Monday, March 21, 2011

Masters of the Country Blues: John Lee Hooker and Furry Lewis.


The John Lee Hooker material which opens this DVD comes from a Seattle Folklore Society series entitled "Masters of American Traditional Music" -- specifically, a segment from a 1958 film entitled John Lee Hooker: Born With the Blues by KCTS-TV in Seattle, producer John S. Ullman, and director Ron Ciro. The then 41-year-old Hooker, seated and playing a solo electric guitar, introduces {&"It Serves Me Right to Suffer" and shows why it was often so hard for bands to work with him, as his fingers -- often depicted in extreme tight close-ups -- move as the spirit carries him across the fret board in lead guitar flourishes while he never loses the beat of what he's doing. This is the way to shoot a solo blues artist, with the camera and tightness of the shots varying from minute to minute so that there is nothing static anywhere. Once he kicks into {&"Boom Boom," the movement never slackens its pace and the image matches the inherent tension in the music. This section, even capturing his foot motion along with his playing and singing in close-up, would probably make the best John Lee Hooker video clip imaginable. Had it been available to them, one can just imagine Hilton Valentine or Keith Richards spending hours watching these clips over and over for hours at a time. In between the songs, Hooker gives full, but never overly long, thoughts on what the music means to him. The Furry Lewis segment, from the early '60s, is the video equivalent of his Riverside label Memphis recordings. Seated on a stool and playing an acoustic guitar, Lewis takes us through eight songs in his repertory, the camera a little less mobile but still showing off the way in which he drew an almost orchestral range out of his single instrument. The highlight of his set is {&"Kassie Jones;" unfortunately, he doesn't give it the extended treatment it received on his original early-'30s recording, but it's such a treat to see Lewis do this signature tune. The rest of his set, including {&"I Will Turn Your Money Green," {&"Take Me Back," and {&"East St. Louis Blues," isn't to be missed, either -- Lewis gets sounds that more properly should belong to two players. The program begins automatically on start-up and the menu -- with each song getting a chapter-marker -- must be accessed manually. The kinescope source, mastered in full-screen (1.33:1), is in amazingly good shape, with lots of detail, and the sound (mastered in Dolby Digital) is excellent and set at a healthy volume.

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