John Lee Hooker Jr.: All Odds Against Me
“ I have never been in the shadows of my dad. I carry on a legacy that's broad and wide, and as deep as his shoes were, I don't try to step into them. For if I did, I can acknowledge, that I'd break my neck because they're too big. He was a giant. ”
For many, growing up in someone else's shadow is daunting, particularly when that someone is a looming, legendary figure known worldwide. Eclipsed by that someone, a musician may constantly hear comparisons drawn as they try to establish themselves and their career.
This is not the case for John Lee Hooker Jr. Born the son of blues great John Lee Hooker, he acknowledges the significant contribution his father made to music, and knows he was never overshadowed by his father. Rather, he was born to and carries on a legacy that's both broad and wide.
Born in the Motor City, John Lee Hooker Jr. has Delta blues blood running through his Detriot veins. He grew up knowing he was part of this heritage. He demonstrated it as early as eight years of age, when Junior performed on Detroit's WJBK radio station, and by the time he was 16 had played at such prestigious venues as Detroit's Fox Theater, alongside other legendary blues greats such as Jimmy Reed. By the time he was 18, he would join his father to play on Hooker's Sr.'s album Live at Soledad Prison (ABC Records).
Unfortunately, while living the life of a bluesman, he succumbed to the demons that can sometimes surround it, derailing his musical career for many years. Drugs, alcohol, divorce and incarceration nearly brought his once-promising career to a screeching halt. But it was living the blues and his faith in God resurrected Hooker Jr.
In 2004, he released what he refers to as his "celebratory redemption." Aptly named, Blues with a Vengeance (Kent Records). It came out with a vengeance. It earned him a Grammy nomination in the Traditional Blues Album category and a nomination for a distinguished W.C. Handy Award as Best New Artist Debut. The California Music Awards (formerly the BAMMYS) named Blues with a Vengeance 2004's Outstanding Blues Album of the Year, and the Bay Area Blues Society presented him with the 2004 Comeback Artist of the Year award.
His second release Cold As Ice (Telarc Records), released June of 2006, showed his progression as a contemporary blues artist.
On his recently released All Odds Against Me, he continues to carry blues into the 21st century. The 12-song album, released domestically on Hooker Jr.'s own Steppin' Stone Records and in Europe on Jazzhaus Records, is his first effort to include only new and original tracks, a contrast his previous solo projects.
With the release, Hooker Jr. has become the blues first animated super-hero. Collaborating with Frenchman Laurent Mercier at the Callicore Animation Studios in Paris, they have created a fictional crime-fighting musician, singing in clubs by night and cleaning up the streets by day. Mercier, son of a French jazzman contemporary of Hooker Sr., dreamt up the idea as a way for the two to pay tribute to their fathers' legacies. This animated feature, the first of three to be released, is found on this enhanced CD and is based upon the track "Blues Ain't Nothin' But a Pimp," from Blues With A Vengeance.
All About Jazz: How close were you and your father, John Lee Hooker, Sr.? What kind of a father was he?
John Lee Hooker Jr.: My dad and I were very close. we were friends and yes, even "road dawgs." He was a down-to-earth dad. He knew how to take care of business, got us up for school, fixed our meals when mom was at work or even incapacitated, always referenced the future when speaking and teaching, "Remember, if you start saving now, you will have something when you can't work no more. Don't get a police record, be sure to keep your driving record clean, get an education, it will help you in the future." He was funny, humorous, a joker, an impressionist. There wasn't a mean streak in his whole being.
AAJ: From the 1970s until his last recordings, he was backed up by, or accompanied by different bands or individual musicians. How were these sessions arranged? What was his general impression of working with these white musicians? Was there any one musician with whom he was most fond of working?
JLHJ: One phone call, as well as through a manager. Of course he couldn't do sessions with all that asked, so some were turned down. He worked the same as he would work with African-Americans. The differences in race made no matter to him, as long as they were pros, as long as they were enthusiastic. He loved working with Van Morrison, because Van didn't have the big head. He was a pro. He could read my dad's style, and my dad liked that.
AAJ: Toward the close of his life, your father moved out to California, where he owned several houses. Did you live with him then? Were the transitions of his life an easy journey for your father, i.e., having left the Delta to working on the Motor's City auto assembly lines, to living on the Gold Coast?