Tag Archives: John Lee Hooker

Interview: John Lee Hooker, Jr., All Hooked Up and Happy

I was so thrilled with John Lee Hooker, Jr.’s new release “All Hooked Up” that I just had to sit with him and talk about it and his life. Well here it is.
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Blues411: Your new release “All Hooked Up” on Steppin’ Stone Records has just hit the streets, to me it is a very interesting and severely biographical one. Care to share the process with us on how you got to this point and some of the thinking behind it all.
John Lee Hooker, Jr. (JLH, Jr.): Now you know that you can’t get nowhere if you are on a bicycle and the chain keeps slipping. It keeps on slipping and you go a little further and it slips some more then eventually the chain breaks. So that was how my life waas going, slipping and breaking and that’s how I came up with the title “All Hooked Up” which is the opposite of a chain that’s not linked together.

First and foremost the title is reference to the Lord above and how he has grabbed me and put me back together again. My life, social life, my marriage family ties he just hooked me up, because I was ‘off the hook’ on drugs and alcohol – a ragged life. So I asked him to come into my life and help me and he did.

He hooked up with that part of my life several years ago, and He now hooks me up with this great producer Larry Batiste, a great manager Ron Kramer, and a great publicity firm Mark Pucci, all of these great people. Add to that a great slew of musicians, Betty Wright, Lucky Peterson – that’s where this is all coming from.

Blues411: I hear you, before this your life was pretty much in shambles no?
JLH, Jr.: Absolutely it was ‘off the hook’. I have been shot and stabbed, I was homeless – now I am all hooked up. Everything is all right now. I am walking the straight line.

Blues411: I saw you perform at the Riverfront Festival in Wilmington in 2010, were you on or off the hook then?
JLH, Jr.: Oh I was on the hook. I have been this way since the nineties. The title of the record – that term has been with me for some 15years, but it is just coming into fruition and reality now.

Blues411: It is interesting how you speak about it – sounds like it was just yesterday that you got ‘hooked up’. I would hazard a guess that it is something (the addictions and toxic life style) is something you need to face every day.
JLH, Jr.: Exactly.

Blues411: I loved your previous release “All Odds Against Me” and especially the track ‘Dear John’, so I was thrilled when with this release you included a DVD of the animation of that song by Callicore company. It was so spot on in the depiction of what I heard in the song, of how you fight with yourself constantly.
JHL, Jr.: It compliments my life being’off the hook’ and now there’s a record to show how I am hooked up. I fight with that myself, old guy, every day Jimi, every day I have to fight with him. It’s an on going struggle. I even wrote a song called ‘It’s A Struggle‘ . There’s always a struggle because I am fighting to maintain my life. I am just grateful to be in the music industry, and keeping the Blues alive and taking it to another level. That’s what this is all about.

I just want to say that that the graphic animation is the first ever done with regard to the Blues. It was at the hands of Laurent Mercier from Paris, France, whom I call my French Brother. I think it is something that touches everybody of every race, creed, color, all of us.

Blues411: Indeed it does, I believe it captures the struggle and pain of that experience.
I agree whole-heartedly. I think that part of what pushes it to another level, or shall I say engages the audience is the entertainment factor that exists in some artists shows, like yours.
Does the entertaining gene come naturally or is it something you developed?
JLH, Jr: I was a clown in elementary school, in kindergarten, I was always entertaining my classmates. It’s what I have done all my life.

Blues411: I understand John Lee. Can I backtrack to the title/phrase ‘all hooked up’ again for a moment? To me it also openly references your surname, Hooker. Was it hard for you to find your own voice in the Blues?
JLH, Jr.: No, not at all – it has always been this way. I didn’t;t have to search for it, no image overshadowing me. I did not have to break out of my dads’ scenario. It was quite easy.

I was brought up in Motown, so there’s so many influences on my CD. You will hear the funk, you will hear the Lou Rawls part of me, the John Lee Hooker part of me – all of the influences they are all there. You will hear ‘I Surrender’ with Betty Wright, they were not difficult to reach or do.
I had a great producer, he knew those sounds were there, he pulled it out of me. That’s what I used to sing on the street corners and bathrooms doo-wop – background type things. I did what I wanted to do.
We had some great musicians on this CD and these people helped create such a great album.

Blues411: Yes it is, but it is also a diverse one with a whole lotta truth in it.
JLH, Jr.: It’s full, it’s rounded, it’s got pop, funk, rhythm & blues. It’s got hard times, it speaks on the economy. Hard times – what people will go through to get along, signing their sons name or using his social security number on a check.

The part about stealing baloney, that’s true. I stole two packs of baloney and I can’t remember if it was a Three Musketeers or a Snickers, but it made sense to sing Three Musketeers in the song. (‘Hard Times’)

I write, as journalists have mentioned, what is on the front page of newspapers. People, places and things, life experience what I have been through and what you have been through – life.

When I was a little kid they used to call me a ‘Big Liar’ but back in the day liar was a curse word, so they would change it to ‘big storyteller’. “He could tell some whoppers, don’t you believe a word John Lee says.”

Blues411: So it hasn’t changed (we laugh) and has paid off in the long run.
JLH, Jr.: Yes, so what I have grown up to do now is tell stories. From the song ‘Tired of Being A Housewife’ to ‘You Be My Hero’ these songs are my imagination and my feelings towards all the military people including our Allies too, they all are my heroes.

Blues411: Speaking of heroes and influences you listed some of your historical influences on the back of the release notes. Which I thought was great because it gives us a glimpse of you and your growth as a person inside the music family. I was surprised by several of them, Louis Armstrong, The Duke and Bessie Smith….
JLH,Jr.: First let me say that I could not include all of them on the back cover, we only had so much room. So, as a child I used to listen to but mostly watch Duke Ellington. He conducted and led this big entire orchestra and was so amazing at doing that, and he always had a big smile on his face. I always thought to myself what a nice man he is, always smiling and happy to be making this music.

Louis Armstrong, the big smile, ad-lib, innovation – considering Louis went through the era of racial discrimination and such, but he still had that big smile on his face. That’s one thing my Dad taught me, no matter what you going through in your life, but before they open the curtain and you hit the stage, go out there and show them that you are having a good time regardless, do your job!

Bessie Smith, she had her problems with drug addiction like I did. It is just one of those reminders of what drugs can do when you mix it with music. She sang high, I sang high but she still went to work and did her job. She never did get al her dues, but Bessie wa great.
Even Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson he was on drugs, but he was also a great entertainer. I don’t even have to say anything about my dad….

Blues411: Yes you do…
JLH, Jr.: I was woken up, with a pacifier in my mouth, by the loud Blues music downstairs from my naps. All these great people were my influences, the blues, jazz and funk, as I said I could not include them all.

Blues411: John, thank you so much for sharing your time with us and all the fans. I hope to see you at the Blues Music Awrds up on the stand taking home an award.

Please do take the time to aquaint yourself with this fine gentleman and blues man by visiting his web site: http://www.johnleehookerjr.com/

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
chefjimi
©Blues411.com 2012
photos: Leslie K. Joseph, Jenny Skeller
Where Blues Thrives

 

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CD Reviews: A Seasonal Mix of Music

Fall is almost upon us and time to start to stock pile the good music to keep us going thru the long winter ahead of us. Here are three sweet releases that I am sure will make the house and home warmer in many ways.

The Blasters – Fun On A Saturday Night
(Rip Cat Records)

This Southern California-based band has been one of the leading exponents of American Roots Music for over thirty-three years. There was a time back in the day when they were unrivaled in making music that combined Delta & Chicago Blues, R&B, Memphis grit and Bob Wills styled country music into a melange of good time music that resonated with audiences around the nation.

Welcome back boys!!!

Right off they start rocking out with Tiny Bradshaw’s ‘Well Oh Well’ a jump-blues western swing jumper that sets us up in line with the albums title “Fun On A Saturday Night”. Keith Wyatt tears up the six strings as he throws down some of the finest leads on the release right off the bat. Get yer dancin’ shoes on folks we going to have some real fun.

Interesting cover of ‘Jackson’ featuring the band X’s singer Exene Cervenka taking the female lead (once done by Nancy Sinatra) to Phil Alvin’s male counterpoint )as done by Lee Hazelwood). Tasty, rich and it contains all the power of a runaway freight train running into Saturday night. Originally penned in 1963 by Jerry Leiber and Billy Edd Wheeler it has been covered by such diverse artists as Johnny Cash and Miss Piggy, Warren Zevon in his Spring 200 tour and even Dave Alvin (original member of The Blasters and Phil’s brother) did a version Mojo Nixon and the Pleasure Barons in 1993.

Title track ‘Fun On A Saturday Night’ pushes the peddle to the metal captures the feel of some of the Blues shouters of the past with it’s fast pace and hard edged rhythm.

Since we are somewhat Blues leaning I have to mention the great Chicago Blues man Magic Sam’s ‘Love Me With A Feeling’. Now this is re-done, polished and shined up just so purty that ya might not recognize it. Yet it is covers like this that I applaud because these cats have taken it to heart and made it their own. Check this baby out. ‘I Don’t Want Cha’ is more of a traditional Blues shuffle that speaks eloquently of a bad relationship and it’s dissolve.

There is more than enough super tunes on this 12 cut release to ‘Please Please Please’ everyone. Fun, quality musicianship and a true feel for the songs they cover or created makes it a must for the open-minded Blues fans that we all are.

Visit them here for more info: http://www.blastersnewsletter.com/

 

John Lee Hooker Jr. – All Hooked Up
(Steppin’ Stone Records)

John Lee Hooker Jr, was weaned on the Blues. Son of legend John Lee Hooker, has been everywhere – up, very down, and back again stronger than ever. Keeping the grit and urban voice alive and well inside the Blues Mr. Hooker gives us a sterling new release.

A neglected wife who has done all the suburban, time consuming but ultimately empty things that leave one with a hole in their soul is the featured object in ‘Tired Of Being A Housewife’. Funky, gritty as the inside of a free range oyster’s shell, JLH Jr. depicts her escape from the hum-drum to the walk on the wild side with such poignancy that it almost hurts to listen to.

Mr. Lucky Peterson sits in on ‘You Be My Hero’ and bringing with him some electrifying guitar work. A tribute to all the men and women of the armed forces it is a genuine, heart felt song that is funky as it is real. Excellent horn work through out the release by the Hot Sauce Horns arranged by Larry Batiste and featuring such luminaries as Tom Poole, Doug Rowan and Ric ‘Mighty Bone’ Feliciano and others.

Some New Orleans second line gets the Hooker treatment in “Listen To The Music’ a sing along chorus nails it down and he even gives us a “how-how/bow-wow”. If ya gotta ask then ya just don’t know, but when you hear it you will get it.

A very special appearance by ‘The Cleanup Woman’, Ms. Betty Wright on the track track ‘I Surrender’. Together they capture the feel of those classic days of soul. Ms. Wright’s saucy vocals and Mr. Hooker’s gritty intonations combine in a dynamic song that had me chair dancing till I realized that people could see me thru the window – so I got up and shook that thing.

For the ‘purists’ out there ‘Hard Times’ and “Let Me Be’ will make you very comfortable in your corner of the room. On the former we are treated to some incendiary guitar work by John Garcia and stellar harp work that recalls Little Walter by Dave Barrette. ‘Hard Times’ is so stunning and real that it shakes the foundation of life’s simple structure – Mr. Hooker’s lyrics are truthful, painful and pull no punches. All I can say is that I am glad you are here for us and not where you were headed.

Since I mentioned it ‘Let Me Be’ is a super funky plea to do just that. Mr. Hooker’s vocals have a certain ‘old school’ quality to them they remind me of Lou Rawls at times and that’s not a bad thing. Listen to this cut (as well as ‘Pay The Rent’) and see if ya hear what I hear.

The title track ‘All Hooked Up’ is the most autobiographical of tracks. The trials and tribulations that he experienced as the son of such an iconic blues man is presented here in a direct point making song with a funky dance groove that is at once sad but ultimately redeeming. Mr. Hooker gives testimony, praise and thanks to the all powerful one yet we also see how the title has several applications in his life.

This is a stunning release one that I believe should garner serious consideration for Grammy’s and Blues Music Awards. To learn more about Mr. Hooker please visit http://www.johnleehookerjr.com/

 

Paula Harris – Turning On The Naughty
(self released)

Ms. Harris made it into the finals of the 2012 International Blues Competition, and in doing so walked away with third place for the Band competition. That’s no small task, cause the talent at this event is off the charts – it is a blues lovers bucket list item, ’nuff said.

‘Turning On The Naughty’ is the title track and it reeks with the promise of steamy sex, nylons and just good old doing the wild thing. “can you feel me on your sheets, just like a cat in heat’ pretty much sums it up. No subtle innuendos here, for the naughty is turned on and the naughty will not be ignored.

Ms. Harris has a voice that harkens back to the days of Big Band thumpers. Full of brash, throaty, unbridled passion at all levels and styles. On ‘Damn Your Eyes’ she starts out singing almost to herself as she begins the crescendo of sound that tears into the heart and bears for all the vulnerability that exists at the core of this burner.

A rollicking version of Shep (Purple People Eater) Wooley’s ‘Just Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore’ is a tale all too familiar to many of us these days as the effects of living and aging are taking it’s unrelenting toll on us. What Ms. Harris does with this is pure fun and frolic, undoubtedly bringing a smile to a our group situation.

Ms. Harris’ band is solid collection of top notch artists, featuring Derrick “D’Mar’ Martin on drums whose uncanny sense of rhythm and beats stands alone. Mr. Terry Hiatt brings his reputation as a guitar players player and shows off his full compliment of influences and styles very nicely with the band. Joey Fabian brings aurally animated bass lines to the mix, and Simon Russell filling up the sound with his excellent keyboard work. Dang if any artists need a band to back them up on the west Coast – you should look these cats up.

Slowing things down to true torch level and serious late night blues music we have ‘Some Of My Best Friends Are The Blues’ Mr. Fabian’s work on the upright bass sets the stage as Mr. Russell’s keyboard fills and melody weave a web of desperation and solitude for Ms. Harris to employ her ample vocal gymnastics to full advantage and our delight.

A funky side of the blues is visited thru the ‘Gates Of Hell’ when they are opened. Snappy and a percussion lover’s dream this song lays it straight on the line to the man who done her wrong as the Devil himself is proud of what that man done done to her. Syncopated and pointed this is one of my favorite tracks on the release.

To visit the like of Robert Johnson’s ‘Dust My Broom’ take a whole lot of moxie, and has the chance of turning into a train wreck for many reasons. Doncha worry none here, the moxie is backed by talent and a funky twist that starts at 0:01 of the track. Mr. Hiatt throws down some funky chicken scratchin’ that sets the stage for an assault of the traditional version but in doing so makes it modern and the song a strong vehicle for expression of the lyrics.

Ms. Harris is a superb vocalist, song writer and interpreter of the music she sings. Her ability to take center stage and hold the attention is amazing indeed. Her live performances are heady, slinky and down right sexy, and this release gives us a glimpse of those live events and bodes well for her future in our beloved genre. She mixes Funk, Blues and Jazz with ample attitude and sheer joy, there is no room for disappointment with this lady when she sings the blues.

For more on Ms. Harris visit: http://www.paulaharrismusic.com/

So take a moment to stock up on these staples and your seasons will be warmer and funkier than last years. See these bands of ya get a chance, support live music and be nice to one another, other than that carry on.

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
chefjimi
©Blues411.com 2012
photos: courtesy of artists
Where Blues Thrives

 

 

 

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Shun Kikuta – Shogun of the Blues

Shun Kikuta, accomplished musical artist, classically trained but drawn to the Blues. His story is an interesting one, many roads but they all lead back to the Blues. He was kind enough to speak with me at length from Taiwan about his body of work, his trials and joys and how he came to work with Koko Taylor. Enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
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B411: Shun how are you ? How is living, and most especially working in Asia going?

SK: I’m doing fine, real fine. Actually besides playing the Blues I am working in a lay ‘Anything Goes’ it’s a musical. It’s very different from what I am used to with charts covering each note, no improvising allowed it is very challenging for me even though I went to school for music theory and all. But I think I have forgotten more than I remember !

B411: Well how different is it to go from Berklee School of Music and all that it encompasses to the world of the Blues – which is more free form – is it harder ?

SK: When I went to Berklee it is a great school for music, but to me, there are limits to analyzing music – scales, notes, chords but music is so much more than that stuff or theory. When I first heard BB King it was like ‘man that’s what I’m saying’, it’s something that you can’t analyze but you feel good hearing it. It was his ‘Live at the Regal’ record and I was maybe nineteen or twenty I realized that this was it. I was happy, sad, all of the emotional things involved with the music. It moved me the way he sang his ass off and played great guitar – it was the whole package to me.

Before that I was playing heavy rock music, so I had some chops, heavy rock always uses Blues licks and the like. It was easy for me to get deeper into the Blues because I had some chops but just didn’t know they were the blues. Then I started listening to guys like Otis Rush, Albert King, Buddy Guy Stevie Ray Vaughn all those good Blues players.
In Boston I saw Johnny Winter and John Lee Hooker, and also saw Ronnie Earl, Duke Robilliard and that big band sound from Roomful of Blues all local Boston area bands. The more I heard of the Blues the more I liked it and wanted to play it.
I started to go to jam sessions at the clubs in Boston, and started writing song sand learning how to play. I was still at the Berklee and playing Jazz but wanted to move in a new direction.

B411: It’s amazing how many artists cite B.B.’s ‘Live at the Regal’ as the pivotal recording that turned them on to the Blues.

SK: Yeah man, those cats were amazing and it really made me want to learn more. So within a week of graduating Berklee I moved to Chicago. I packed all my little bags into a mini-van and drove to Chicago. I found me a job at a Japanese restaurant washing dishes, but I got laid off because they were not doing well, so I was the first to go.

So I went to City Hall and got a Performer’s License for like $25 and started playing on the street. Set up in subway stations and stuff like that, it was around Christmas time and I was making like $70 in three hours and I was so excited about that – it was good money ! That was cool, playing on the streets and making good money but then after New Year’s the money dried up. I made like $1.25 in three hours so that wasn’t going to cut it.

At the same time, at night I would carry my guitar with me and go to the clubs where they had jams, places like Rosa’s Lounge, Buddy Guy’s Legends and Wise Fools Pub and do jam sessions and started meeting people and would pass around my cards. But after awhile I stopped that because not everyone was a professional at these jams and it was sometimes hard to really play out. I then started going to the clubs where bands were playing and then during the break I would introduce myself and tell them I am from Japan and play the Blues and could I sit in with them. So many times they would say yeah, and I would wait till they called me up, usually the last song late at night, and we’d play together. So I got to know so many people. It’s an amazing thing about Chicago they are so open about letting you play with them – they all give you a chance. That’s how I met Otis Rush. It was like a month after I got to Chicago he had a gig at the Wise Fools Pub, on a Tuesday and I was sitting right in front with my guitar. So at break he walked by me and asked if I play guitar, I said yes and he asked if I would want to sit in with him ! Imagine that, Otis Rush asked me to jam with him. Chicago is like that very open for musicians it’s a part of the great tradition to keep the Blues alive, and help others learn these great songs and how to play the real Blues.
A few months after that I got my first gig at Rosa’s with Louis Meyers. Tony, the owner of Rosa’s took a liking to me and kept me in the loop and helped me network with these great artists. That was the first gig that I got that was paying me money!

B411: So chronologically what year is this going on. I am trying to see how you went from the subways to playing with Koko Taylor.

SK: That was in 1990, I started playing with Koko in 2000. I didn’t know about Chicago Blues all that well back then. The sound was different then from what it was in the sixties, when I get there they were funkier and more hard-edged overdrive guitar sound. James Brown, Tyrone Davis, Funk, R&B, Al Green even Prince influences so I had to learn to adjust my style. It took me a little while but I can play a lot of different styles of music from classical, to Jazz and Rock that it helped me to adjust and learn from my past experiences. I observed the style and learned it well and I think that helped me get jobs.

A lot of cats came to Chicago expecting to play old style music like Muddy Waters, Little Walter and that but it wasn’t being played at that time unfortunately.
So around 1995 I was hired by Junior Wells for the US and Canadian tour which lasted about six months. That was my very first experience to travel outside the Chicago area to other parts of the country and the world while playing the Blues for people. We were played clubs like House of Blues and all the big festivals and by doing so I met Dan Aykroyd, Lee Oskar and guys like that through touring with Junior.

I learned a lot from Junior Wells, before I played with him I didn’t sing at all I only played guitar. So one day he comes to me while we are in the dressing room, and says to me “you don’t sing, you have to sing to be a Bluesman” – I was shocked and I said that I am a young Japanese guitar player and I don’t even speak English, never-the-less sing the Blues. He shakes his head and smiles and says I don’t speak English well either so you have no excuse. So he’s singing ‘Little By Little’ and tells me to follow him and sing along. So after that I started singing more and I appreciate what he did for me. I still work on my singing, and do more and more.

B411: Great story, especially singing Little By Little, he was right of course on all accounts. I saw a video of you on YouTube singing Little By Little in a club in Asia, very cool.

SK: Yeh, yeh I love it, I sing so much more now. So I first met Koko Taylor in 1996 when I cut my second album ‘Chicago Midnight’ for King Records in Japan. I had been working with them since 1994 so I have had Chicago artists play on my records. So they asked me who I wanted to be a guest on this record (big named people), so I said I’d like to have Koko. Koko was with Alligator and they had a relationship with King Records, so Bruce Iglauer introduced me to Koko and she said OK. We did two songs together in the studio for the release tracks 5 and 6 actually.

I didn’t see her again till 1999, I was playing together with JW Williams at the Kingston Mines every Friday and Saturday. JW and I have been together for a long time, until last year we were together sixteen years. JW is another great musician and guy. One night Koko came into Kingston Mines and she was just hanging out – she’s sitting right in the front row watching us play. So after the set I just went to say hello to her but she didn’t remember me from the recording sessions, so she said she was pleased to meet me etc., and I give her my card and say that I don’t have a day job this is what I do and I can go on the road if she ever needs me to. I never expected her to call me…..

So she calls me a few months later and says ‘do you remember me, it’s Koko Taylor’ ! Well she asked me for two shows and she really liked my playing and said she would call me again. After a few months she called me again and asked me join the ‘Blues Machine’.

B411: See if you don’t ask how will you ever know.

SK: Exactly, very true, you never know I’m glad I asked. So that was in October 2000 and had been with her up until she passed.

B411: So you are currently living in Asia, how are the Blues doing there?

SK: Yeh, I have been in Taiwan since February 2011. I tour frequently in Japan, but mainly stay in Taipei, Taiwan. The Blues is getting very hot in Asia right now. There is a big festival there that I am supposed to play in called the INA Blues along with John Mayall – we also have a Japan Blues Festival as does Beijing and India – Asia is starting to grow up more here. For me, being an Asian I feel it is important for me to be here to play the Blues that I learned in Chicago. I can also work on bringing more artists here to open the doors so everybody does well.

Indonesia is very hot now and I am looking forward to playing there at INA Blues. This is like their fifth or sixth festival, they have a lot of money to put into it. Last year they had Ana Popovic and they seem to have a large enough budget to bring big acts over here to play.
Chicago is still my home and I miss it, but being here right now is very important and I can do so much good for the Blues. Yet I think I am ready for the change, it is challenging and I am ready for it. Taiwan is not a big city like Chicago where there is a gig almost every night, but that’s OK. It is a very centrally located city it is near many cities and countries so it is a good place to be.

B411: Any plans on new recordings?

SK: I have about ten songs right now that are roughed out, not finished. Since I am in Taiwan I am talking to management company and seeing what interest there is and as soon as we get that done we will get it out there. I hope to get stuff out in 2012 in one form or another. I can even do it myself but it is always good to have someone backing you up and promoting you.

B411: Shun thank you sir, for your time today and your music.
2/23/12 PS: Shun just got married today also, how great is that  - let’s all give joyous wishes to him and his bride !

For more info on Shun visit his web site: http://www.shunkikuta.com/english/index.php

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
chefjimi
©Blues411.com 2012
photos: Blues411

Parts of this interview were originally published in Blues Blast Magazine, we thank them for allowing our shared format with them. You can visit them at http://www.thebluesblast.com/bbnow.htm 

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