Sunday, April 23, 2017

"Frisco Blues" (John Lee Hooker)

“I left my heart in San Francisco/I left my heart, people, in San Francisco/High on the hill, at the Golden Gate, 'cross the bay/In San Francisco, on the hill, the mornin' fog/And the cool, cool night/That's where I wanna be, San Francisco/That's where my heart/Been to New York City/I've been to Chicago/But found no place, like San Francisco/With the cable car, high, high, on the hill/In the mornin' fog/The evening breeze/The cool, cool night/Is where I wanna be/Oh yeah.../That's where I wanna be, people/My heart is there, my heart is there, in San Francisco...”

And the fogies and squarejohns-and-janes who witnessed the outset of Rock and Roll thought it bad enough that it was all three chords: imagine the conniptions they had when they heard someone using only one. Yes, the music of John Lee Hooker could be so simple and single-minded in its dedication to The Boogie, both eternal and (yes) endless.

Yet it was a simplicity, like that of the Ramones, one could emulate but never hope to duplicate. And equally as infectious and grooveable in its way as the Forest Hills Fabs.

Although, to give fair play, many did try: his 'Boom Boom' was fantastically souped up and unleashed by The Animals and, later, Dr. Feelgood (although Wilko's mob's take was closer to the original, while Eric and co. essayed more of a jazzy swing, no doubt the handiwork of Alan Price). 

The sultry juke joint pulse of RL Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and other Mississippi Hill Country dwellers also clearly and deeply drank from the well of the Hook. Not to ignore the widely assumed Mod speedfreak stutter of The Who's “My Generation” being, as later revealed, Pete Townshend's hat tip to a Hooker side called “Stuttering Blues”.

A rarely acknowledged element of his biography is that John Lee Hooker, in the latter part of his life, maintained a steady presence in the Greater Bay Area. He was a regular feature act in jazz and blues clubs around San Francisco, including Sugar Hill on Broadway in North Beach, owned and operated by folk singer Barbara Dane during the early-mid Sixties. 

It was in the Bay Area where, during the late Sixties, Hooker encountered and struck up a friendship with a certain admirer named Van Morrison that endured the rest of his life and career. (The video of Hooker sitting in with Van during the latter's concert in the fall of 1989 at New York's Beacon Theater – captured on the video Van Morrison In Concert – is a must see.)

Then there was, most notably, the venerable blues dive across the street from the original San Francisco Fillmore once known as Jack's Tavern (1601 Fillmore at Geary), scene of many an after hours gig patronized by players having just finished a Fillmore set. When taken over by new management in the early Nineties, Hooker, a regular patron of Jack's, gave his blessing for them to rename it The Boom Boom Room. Until his passing in June 2001 at his home in Los Altos (some 40 miles south of The City), Hooker's name even reigned above the title on the neon sign hanging outside the club.

Back in 1963, however, Hooker would enter a Detroit studio, assisted by, among others, a troupe of female singers from the Motown Records session pool that included Mary Wilson of the Supremes. He then proceeded to transform Tony Bennett's recently minted chestnut into a typically down-home yet simultaneously uptown tribute to his soon to be adopted homebase.  (It was later redone on Hooker's 1997 album Don't Look Back.)