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.
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
photos: Leslie K. Joseph, Jenny Skeller
Where Blues Thrives