Wednesday, August 27, 2014

John Lee

John Lee Hooker, Toronto 1987

JOHN LEE HOOKER BACKSTAGE AT THE DIAMOND CLUB on September 15, 1987 - thank God some people keep records of this sort of thing. Another shoot I have no memory of doing, and even more mysteriously I didn't bother shooting the show, so these candids are the whole of my Hooker shoot.

While I don't remember much about taking these photos, I can tell you what the show was like: Hooker playing his hits ("Boom Boom," "Boogie Chillen," "Crawling King Snake") to an enthusiastic (and almost entirely white) audience while the pick-up band backing him up cling by their nails to his fluid time signatures.

Hooker was born in Mississippi where he picked up his strange, droning, open chord blues style from his stepfather, William Moore, before heading to Memphis and then north to find a job at the Ford plant at Rouge River. He was ripped off mercilessly by the Bihari brothers, the owners of Modern Records, who issued his earliest records and gave themselves his songwriting credits under a variety of pseudonyms.

John Lee Hooker, Toronto 1987

Hooker had a fierce dignity that no number of drunk white girls putting on his white hat while taking pictures with him could undermine. Actually, it's easy to make fun of white blues fans, but they're the people who kept artists like Hooker in guitar strings and white hats until Carlos Santana and Bonnie Raitt saw fit to give him a big hit record and a reliable royalties contract.

The venerable bluesman, seventy years old at the time, shares a roll of film in my negative binder with proto-indie rock legends Dinosaur Jr., who were playing the Cameron House on Queen West a day or two previous. Film was expensive, I was poor, and so I rarely spent a whole roll on anyone.

(Update: An e-mail from my friend Chris Buck: "Regarding John Lee Hooker, I must have been standing right next to you as my shots of him are almost identical." I have no memory whatsoever of this shoot, or Chris being there. Sometimes I worry about myself.)

(2023 Update: I've gone back and re-scanned and re-edited these photos, which are now much improved from what I originally posted.)

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