NEW YORK: House Rent Boogie - by J. Blake

Posted on 8/18/2009 by J. Blake

The majority of music fans (and even blues fans) know it as the first half of One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer by George Thorogood & The Destroyers, but what many people don’t realize is that the opening musical anecdote that Thorogood tells as a prelude to his rockin’ John Lee Hooker cover, is actually a different Hooker song all together. John Lee Hooker originally recorded House Rent Boogie in 1950 in Detroit for Modern Records, but the song did not reach its full potential until a fateful 1970 recording session in San Francisco.

Where as the original 1950 recording is extremely minimal and upbeat (featuring Hooker completely solo…tapping his foot to keep time, while playing a quick rhythmic bass lines on the low strings of the guitar and throwing in a few tastefully executed bits of lead on the high strings and belting out the vocal with authority), the 1970 version takes a completely opposite approach. The band featured on the latter recording is fairly big (with a 2nd guitar, bass, drums, harmonica and piano) and finds the (then) 53 year-old bluesman being backed by the likes of Steve Miller (guitar), Mark Naftalin (piano) and Geno Scaggs (bass). The young backing band holds down a slow and sexy groove that gradually builds in intensity as Hooker recites a first-person anecdote about a man who gets thrown out of his home by a landlady who is looking for the rent money. He turns to a friend for a place to sleep, but gets turned down because his friend’s “wife is funny”, but then manages to weasel his way back into his own house by making the landlady promises that he has no intention of keeping.

What makes this song so great is Hooker’s delivery. He doesn’t sing the lyrics, he tells the story. The opening line to the song is “I’m gonna tell you a story about the House Rent Boogie” and he goes on to “tell” it in a way that is compelling, entertaining and often comical. It is this delivery that is missing from Thorogood’s fast-paced rendition. Where as Hooker takes his time, setting the scene of how his landlady was “all lovey dovey and so nice” while he had a good job and then “a little funny” and “not smiling as much” after he tells her that he lost his job, Thorogood recites the same story in a way that almost seems like he can’t get it out fast enough…losing all the subtitle nuances and humor that Hooker so masterfully brought to it.

It is a real testament to Hooker’s talent as a blues artist and interpreter of lyrics. I often find that singers do not know how to interpret what they are singing…even if they wrote it. So many of singers, especially today, are just reciting lyrics and don’t seem to give much thought to what the words mean and to what they are saying. It unfortunately seems to be a dying art form these days.

Many people believe that it was the way Frank Sinatra interpreted the lyric that was his greatest talent. When Sinatra sang a song you felt like you were on a first-name basis with him, because only a friend would spill his guts to you the way Frank did. When Sinatra sang about losing a love or even about the joy of being in love, you as the listener felt that he knew what he was talking about…that he had been there and was now telling you about it…and you believed him. All the “greats” have that ability…it is what makes them great! B.B. King has that talent in spades and though John Lee Hooker’s approach was drastically different, he had that talent as well.

House Rent Boogie is just one of the many fine examples of Hooker’s greatness. For those of you keeping score at home, the specific version I am writing about can be found on the album ENDLESS BOOGIE. That album as whole is not among Hooker’s best, but it is a lot of fun and features many of 1970’s best young talent backing the late blues legend…including Steve Miller Mark Naftalin, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon and many more. That version of the song can also be found on the THE BEST OF JOHN LEE HOOKER: 1965-1974 and that is probably the single greatest collection of Hooker recordings you’ll find on one CD…in my humble opinion. So definitely pick that one up if you don’t have it.

Keep Rockin’,
J. Blake

Copyright © 2009 - J. Blake. All Rights Reserved.

Tune in next week for an exclusive interview with the one and only Robben Ford!!!

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
Chef Jimi.

And of course, we will surprise you sometimes!

Internet Marketingdata recovery