and his 1991 collaboration, from his album Mr. Lucky,  with another favorite, Van Morrison.  The song is titled I Cover the Waterfront. While it shares a title, this song is not to be confused with the more well known song from the 30’s, most famously covered by the great Billie Holiday with a version that is also a fave of mine.  I’m sure Holiday’s version influenced Hooker’s song if only in setting the emotional tone and pace.

Both are beautiful in their own ways.  What the hell, I’ll put up both versions.  Hope one of these sets the tone for a cool and easy Sunday for you.

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Long John Baldry It Aint Easy Cover 1971I remember my brother bringing home this album from some guy I had never heard of before  back in the early 70’s.  I also remember putting it on the turntable and being instantly hooked.  The guy was Long John Baldry and the album was It Ain’t Easy.  Baldry was a 6’7″ ( hence the nickname) British blues singer who was one of the first Brits to sing American blues in the English clubs of the late 50’s and early 60’s which led to the blues explosion there that re-ignited the dwindling careers of many American bluesmen, such as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon and many others.  Elton John and Rod Stewart and many others had started their careers in Baldry’s early bands and went on to greater acclaim than Baldry when they moved away from the blues and American folk that he so embraced.  Baldry was content playing this music for most of his career, outside of a short foray into lushly orchestrated Big Band crooning that gave him a #1 hit in the UK with Let the Heartaches Begin.

Baldry lived in Canada from the  late 70’s on and passed away in 2005 at the age of 64.  He did a lot of voiceover work late in his life with one  of his best known roles in voice acting was as Dr Robotnik in Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.  This was news to me when I read it in his Wikipedia biography but it doesn’t take away from a really unique performer.

I dug up the a vinyl version of this album several years back when I wasn’t able to find it on CD or digitally.  I was so glad when I listened to it and found that it is still a really solid group of work, not just some idealized remembrance of a 14  year old mind.   Others must think so as well as it  is now widely available .  This was the first thing I ever heard from him, Don’t Try to Lay No Boogie Woogie ( On the King of Rock and Roll) which is introduced by an entertaining little tale from his early days called Conditional Discharge.

 

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John Lee HookerI have been listening to my young friend Michael Mattice‘s debut CD, Comin’ Home,  quite a bit lately.  It’s been really well received, putting him regularly near the top of the “hot releases” in acoustic blues list from Amazon.  The mp3 album has been as high as #18 on their top 100 and currently sits at #84 in acoustic blues.  A really prodigious start for a self-produced album with no real promotion outside of the word of mouth created by Mike’s shows.   Like I said here before,  based not on sheer talent (of which he has loads) but on his devotion and drive, I see big things for him.

But the point of this is that listening to Mike brought me back to one of my first musical loves, the late blues great  John Lee Hooker.  Oh, I had favorite bands and songs but it was John Lee who I felt first spoke to me directly.  I remember coming across an old beaten up copy of one of his albums from the 50’s when i was in my teens.  It was a revelation, a sonic slap in the face with distorted electric wails coming from his guitar, all in a mesmerizing rhythm.

I didn’t know anything about the man at the time, didn’t know that he couldn’t read or his place in the history of the blues.  Didn’t even know of his rebirth a few years before my finding his album as a result of the British Invasion of the 1960’s, when youngs Brits discovered and brought the music of the great bluesmen to the world’s attention, giving them new and greater fame than they had had in their primes.

None of that mattered.  It was just the groove on that album that counted.

I found and listened to more of John Lee’s music over the years.  I was intrigued by the constancy of much of  it, the driving rhythm that is his signature which pervades most of his work.  Some might call it repetition.  I didn’t see it that way.  It was all about nuance and subtle explorations within the form and performance.  You know a John Lee Hooker song immediately but each is different and carries its own weight and emotion.

I carried that thought with me when I began painting and hoped that my work would operate in that same way.  I wanted to have that repetitive quality so that the work would be easily identified as mine but to have the differentiation  occur in the individual performance of the act of  painting.  By limiting what I painted I was able to go deeper into an exploration of the subtle aspects of the composition.  They sometime looked similar but were often widely different in tone and emotion.

When it works I feel like John Lee Hooker must have when he was in his groove.  One of my favorite lines from one of his albums, I believe it was a live set from Soledad Prison, was- “If you can’t dig this, you got a hole in your soul… and that ain’t good

Here’s a video from the 60’s when he was in midst of being found by the youth around the world.  It’s one of his trademark songs, Boom Boom.

Late addition: Here’s the song from Soledad Prison– Boogie Everywhere I Go. Be careful– it’s a deep groove.

 

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Big Mama Thorton at the 1965 American Folk Blues

After writing a short post about Stevie Ray Vaughan  the other day, marking 20 years since his death, I felt like hearing some blues.  Old school stuff.  After listening to a bit in the studio, I went searching for some old Buddy Guy online and came across a great piece of film from the American Folk Blues Festival in 1965. 

 It was a beautifully shot and produced performance by Big Mama Thorton backed by a young, slick Buddy Guy. She rambles out and belts out her best known song, Hound Dog.  Yes, the same song that propelled Elvis to mega-stardom.  There are a lot of purists who throw a lot of hate towards Elvis for taking Big Mama’s song and moving it out of the realm of race records, for making it a big hit on the predominantly white pop charts.  I’m not one of them.  I think Elvis did a great version of the song and in many ways it helped artists such as Big Mama find their way to a wider, more diverse audience.  And Big Mama did a version that was different than Elvis’.  It rocked hard in a bluesier, earthier way.  Big Mama was like a  human earthquake.

Check out this performance.  The sound and camera work is really top notch especially for a performance video of that era.  I’ve also included a video from the same session with Big Mama and several other bluesmen including Big Walter Horton and Doc Ross trading licks on their harps.  Check out John Lee Hooker on his harp, his trademark  guitar nowhere to be seen.  You ever see this one, David?

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Hooker

I remember coming across an old John Lee Hooker album at a used record shop on Market Street in Corning, NY in the 1970’s.  It was a beaten piece of vinyl titled Folk Blues.  I was just a kid and had no idea who John Lee Hooker was but the album cover had a certain gritty, real feel to it and besides, it was only a buck.

It was from the early 50’s, scratched and worn,  and I remember the pops and crackles when I first put down the needle.  Didn’t sound hopeful but when his guitar and rhythm section kicked in on songs like Bad Boy and Rock House Boogie it was pure magic.  It was simple, direct and raw. The guitar sound was like downed power lines arcing in a storm.

I was hooked by Hooker.

To the casual listener, Hooker’s music could seem repetitive and narrowly focused but to me that was the genius of it.  His reexaminations of certain grooves revealed nuance and subtlety that could be easily lost in the distraction of an insanely hypnotic rhythm.

I view my work at times like Hooker’s music.  There is sometimes repetition of form, of compositional elements but that is by design.  Because I am working in a defined form it allows me to spend more creative effort on nuance– texture, color subtlety and quality of line.  The result is a piece that fits easily into the body of my work but has its own feel, its own life.  Its own groove.

As John Lee would say, boogie, chillen…

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