Forgotify, the Last Frontier: “Grievin’ Blues”

YES. Give me that delicious old-school blues, courtesy of John Lee Hooker (1917-2001), who is immortal thanks to the music he wrote and performed. 

John Lee Hooker is renowned enough that his presence on Forgotify is an unexpected, though a very pleasant, surprise. This tune is on a weird little compilation album originally released in 1949, featuring five of Hooker’s songs.

He was born a Mississippi sharecropper, but the sound of the blues called him up north to Detroit, where he made his break performing in small jazz clubs. Though he spent much of his musical life in Detroit, where the electric blues of Chicago reign supreme, he retained his southern roots in his style, which resembled Delta blues, native to the Mississippi Delta region. In 1948 he snagged a recording contract with Modern Records, but at the time, record companies loathed the idea of paying a black musician anything more than some pocket change. To make money, John Lee Hooker would record records with other companies under hilariously obvious pseudonyms like “John Lee Booker” and “John Lee Cooker.” His agents made sure to claim partial writing credit to secure royalities for themselves even though they had absolutely nothing to do with the creation of the songs. It wasn’t enough to pay him a pittance — they had to get a slice of his creativity, too.

Hooker’s rhythmic freedom made things incredibly difficult for backing bands who weren’t familiar with his style, and when he appeared in The Blues Brothers in 1980, he was recorded live at Maxwell Street Market, as opposed to the method of dubbing music over the action, which is common practice in the film industry.

With a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, John Lee Hooker’s renown is several galaxies removed from the relative anonymity of Forgotify. He helped Bob Dylan’s music career, and let’s be honest, we know who the better musician is. I am not a Bob Dylan fangirl — I love protest and politically charged music, but the man’s voice sounds like nails on a chalkboard to me. Unpopular opinion though that may be, I’ll take John Lee Hooker over Bob Dylan any day.

Check out “Grievin’ Blues” here.

If you liked this: Check out  some of John Lee Hooker’s other jams, like “Boogie Chillen” and “Hobo Blues!”


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