Earl Hooker: There's A Fungus Amung Us
The reasons behind Earl Hooker’s lack of public notoriety are not difficult to discern when his discography is stacked up against that of his more famous cousin John Lee Hooker. The bulk of Earl’s legacy lies in the prolific, but largely anonymous session work he did for labels like Chief, Chess and King and it wasn’t until late 1960s that he had the chance to secure an album of his own. The reasons behind his late blooming status as a leader had nothing to do with his acumen on guitar- he was easily one of the finest fret players in the business. They were more a product of unlucky circumstance and the reality that his singing voice was not up to par with many of his peers. Still his impressive guitar skills eventually garnered him enough clout to cut his own dates and this recent reissue revives one of his rarest.
Skirting the issue of his less than stunning pipes the twelve tracks are all instrumental frameworks for his variegated guitar. Heavy boogaloo grooves, organ slathered riffs, fatback bass and backbeat drums all lock together to form an undercurrent for Hooker’s spotlight guitar. On the tenacious funk of the title track he unrolls an ethereal web of tremolo-soaked slide patterns as the enigmatic drummer knocks out a syncopated rhythm on a cowbell and the bass bubbles along with a hip shaking ostinato. Dipping into the Stax songbook the band raises up a rousing rendition of “Hold On” again hinging on Hooker’s greasy slide work. Elmore James’ seminal slide classic “Dust My Broom” receives an organ friendly reworking replete with honking sax that is surprisingly sparse on bottleneck. Chitlin’ circuit funk opens side two in the guise of “Bertha” with vamping Junior Parker style sax and chicken-scratch guitar laying a thick coat of soul on the slippery theme. With “The Foxtrot” the band veers weirdly into teenage ballad territory winding through a syrupy series of changes drenched in heavy amplification. The effect on “End of the Blues” conjures what the Ventures might sound like if they could craft a convincing blues record, while “Hooker Special” finds the guitarist showing off his affection for Country roots by crafting some convincing lap steel style slide.
Two mystery tracks append the disc, presumably cut from the same session, the second and final meshing wah-wah and reverb-laden guitar in a rocking amalgam with over-amplified harp. R. Crumb’s anomie-evoking cover of various cartoon caricatures crammed together in front of a distant cityscape seems an odd match for the music, but adds to the album’s off-kilter charm and works well with its title. Hooker’s full-length records may be few in number, but this one rates highly in their ranks.
Catfish Records on the web: http://www.catfishrecords.co.uk/
Track Listing: Two Bugs In a Rug/ Hold On/ Off the Hook/ Dust My Broom/ Hot and Heavy/ Bertha/ The Foxtrot/ End of the Blues/ Walkin
Personnel: Earl Hooker-electric guitar; probably Jimmy Dawkins- guitar; unknown saxophone, organ, bass and drums. Recorded: sometime in the late 60s?