EARL HOOKER/ Complete Studio Recordings
Although Earl Hooker was highly praised by his pairs, he never gained the recognition his talents should have brought him.
Earl Zebedee Hooker was born in Vance, Ms on 15 January 1929 or 1930, from Earl Jake Hooker (an uncle of John Lee Hooker) and Mary Catherine Blare. His family moved to Chicago during the early 1930's and young Earl suffered from a frail health all his life, contracting tuberculosis while a child. He took the guitar at 10 years old and quickly developed a strong proficiency, listening to blues, jazz and Hillbilly greats like Les Paul, a strong inluence on him alongside T-Bone Walker. With his friend and mentor Robert Lee Mc Coy/ Nighthawk, Earl started to play on Chicago street corners while a child and thereafter in clubs and venues.
After the war, Robert Nighthawk who was constantly going from Chicago to the South brought Earl with him, the two performing on almost all Southern juke joints from Mississippi to Florida. In 1950, Earl formed his own band with Kansas City Red on drums, trying his luck a little bit everywhere, playing in Chicago quite regularly. Able to play all kinds of music with the same technical ability and proficiency, from deep Delta blues a la Nighthawk to Country & Westerns instrumentals unto jazz and swing numbers, Earl Hooker was very often in the studios backing many artists and waxing some numbers under his name for a lot of labels: King, DeLuxe, Rockin', Sun, Chess/Argo, United, States etc... His main drawback was his voice, a little bit light and unexpressive and for which he had no confidence.
In 1956, Earl suffered a bad attack of tuberculosis and had to be hospitalized for a long time. He had to wait 1959 to be fully back on the scene and on the recording studios, this time pairing with Junior Wells who brought him to Mel London's Chief group of labels. Very impressed by Earl's talents, Mel put Earl as his house guitarist for a lot of sessions and artists like Wells, Lillian Offitt, Magic Sam, A.C. Reed, Ricky Allen, Johnny "Big Moose" Walker, Bobby Paxton, Betty Everett and others. Earl also recorded some instrumentals under his name, particularly the soulful Blue guitar which went to be a minor hit in Chicago. In 1961, Hooker also recorded some instrumentals for Chess that Len Chess used later on as the backing track for some Muddy Waters's numbers (You shook me and You need love)!
During the mid-60's Earl Hooker recorded his first album for the Cuca label (The Genius of Earl Hooker) with a strong Funk appealing mood. But once again in 1967, Hooker had to be hospitalized for almost a year and he thus couldn't capitalize to this LP. In 1968, Earl boldly formed a new and original band with his old friend Pinetop Perkins at the keyboards, Freddie Roulette on steel guitar, Carey Bell and Andrew "Blues Boy" Odom, a powerful singer in the B.B. King's mould. The band impressed enough Arhoolie's Chris Strachwitz who then recorded Earl, issuing the great now classic LP Two bugs and a roach.
The album sold quite well among blues buffs around the world, allowing at last Earl to play on major festivals, recording several very nice albums for Blue Thumb (thanks to his old friend Ike Turner) and particularly Bluesway for which Hooker also was the lead guitarist on many albums by blues luminaries like Charles Brown, Jimmy Witherspoon, Johnny Walker, Brownie Mc Ghee & Sonny Terry, even pairing with his cousin John Lee Hooker on a memorable session (If you miss' em I got' em).
1969, Hooker and a lot of Arholie's artists toured
A very accomplished and versatile major guitarist, Earl left us a very rewarding recording legacy. Sebastian Danchin who knew very well Earl wrote a nice biography of the man, from which I have taken most of this article.
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