Friday, February 5, 2010

Don't Mess With The Hookers

John Lee Hooker
featuring Earl Hooker

If You Miss 'Im...
I Got 'Im

Beat Goes On Records

While sitting around minding my own business one day and listening to BB King's Bluesville satellite broadcast, a song came on with someone singing and sounding very close to BB King, and some nice wah wah slide guitar, sounding like Earl Hooker. Now, that didn't really catch my attention, but what did tweak my interest were the really nicely played blues harp licks in the song. Naturally, I had to find out just who the heck was blowing those fat tones. I'd heard the song before, but didn't remember such nice harp playing. Nice thing about the satellite radio station is that they tell you who's playing the song at the time. Sure enough, the credits said Is You Ever Seen A Blind Woman Cry by Earl Hooker. A little research using the wonders of the internet explained that Andrew "BB" Odom sang the song on an Earl Hooker album recorded for Bluesway back in 1968, and that Jeffrey Carp played the harp on that session. Having very little harp from Carp led me on a www search for this release. Jeff Carp's claim to fame is being tapped to play harp along with Paul Butterfield on Muddy Waters' Fathers and Sons lp, and I had a snippet here and a snippet there of his recorded output. I know, I know, I'm taking a way long time around getting to the point of this review--but much of the point is Jeff Carp as much as the Hooker boys. ANYWAY--I found some of those Bluesway recordings on recent a release of an Earl Hooker compilation from MCA called Simply The Best(which I'll grab at some point). I did find the song in question on Rhino's Blues Master Vol. 15--Slide Guitar Classics, by the way. I didn't find Earl's Bluesway album, but I did find this one under John Lee Hooker's name. Seems that Bluesway had both the Hooker cousins in the studio together for a several releases, AND Jeffrey Carp played in both of their bands. Hence and therefore, I picked up If You Miss 'Im...I've Got 'Im, which was recorded in 1969.

I got what I wanted--Jeffrey Carp's harmonica playing is all over this release, and he proves that he was a heck of a talent at playing that nasty ol' Chicago style blues harp. He and Earl play off each other very well and provide solid backing to John Lee's idiosycratic rhythmic style. I've got quite a bit of John Lee Hooker and this quickly became my favorite, not just because of Carp, but John Lee kicks butt with a band that includes heavy piano pounding by Johnny 'Big Moose' Walker, Chester 'Gino' Skaggs' bass thumping, and Roosevelt Shaw's driving drum kit. Paul Asbell leaps in a time or two on guitar when Earl isn't coaxing wah wah's.

If you know John Lee Hooker, then nothing is going to surprise you here. I think the fact that John Lee and Earl are paired up is special. Of course, plenty of blues fans feel that John Lee Hooker's best work was when he recorded with just him, his guitar, and his stomping foot. I think that could be the case when a backing band's not allowing him to be John Lee Hooker and takes his unique timing away--he did his own thing and tuned his own way, much like Lightnin' Hopkins did. It took a musician with big ears to back up either of these guys, and Jeffrey Carp exemplifies that--he played with both of 'em. Some of celebrity musicians on John Lee's '90s recording could have taken a lesson from John Lee Hooker's band here. It doesn't matter if he's doing his deep, brooding blues like Lonesome Mood (which is close to his hit I'm In The Mood) or doing his world reknown boogie stuff, as on Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang (which of course knocks off Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom), the band surrounds him in support, and Jeffrey Carp is a big part of that, most especially on the low down, slow grooves. Carp's harp drips and oozes heavy blues juice on If You Let Me, I'll Take Care Of You, he and JLH trade some nice licks back and forth. Just when you think that maybe the band will swamp him, they step back, and let those signature licks of John Lee Hooker blast through. They know how to let John Lee Hooker be John Lee Hooker. This is just good late '60s blues played right under the guidance of the man who put the boogie in boogie. By the way, the headline for this post is quoted by John Lee Hooker within the title cut about a night on the town he and Earl take, and how they run into some ruffians and how he tells Earl..."if you miss 'im...I've got 'im".

There may be better examples of Jeffrey Carp's harmonica playing out there somewhere, I just haven't found it. Paul Butterfield and Charlie Musselwhite are the well known entities of white boys blowing the blues back in the day, but I'd say, based on what I hear, that Jeffrey Carp's star was destined to rise--if. If, I don't know. Seems to be a mystery as far as just what happened to Jeff Carp. I have heard numerous tales, and most of them are along the lines of what the album producer Ed Michel said in the liner notes of the re-issue CD, "...Jeff Carp either fell off a boat while going up the Amazon, or fell off a boat while smuggling something back into the United States on the way back from South America. Went overboard and was never seen again". Other's claim that he fell off a boat while partying somewhere off a Carribean island. Dunno--but I do know that we lost a darned good blues harp player, and I'm glad that I found this example of what he could do with a Marine Band in his mouth. 'nuff for now.

p.s.--here's the post that Mike Lynch refers to in his comments on this post. I've heard this story before also, and Dick Shurman probably knows as well as anyone.

From the Blindman Blues forum:
I knew Jeff. He used to come see me when his boss at the time Sam Lay (before Earl Hooker hired him and guitarist Paul Asbell away from Sam) used to ask him to learn songs just like the record, to hear the records he was supposed to learn. (I believe he recorded with Sam for Testament.) I also saw him with Hooker a few times. He and Paul flew home from Cal. as soon as they got paid for the "Don't Have To Worry" LP because of Hooker's usual financial mistreatment. Jeff was one of the smartest people I ever knew, but also on the wild side. When there was campus unrest in early '69, Jeff was a liaison between the parties.

Supposedly he and his lady celebrated the Wolf "London Sessions" by booking a holiday cruise off Panama. Amid the New Year's Eve revelry onboard, a messed-up passenger went berserk and started stabbing people. Jeff jumped overboard, even though he couldn't swim, and that was that.

Playboy published a special magazine called "The Hippies" (you can imagine how insightful it wasn't) in the early '70s, and it includes Janis Joplin (with whom Jeff had a brief thing) taking an impressed reporter to see Jeff.

Jeff was originally from NYC, supposedly raised on the same block where King Curtis got killed.


Mike Lynch said...

This is one of my favorite albums -funny I was just listening to it in the car today. I agree that Carp's playing is very enjoyable on this disk. Thanks for posting about this one!

Ricky Bush said...

Hey Mike---this was a nice find for me. Really, I didn't know that it existed, but seems that others like yourself knew about it. My buddy, Steve Schneider said that he had it when I mentioned it to him, and he asked if it was the one with studio shots of the session, but none of Carp. I think a little Voodoo surround Jeffrey Carp. Man, he had good chops.

Mike Lynch said...

The vinyl LP did have a photo of Carp in the studio. If I remember correctly, this same lineup (Earl's band at the time) also recorded another LP with Charles Brown around the same time. I believe that Earl and John Lee were cousins, right?

Ricky Bush said...

Hey Mike--yeah, I'm pretty sure that they were Earl's band and from what I know, Earl would share them with his cousin John Lee. Earl did back up Charles Brown on the Bluesway Legends lp. A rendition of Drifing Blues is on Earl's Simply The Best compilation. Sounds like his band was pretty much the studio's house band for a few years with certain artists.

The Earl Hooker lp that has the Andrew Odom vocal that I mentioned is called Don't Have To Worry. Some of that is on Simply The Best, but very little harp from Carp.

Mike Lynch said...

Hey Ricky - for more info on Jeff Carp check out the thread about him on the Blindman's Blues Forum. I guess Dick Shurman knew him.

Ricky Bush said...

Hey Mike--I used to go over to the Blindman's forum quite a bit. After a computer hard drive mishap--I lost track of some of my favorites. Thanks for reminding me of its existence.

I couldn't find the Carp thread, and the site wouldn't let me search. Is it in the post war section?

Ricky Bush said...

Never mind--I found the thread and have posted a copy.

Jeffrey McMeans said...

I found this story enlightening and am digging your blues blog. I Googled Jeffrey Carp and found your article and although I didn't have The Hookers album, I did have Muddy's Fathers and Son album and am enjoying Jeff's harp playing.

Ricky Bush said...

Hey Jeffrey--thanks for commenting. Yeah, I think that Carp was a real deal harpman and could have been an influence on future folks.

Jerry said...

I was Jeff Carp's banjo & guitar teacher around 1960. I may have introduced him to harp also, but that would have been a sidebar to guitar &/or banjo. I also taught his father, who wanted to share the experience with his son. I just Googled him for the first time and found this.
Gerald Marks

Ricky Bush said...

Hey Jerry--now that is just flat out cool. Sounds like you headed him down his musical path. Thanks for the comment and dropping by the 'ol blog here.

Anonymous said...

On a whim I was searching for information on Jeff Carp and came across this thread. I knew Jeff in High School in Brooklyn, back around 1964. He went straight to University of Chicago without finishing High School, and picked up harp there. Prior to that he was a superb banjo and guitar player and wrote some songs in a Dylanesque vein, one of which I still have written down somewhere. I last saw him around 1970 in San Francisco, where he was palling around with Janis Joplin. The story I heard was that he was high on LSD and decided to swim to shore, but man, that was such a long time ago, anything could have been possible.
His old partner, Paul Asbell, is still active playing in Vermont, and may know more specifics about Jeff.
Mark Schenker

Ricky Bush said...

Hey Mark--thanks for stopping by and many thanks for the information that you provided.

JC said...

The 1974 track "goin' down slow," from the "London revisited" version of the howlin wolf sessions shows just incredible playing. I believe this was him as well. Much louder song, but I'd say it nearly outshines the hooker track in terms of cold hard chi blues.


Ricky Bush said...

Hey JC, thanks for this info. I have the album somewhere. I'll check out that track when I track down where I stuck the album.

Ricky B

chrisb said...

Grew up with him in brooklyn. I was almost as good a harp player. Maybe you heard me in Boulder siding with Zephyr or in Madison with Scott Johnson. chris b

Ricky Bush said...

Hey Chris--

I've heard of Zephyr, haven't heard their music. Didn't Otis Taylor play with them back in the day? Did you play with him at the time? Thanks for dropping by.

Gerald Marks said...

I just checked back here, having posted about Jeff in 2011, and now I see that Mark Schenker posted, in 2012, about how "he was a superb banjo and guitar player" and it was a thrill to hear this. I think I taught him those instruments from the very beginning at the Metropolitan Music School, where I was paid $3/hr. Of course my rent was $49.00 a month back then.

I saw somewhere that Jeff played with the Rolling Stones. Is that so? I switched from music to Visual Art in 1966, but my biggest claim to fame may be that I directed three music videos for the Stones in 1989-90.

I think I remember Jeff's father as working for the NY Times as a lead-slinging type setter and a strong union member from the Old Left. He wanted Jeff to become a Civil Rights Lawyer and I remember thinking that it was manipulative of him to push Jeff into what he wanted, however good a thing that was.

The funny thing is that the lawyer who negotiated my Rolling Stones deal for me has become a very famous Civil Rights Attorney.

Ricky Bush said...

That'a a pretty interesting bit of information, Jerry. Cool that you directed the Stones videos.

See ya--
Ricky B

Gerald Marks said...

Thanks Ricky,
The part of yesterday's writing that kept haunting me all night was how Jeff's father had pushed him to be what dad wanted not what Jeff wanted. There's a famous story about Judy Collins, who had studied to be a classical musician, invited her former classical teacher to one of her concerts where thousands of people adored her singing. After the show, the former teacher said, "Oh Judy, you could have been so great!"!!! I couldn't fact check this story but I think I remember Judy telling it in an interview, and it highlights a mistake parent figures sometimes can make.

I had other students, over the years, who had been excessively pushed by their parents. As another musician taught us, "Teach your children well"

Mick said...

This is a really great post. I was looking for more info about Jeff Carp and I hit the jackpot with Google.

Ricky Bush said...

Thanks you very much, Mick. Don't know about the jackpot, but glad you stopped by the blog.

Gerald Marks said...

I couldn't resist Googling Jeff again and thinking about him. I found that he made President Obama's playlist last summer. (I didn't know our prez had a playlist!) Jeff must have become a great musician, working with people I later worked with but not living much longer after his success. Somehow, being on the president's playlist oddly parallels his father's pressuring him to become a civil rights lawyer.

Obama's Summer Playlist (for day) includes both "Gimme Shelter" and Howlin' Wolf's "Wang Dang Doodle" (London session). Stones represent!

POTUS summer playlists: []

Wang Dang Doodle - Howlin' Wolf (London Session)

Wolf (vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica);
Eric Clapton, Hubert Sumlin (guitar);
Jeffrey M. Carp (harmonica);
Joe Miller, Jordan Sandke, Dennis Lansing (horns);
Steve Winwood (piano, organ);
Ian Stewart, Lafayette Leake, Phil Upchurch, John Simon (piano);
Bill Wyman, Klaus Voorman (bass);
Ringo Starr (drums);
Charlie Watts (percussion)
Recorded in Olympic Sound Studios, London, England in 1971

RichardJo said...

I knew Jeff Carp (though not well). A truly talented musician. I have no first-hand knowledge, but an especially well-informed contact told me that his death was a drug-related murder.

Anonymous said...

Jeff Karp plays throughout and does one great vocal[Ball Game On A rainy Day]on an Earl Hooker LP release on the Blues On Blues label titled Funk - Last of the Great Earl Hooker, produced by Al Smith. Great mainly instrumental album which also features one vocal from Earl [Sweet Home Chicago]
And as previously noted he contributes some strong harp behind Sam Lay Band on a Testament compilation titled Goin To Chicago.
Tim Gunn

Ricky Bush said...

Cool, Tim. I'll try to track that one down. Never heard a vocal cut my JK.

Jane Pap said...

I was a very good friend of Jeff Carp's during our high school years at Wingate H.S. in Brooklyn. Jeff hung around with a group of students who stood outside the stereotypical high school culture; some of us had become involved in listening to and playing folk music by the time we were in junior high school; that would have been from 1960 and onward. We were also politically active on the Left.

Jeff had charisma even back then; he was a year younger than the rest of the group (I think he was born in July 1948), but he was a good fit with the rest of our friends. Jeff, an excellent student, was very bright. He wrote poetry and l think he also wrote some music. He had a somewhat Dylanesque persona; all of us, including Jeff, hung around Washington Square on Sundays, and we played a lot of music at each other’s houses.

Jeff was Jewish; he grew up on a street of modest single-family homes in East Flatbush. He was an only child, and I think his parents focused a lot of if attention on him and his precocities, recognizing that he was a specially gifted kid. One of my friends recalls that at times there was palpable friction between Jeff and his dad, whose first name I think was Eli, and who worked as a printer or something like that at the New York Times. There was a significant coterie of Jewish families that had left-leaning affinities (some of them were former Communist party members) and I believe Jeff's parents were part of or sympathetic to that group.

Finally, when I read and think about the way Jeff died, I have a lingering suspicion that I knew he couldn't swim. On first hearing the news and forever afterwards, I have thought that Jeff’s death must have been the ultimate devastation for his parents, their gifted son dying so young.

Gerald Marks said...

Jane, you describe Jeff and his father exactly as I remember them. The Metropolitan Music School, where I taught them (Remember I taught Jeff AND his father, in separate lessons!) was full of Old Lefties. The Registrar of the school had been the registrar of City College, a big job, but but had been fired from that job during the McCarthy era. The school required all teachers to be members of TU, the Teacher's Union, the far left teachers union. I was paid $3/hr. for teaching! They probably took 40 minute lessons each, so I guess I got $4 for teaching the two of them. I left teaching at Metropolitan to teach at the Neighborhood Music School in the Bronx, where they paid $3.50/hr.. I still remember that November day in 1963 when I took the train up to that school for an afternoon & evening of teaching and the registrar said, "President Kennedy has been shot and all classes have been cancelled".

Ricky Bush said...

Thanks for adding the comments about Jeff Carp. He as definitely a great blues harp player and I knew so little about him.

Gerald Marks said...

Friday evening, I was early for meeting the woman I love to see "Bohemian Rapsody" (Which was great!) and I took a walk past the Metropolitan Music School , where I taught Jeff, and I got to tell about long ago. Besides Jeff, I taught Paul Robeson's granddaughter there.