Vinyl Review: John Lee Hooker — Whiskey & Wimmen: John Lee Hooker’s Finest

News / Reviews / Vinyl Review / April 20, 2017

A perfect 16-song introduction to a deep catalog

Vee-Jay Records

Best-of compilations are a stellar way to get introduced to an artist with a deep catalog. In the case of Whiskey & Wimmen: John Lee Hooker’s Finest, you’re able to sample bluesman John Lee Hooker’s best-known tracks from the prime of his career. Comprised of cuts from Vee-Jay, Specialty, and Riverside — as well as one from Stax — Whiskey & Wimmen gives the listener 16 songs, all recorded during Hooker’s heyday between 1955 and 1965.

As journalist Bill Dahl points out in his excellent liner notes, “Hooker’s twilight years were among his most successful, mainstream rock stars aplenty eagerly lining up to record and perform with the ageless legend.” Thankfully, though, we’re not stuck with lesser, collaborative cover versions, such as Big Head Todd and the Monster’s 1997 take on “Boom Boom,” arguably the legend’s best-known song. The album instead kicks off with the 1962 Vee-Jay version, and it’s still a scorcher.

Even better is the second track, 1959’s “Boogie Chillun’.” Originally released in 1948 as “Boogie Chillen,” Hooker’s guitar work on this single is perfection, motoring along, with these pauses that show off some flashy playing, before kicking right back into the song’s groove. It’s strange to think of it, given the fact that so often we deride re-recordings, but many of the versions of Hooker’s songs which are best beloved — “Boom Boom,” “Boogie Chillun,” and “I’m in the Mood,” specifically — are ones recorded half a decade or more after their originals.

The recordings are fantastic, and once you’re past the best-known songs, there are further gems, as well. The title track and “Big Legs, Tight Skirt” are full-on grinders — the former, a true bit of slow grind fever, sure to make any dance floor smolder; the latter imbued with a dirty bounce and rhythm that leaves no doubt grandma and grandpa knew a thing or two back in the day.

If you’ve not listened to John Lee Hooker before, Whiskey & Wimmen is a fantastic starting point. It shows off with the blues master’s more full recordings, and if you pair it with something like the stripped-down 1966 LP, Live At Cafe Au-Go-Go, you’ll be a convert and set for life.

Sound Quality

The mastering on Whiskey & Wimmen is utterly clean. The songs sound vintage, but free of any sonic detritus which might otherwise distract from moments on the compilation. Given the age of many of these recordings, it’s astonishing to hear them with such clarity. It’s as nice a pressing as I’ve ever heard.

Packaging

The gatefold jackets lists all the recording details, including personnel when possible. You can see when and where the songs were recorded, and which label released them. Dahl’s liner notes lend a historical perspective to the compilation, as do the photos, most of which are taken from the archives of Riverside. The cover photo, from the Newport Folk Festival, is stunning, and the contrast perfectly hints at the vibrancy and intensity of the music within.

Download code: No.

A perfect 16-song introduction to a deep catalog Vee-Jay Records Best-of compilations are a stellar way to get introduced to an artist with a deep catalog. In the case of Whiskey & Wimmen: John Lee Hooker’s Finest, you’re able to sample bluesman John Lee Hooker’s best-known tracks from the prime of his career. Comprised of cuts from Vee-Jay, Specialty, and Riverside — as well as one from Stax — Whiskey & Wimmen gives the listener 16 songs, all recorded during Hooker’s heyday between 1955 and 1965. As journalist Bill Dahl points out in his excellent liner notes, “Hooker’s twilight years were among his most successful, mainstream rock stars aplenty eagerly lining up to record and perform with the ageless legend.” Thankfully, though, we’re not stuck with lesser, collaborative cover versions, such as Big Head Todd and the Monster’s 1997 take on “Boom Boom,” arguably the legend’s best-known song. The album instead kicks off with the 1962 Vee-Jay version, and it’s still a scorcher. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAJYPJ5Q5Xs Even better is the second track, 1959’s “Boogie Chillun’.” Originally released in 1948 as “Boogie Chillen,” Hooker’s guitar work on this single is perfection, motoring along, with these pauses that show off some flashy playing, before kicking right back into the song’s groove. It’s strange to think of it, given the fact that so often we deride re-recordings, but many of the versions of Hooker’s songs which are best beloved — “Boom Boom,” “Boogie Chillun,” and “I’m in the Mood,” specifically — are ones recorded half a decade or more after their originals. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvYr91vLkNY The recordings are fantastic, and once you’re past the best-known songs, there are further gems, as well. The title track and “Big Legs, Tight Skirt” are full-on grinders — the former, a true bit of slow grind fever, sure to make any dance floor smolder; the latter imbued with a dirty bounce and rhythm that leaves no doubt grandma and grandpa knew a thing or two back in the day. If you’ve not listened to John Lee Hooker before, Whiskey & Wimmen is a fantastic starting point. It shows off with the blues master’s more full recordings, and if you pair it with something like the stripped-down 1966 LP, Live At Cafe Au-Go-Go, you’ll be a convert and set for life. Sound Quality The mastering on Whiskey & Wimmen is utterly clean. The songs sound vintage, but free of any sonic detritus which might otherwise distract from moments on the compilation. Given the age of many of these recordings, it’s astonishing to hear them with such clarity. It’s as nice a pressing as I’ve ever heard. Packaging The gatefold jackets lists all the recording details, including personnel when possible. You can see when and where the songs were recorded, and which label released them. Dahl’s liner notes lend a historical perspective to the compilation, as do the photos, most of which are taken from the archives of Riverside. The cover photo, from the Newport Folk Festival, is stunning, and the contrast perfectly hints…

Grade

Music - 94%
Sound Quality - 88%
Packaging - 72%

85%

A solid introduction to the inimitable bluesman, focusing on his heyday.

User Rating: Be the first one !
85

Whiskey & Wimmen: John Lee Hooker’s Finest is available from Amazon.


Tags: , ,

Nick Spacek
Nick Spacek was once a punk, but realized you can’t be hardcore and use the word “adorable” as often as he does. Nick is a self-described “rock star journalist,” which is strange, considering he’s married with four cats and usually goes to bed by 9. This is just further proof that you can’t trust anyone online.