John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillen" is a raw, unvarnished ramped up electric rave and though he hailed from the Delta, Detroit proudly claims him as their own. He moved to the Motor City in the late 1940's and recreated the sound of the pounding auto plants with a dash of Mississipi wired up with electric watts. For 50 years his earliest recordings were thought to be the jazzed up sides cut by Elmer Barbee in Detroit. A year later, Joe Bessman recorded "Boogie Chillen" which was yesterday named as a historic recording worthy of the nation's highest sound honor. Hooker went on to ignore contracts and record under a dozen names for every label which would pay him fifty bucks, including Texas Slim, Delta Sam, Birmingham Sam, John Lee Booker, Johnny Hooker, John Cooker, Johnny Williams and Little Pork Chop. Clever, that young John Lee.
However, the story takes a curious twist. Gene Deitch, a Czech Academy-Award winning illustrator and under appreciated cartoonist, creator of Krazy Kat, Tom Terrific, Crabby Appleton, Mr. Instant, Captain Kidney Bean, Sweet Tooth Sam, The Candy Bandit and Isotope Feaney...(and if that isn't enough, the father of renowed cartoonist Kim Deitch) remembered having young Hooker over FOR DINNER and recording him performing 19 songs with an acoustic guitar in 1949. He lugged them around and stored them for fifty years. These precious sounds show John Lee playing the blues standards he started with and fit more at home down south than on Hastings Avenue. They are available on "Jack "0" Diamonds: 1949 Recordings. Boogie Chillen is available wherever you have ears, including virtually every ZZ Top tune. As a further amazing aside, Mr. Deitch also had the foresight to record the mysterous Connie Converse, who has become the latest flame for Doofus Hipsters chasing rare recorded thrills.
Belated congratulations to Mr. Hooker for having his proto-rock-boogie selected into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. Just plain congratulations to Mr. Deitch, who continues to live in Prague at age 84.
NOTE: MIke Baehr at Fantagraphics books points out that Gene Deitch isn't Czech, he merely lives in Prague...and that Mr. Deitch didn't create Krazy Kat, but he did illustrate it.