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.