story: Jon Lewis photo: Photo By Sheryl Crow and Frank Vigil Photography
JOHN LEE HOOKER JR. MORE THAN A BLUES ARTIST
Even if he dreamed it as a kid growing up on the tough streets of Detroit, John Lee Hooker Jr. says he never would have said a word about being an animated blues superhero. “People would have laughed.”
There’s no laughing now. Hooker is “Bluesman,” a cool-as-ice character who plays the blues at night and fights crime during the day. “Not that I could stop bullets or anything, but I’m super bad,” Hooker says during a telephone interview from his Sacramento home. “For the first time ever in the history of the blues, I’m the first blues superhero in a graphic cartoon.”
Fortunately for music fans, the real-life, three-dimensional artist will be appearing July 24 in Dunsmuir’s Botanical Gardens to headline the fifth annual Mossbrae Music Festival. The Dunsmuir-based jazz-folk duo of Allison Scull and Victor Martin will open, backed by the musicians who perform on their “Cool Like the Breeze” recording.
The cartoon was conceived by French graphic artist Laurent Mercier, the son of a jazz-playing contemporary of Hooker’s father, as a way for both men to pay tribute to their fathers.
Hooker is the son of John Lee Hooker, a pioneering bluesman who was the son of a Mississippi sharecropper. The elder Hooker left home at age 15 and finally landed in Detroit in 1948, where he made a name for himself with his distinctive guitar playing and singing. He went on to record more than 100 albums, featuring hits like “Boogie Chillen” (1948) and “Boom Boom” (1962), and was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
Hooker toured with his father in his teen years and at age 18 sang alongside his dad on the “Live at Soledad Prison” recording. A promising career was quickly derailed by drugs, alcohol, divorce, incarceration and homelessness. Hooker found redemption in music, his faith and the support of friends and family, and he mounted a comeback with the 2004 release of “Blues with a Vengeance.”
Hooker followed up with “Cold as Ice” in 2006 and “All Odds Against Me” in 2008. His latest recording is “Live From Istanbul.” “It was a wonderful experience,” Hooker says of his time in Turkey, where he learned that the appreciation of blues music knows no political or religious boundaries.
“I had never been to that part of the world. They had some great mosques there. I was awakened at 5 a.m. with the call to prayer. The people loved us. We could go back tomorrow and it would be the same thing,” Hooker says.
The scene was quite a departure from the typical nightclub. “People knew that this might be the last time they might be able to witness this type of extravaganza and they gave it their all. It’s unexplainable, just something that one never forgets for the rest of their life.” Hooker said he’s never struggled while following his father’s legendary footsteps. “I am who I am. I don’t try to be who I am, I am who I am. There are some people who are impersonators, but it’s never been any trouble for me. We already had one John Lee Hooker, one B.B. King, one Eric Clapton, one Etta James. They only need one, they don’t need two. That’s what I’m about.
“I’m blessed with a talent. People know my name these days by what I’ve produced and put out. People come out because of my name. I’m not lucky, I’m blessed. I’m not a carbon copy of my father.”
Proceeds from the Mossbrae Music Festival help support the Dunsmuir Chamber of Commerce, including operation of its visitors’ center, says Denise Bailey, the chamber’s office manager. “The profits help us get through the last little bit of winter,” she says.
The festival venue is a heavenly 10 acres of flowers, trees, shrubs, benches, statues and more, all with the crystal clear upper Sacramento River babbling along in the background.
“It’s nice. It’s the right temperature, the sun’s there for a little bit, you usually get a chance to meet the artist. It’s just a really kicked back, relaxed atmosphere,” Bailey says. Adding to the ambiance will be the opportunity for refreshments from the Brown Trout Café, including a barbecue tri-tip meal. Ice cream, beer, wine, soft drinks and water also will be available.
Tickets are $27.50 in advance at the Dunsmuir Chamber of Commerce, 5915 Dunsmuir Ave., and $33 at the gate. Children 16 and younger admitted free when accompanied by their parents. Call (530) 235-2177 for more information.