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‘Hooker ’N Heat’: A Fiery Collaboration Between Two Blues Legends

With mutual appreciation for each other’s blues prowess, John Lee Hooker and Canned Heat collaborated on the smoking-hot album ‘Hooker ’N Heat’.

The double-album Hooker ’N Heat, which was released on 15 January 1971, is a fascinating meeting of mentor and protégés. Canned Heat had long admired John Lee Hooker and were delighted to find out that the revered blues guitarist-singer also enjoyed the band’s music. “I sure like the way you boys boogie,” Hooker told harmonica player Alan Wilson at a chance meeting in Los Angeles.

Canned Heat floated the idea of recording together and, in April 1970, Hooker’s record company gave him permission to do just that. Just one month later they met up at Liberty Records in LA to record the album that was titled Hooker ’N Heat.

That real “Hooker sound”

In deference to Hooker’s genius, the boogie-rock band, who had a global hit with ‘On The Road Again’ in 1967, gave the first half of the album to him alone, and Hooker laid down compelling versions of five of his own compositions: ‘Messin’ With The Hook’, ‘The Feelin’ Is Gone’, ‘Send Me Your Pillow’, ‘Sittin’ Here Thinkin’’ and ‘Meet Me In The Bottom’.

Hooker arrived for the recording session wearing a plaid cap, leather jacket, black satin shirt and some old dress slacks. He was carrying his favourite old Epiphone guitar. Producers Skip Taylor and Robert Hite were keen to capture the authentic Hooker blues sound. They tried out eight amplifiers before finding an old Silvertone amp that had that real “Hooker sound”. The engineers built a plywood platform for Hooker to sit on while he played, with one microphone on the amp, one to capture his vocals and a third to pick up his distinctive stomping. Nearby was a large bottle of Chivas Regal Scotch and a pitcher of water to keep him well refreshed.

“The most gifted harmonica player I’ve ever heard”

For the second half of Hooker ’N Heat, Wilson joined in on piano, harmonica and guitar. “Blind Owl” Wilson, as he was known, died four months after the record was cut – at just 27 – from a barbiturates overdose. He had suffered from depression and his death robbed the world of “the most gifted harmonica player I’ve ever heard”, as Hooker described him. Hooker ’N Heat captures his wonderful talent for music, including his piano playing on ‘Bottle Up And Go’ (written by the Delta blues musician Tommy McClennan) and ‘The World Today’, and his guitar work on ‘I Got My Eyes On You’.

After more Hooker solo songs, including ‘Alimonia Blues’, ‘Drifter’, ‘You Talk Too Much’ and ‘Burning Hell’, the whole band chimed in for the final songs, with Hooker and Wilson joined by lead guitarist Henry Vestine, bass player Antonio De La Parra and drummer Adolfo De La Parra on exuberant versions of ‘Just You And Me’, ‘Let’s Make It’ and ‘Peavine’. It all soars and moves, even though it seems like the band are sometimes frantically trying to keep up with Hooker’s vocals.

Hooker ’N Heat ended on a high, with a rambling and powerful 11-minute version of Hooker’s first record, the classic ‘Boogie Chillen’’. The song showed just how much fun Canned Heat were having recording with their musical hero, who died in 2001.

After the album came out, Hooker and Canned Heat – who hired guitarist-vocalist Joel Scott Hill to replace Wilson – played some live shows together, including one at New York’s Carnegie Hall. The memorable studio collaboration Hooker ’N Heat captured a natural fusion of empathetic musicians – and Hooker, who was 53 at the time, revelling in the occasion.

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