John Lee Hooker

Digging Up Gold

Music Features John Lee Hooker
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Archival blues material, once the tiny domain inhabited by collectors of dusty old 78s in flea markets, garage sales and back pages of specialty publications like Goldmine, is now big business thanks to CDs and the burgeoning DVD market. Eagle Entertainment and the John Lee Hooker Estate, run by the late legendary bluesman’s 56-year-old daughter Zakiya, are throwing their proverbial hats into the arena with a pair of historically invaluable new releases. The Jack O’ Diamonds CD, taken from a tape recorded by animator Gene Deitch at a private party in his Detroit home in 1949, is an intimate performance given by Hooker who passed away in 2001, and demonstrates a raw, natural style that would later go on to inspire such rock icons as Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Van Morrison. Long feared lost, the tape was recorded on primitive paper tape on an old reel-to-reel recorder and, amazingly, was still preserved.

Zakiya, a court manager in Oakland and musician who recorded with her dad and as a solo artist, enthuses, “What I really love about the tape is that the first time I heard it, it took me back to my childhood. There’s some old gospel on it that is absolutely fabulous.”

Augmenting the CD release is the DVD Come See About Me, a video anthology of interviews with the blues-boogie master, and video footage covering the years 1960 through his comeback in 1989, when he won a Grammy for The Healer, which included such esteemed guest artists as Carlos Santana and Bonnie Raitt, both of whom appear in the DVD. “My dad’s old manager … originally told us that he only had one video on my dad which both of them owned together,” explains Zakiya, whose legal expertise proved invaluable in producing the project. “It came to light that there were over 300 videos out on him that my family knew nothing about. Through a court settlement, he had to give us access to them.”

Seeing her father’s work potentially exploited is nothing new to Zakiya. While she was growing up in the ’50s, her dad who wasn’t receiving his proper royalties from the legendary Chess and Vee Jay labels, had to resort to also recording under such colorful pseudonyms as Texas Slim, Little Pork Chops, and Birmingham Sam and His Magic Guitar, because as Zakiya remembers, “He was just trying to support his family. I mean, at this point, the record companies were really cheating him. So, he finally went to court to try to get back some of the money that was owed to him. It’s a shame that they did this to people like him, but then karma catches up with everyone. Now you’ve got kids draining the record companies through downloading, so now they’re beginning to understand what it was like when they were cheating my dad.”

Zakiya is also involved in running the John Lee Hooker Foundation, a charitable organization which, along with the Grateful Dead’s Rex Foundation and Carlos Santana’s Milagro Foundation, teaches underprivileged, at-risk children in the Oakland area the history of the blues, how to play an instrument and — should they decide on a musical career — how to avoid the pitfalls that befell her father.

“Thankfully the younger blues artists of today are a bit more business savvy than my dad was,” she says. “Sometimes when I’m in a record store and I see some questionable releases of my dad’s, I’ll contact these companies and ask them if they have the authority or license to put it out. It’s sad that artists like him go to their graves, and people are still trying to rape and pillage them.”

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