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Earl Hooker: Simply the Best

Ed Kopp By

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Nearly 30 years after succumbing to tuberculosis at age 41, blues guitarist Earl Zebedee Hooker is finally getting his due. Many critics now cite Hooker as the finest guitarist in Chicago's storied blues history, and Simply the Best goes a long way toward proving their point.

A number of Hooker recordings have been re-released on CD, but Simply the Best comes closest to showcasing the full extent of the guitarist's singular genius.

Second cousin to the more famous John Lee Hooker, Earl Hooker was a master of the slide guitar and one of very few blues axemen to experiment successfully with wah wah pedal and fuzz box. An inventive musician, Hooker also dabbled in jazz and country in addition to the blues.

Born in Mississippi, the itinerant Chicago-based guitarist backed so many singers and recorded for such a smorgasbord of labels that it must been a legal challenge compiling this 19-track retrospective.

Simply The Best features Hooker backing heavyweights Muddy Waters ("You Shook Me"), cousin John Lee Hooker ("Messin' Around With the Blues," "If You Miss 'Im, I Got 'Im"), Sonny Terry and Brownee McGee ("When I Was Drinkin') and Charles Brown ("Drifting Blues"). There are also two tracks apiece with keyboardist/vocalist Johnny "Big Moose" Walker and Andrew "Voice" Odom. For me the high points are the guitarist's groovin' originals, particularly the country-influenced hit "Tanya," the infectious 1969 instrumental "Hookin'" and the fast-rockin' "You Got To Lose," which was covered recently by Cesar Rosas.

Each track is distinguished by Hooker's blistering riffs, his exceptionally clean lines, and his unusual swooping phrases. In Earl Hooker's capable hands, the electric guitar sounded every bit as emotive as any blues vocalist. This is a fine Hooker overview, but it's an incomplete retrospective without "Hucklebuck" and "Swear to Tell the Truth."

Hooker's voice was hindered by the tuberculosis that gradually ravaged his lungs, but there was something very genuine in his simple delivery. Two of his rare vocal tracks are included here.

Unfortunately TB forced "Zeb" to let his guitar do most of the communicating, but what a communicator it was!

Title: Simply the Best | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: MCA


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