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JSP (JSP77188)

John Lee Hooker, Eddie Burns, Richard Brothers, Big Jack Reynolds, Sylvester Cotton, Alfred Durham, L.C. Green & Sam Kelly, James Walton, Bobo Jenkins and Eddie Kirkland.

A new set of hard-hitting Detroit blues from the late 1940s to the late 1950s, a period when the city was (unlike today) an expanding source of prosperity, jobs and opportunity arising out of its emergence as a major world centre of motor vehicle production.

While this attracted many bluesmen from the southern states to re-locate (either to pursue a musical career or just to find a job and life whereby their music was just an enjoyable side-line), peculiarly the city did not attract any major record label interest until the rise of Motown a little later on. As such, any recording in the city was left to small independent labels and the 100 sides presented across these four CDs are drawn from some of these small labels.

The main attraction here is the earliest recordings of John Lee Hooker, first invited to the studios by record store owner Elmer Barbee who had set up a recording facility in a room at the rear of his shop. The pair persisted together for almost a year before Hooker’s Boogie Chillun eventually became a hit and he moved elsewhere to bigger labels, more lucrative licensing deals and more professional recording sessions.

This collection includes many of these earliest sides before his hit, along with the recordings of others who the various labels hoped would show the same level of potential for success that was evident early in Hooker. These other bluesmen were often friends and musical collaborators of Hooker, such as Eddie Burns and Eddie Kirkland.

No great claims are made in the notes to this set by Neil Slaven as to the rarity of the Hooker sides included here, but many of the songs and song titles appear unfamiliar to these ears. Given how frequently Hooker recorded and re-recorded titles, and how lax attitudes were to the integrity of song titles (and even his own recording name), not too much should be read into this however. Either way, the 35 Hooker sides included are powerful indicators of the potential he had and the blues monster he was to unleash.

Of the others artists featured, there are plenty of stirring performances to enjoy. Big Jack Reynolds version of Going Down Slow is delivered with a B.B. King-like busy-ness that really sizzles. And Eddie Burns blows a mean harmonica across his 12 tracks, evidencing the influence both Sonny Boy Williamson’s had on his playing style.

Sylvester Cotton’s 20 tracks from his various 1948 sessions hark back to a more traditional country blues style. While this may have limited his commercial appeal for  labels looking to present a more contemporary urban and electric blues style, from this distance these tracks work just fine. Alfred Dunham’s ten tracks certainly present a more urban and electric context and are perhaps the closest here in style to John Lee Hooker himself, without suggesting as much of the charisma that Hooker could offer. L.C. Green & Sam Kelly offer up some ragged but mighty fine harmonica and guitar interplay on their handful of tracks, a winning formula that also features on the sides from Bobo Jenkins. And the collection is brought to a rousing conclusion by Eddie Kirkland on six intense but atmospheric performances from 1959 and 1960.

Another consistently excellent set from the consistently excellent folks at JSP.

Review Date: August 2015

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