I was checking out at Mississippi Records in Portland Oregon. I was holding 4 records when I was informed they only took cash. Ok, I shouldn’t have been too surprised. It was a quirky place, known as much as a label for obscure blues reissues as they were for being a record store. I only had enough money to buy one of the records. The double album “Endless Boogie” at $12 seemed like an obvious buy. But buying John Lee Hooker albums is tricky business and I was hesitating.
A week earlier I was in San Francisco, part of a 2 week family trip along the West coast, and I was in a record shop off of Haight and Ashbury. It was my first record shop on the trip and I was excited to start digging. I thought 2 weeks on the West coast would turn up some real gems but in the end I was disappointed how picked over most of the stores were. This was my first stop and anticipation was still high. And I was happy when I found a mint copy of Blue’s eponymous first album (a real gem from 1973 if you are into British power-pop from that time) but since I already had a copy I gave that up to my buddy and fellow digger Daniel. On the way out I spotted the "John Lee Hooker Live at the Soledad Prison" on ABC. It was $25. I had never seen it before. This look interesting since I was looking on for his records on ABC from the late 60s/early 70s. Why would that be?
It all goes back to my first John Lee Hooker record- “Serve You Right To Suffer”. I found it about 4 years ago in a collection I came across. It was on Impulse- a label that was purchased by ABC in the late 60s. The weird thing was that Impulse was a Jazz label but they put out this "Suffer" record and it was awesome. Brutal, raw and soulful. I’d never been a big Blues fan outside of Howling Wolf (who was truly amazing) and now I was captured. It reminded me of when I bought Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”, it was my doorway to Jazz. I then went and bought every record by Coltrane I could find. There are many great Coltrane records but none as good as "Giant Steps”, it transcends. With "Suffer" I had heard a new world. I wanted to find more John Lee Hooker albums.
This brings us back to the live album, recorded at a prison. Ok, so I bought it and it sucks, really sucks. The recording sounds really bad, the playing is bad. Johnny Cash he is not. I was pretty bummed and it wasn’t the first time that Hooker had burned me. I have spent years trying to find something to match or top “Serve You Right To Suffer” with little luck and the prison album was yet another middle finger in my ear. Maybe it was time to give up the hunt.
So I’m standing at the counter at Mississippi. Enough money to buy one album- and I had some good ones including some African funk comps I was eager to hear- but hope springs eternal and I went with “Endless Boogie”.
I'm happy to report that I made the right choice. I was rewarded with 4 sides of 6 minute plus songs. Sonic bliss. Some of the best musicians from the time locked in groove with Hooker. Sometimes it sounds like he is making up the songs on the spot and chord changes rarely happen. In research the album I read a review that chastised it for its simplicity and lack of chord changes, the guy called it boring. Please know- that guy is a COMPLETE IDIOT and doesn’t understand what a great John Lee Hooker album is all about. It’s about the groove, it’s about going deep, exploring the story, the sound, the feel, the moment. Chord changes are a distraction.
I have a record player that will play a side of an album over and over, it just picks up and starts the side over when it is done. I love this feature but it pushes me to think twice about what I put on that record player, I will probably hear it more than once, often many times before I get around to changing it. You start to separate the good from great albums quickly. The ones that make the cut get set aside. They are my “go to” records. I have listened to side three of “Endless Boogie” 3 times (make that 4) while writing this blog. It has officially made the cut.
Thank you to YouTube for giving us the entire album (not on Spotify from what I could find):