Genre – Blues, Electric Blues and R&B

John Lee Hooker – House of the Blues

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House of the Blues

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This 1959 Black Label (Unbreakable!) original deep groove Chess mono LP has some seriously good Super Hot Stamper sound on side one, earning a sonic grade of At Least A++. My notes for the sound of the third track read “very real.” You get the feeling that whatever John Lee Hooker played and sang on that day in 1959 ended up on this record sounding just the way he performed it, live to one-track. 

You may have noticed that records like this rarely make it to the site. Many don’t sound good, and the ones that do usually have surfaces that most audiophiles would find unacceptable. This record barely made the cut condition-wise. If it didn’t sound so good on side one we wouldn’t have bothered with it. But it did — it sounds great, so if you can tolerate some authentic Chess surfaces from 1959, you will get to hear what John Lee Hooker really sounded like on the day he sang these songs.

Side One

AT LEAST A++. We’ve heard our share of old Blues records and this one sounded about as good as any we can recall. The first track is weak, but the second track was full, solid, clear, present and tubey. That’s the sound it should have, and that’s what we heard. It’s right, and there’s no denyin’ it.

Side Two

A+ to A++. Tonally fine, but less extension on both ends, less fullness to the vocal, and slightly smaller sound than on side one. A good sounding Blues record but not a great one.

Wikipedia on John Lee Hooker

Hooker’s guitar playing is closely aligned with piano boogie-woogie. He would play the walking bass pattern with his thumb, stopping to emphasize the end of a line with a series of trills, done by rapid hammer-ons and pull-offs. The songs that most epitomize his early sound are “Boogie Chillen”, about being 17 and wanting to go out to dance at the Boogie clubs, “Baby, Please Don’t Go”, a blues standard first recorded by Big Joe Williams, and “Tupelo Blues”,[20] a song about the flooding of Tupelo, Mississippi in April 1936.

He maintained a solo career, popular with blues and folk music fans of the early 1960s and crossed over to white audiences, giving an early opportunity to the young Bob Dylan. As he got older, he added more and more people to his band, changing his live show from simply Hooker with his guitar to a large band, with Hooker singing.

His vocal phrasing was less closely tied to specific bars than most blues singers. This casual, rambling style had been gradually diminishing with the onset of electric blues bands from Chicago but, even when not playing solo, Hooker retained it in his sound.

Though Hooker lived in Detroit during most of his career, he is not associated with the Chicago-style blues prevalent in large northern cities, as much as he is with the southern rural blues styles, known as delta blues, country blues, folk blues, or “front porch blues”. His use of an electric guitar tied together the Delta blues with the emerging post-war electric blues.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Walkin’ the Boogie 
Love Blues 
Union Station Blues
It’s My Own Fault 
Leave My Wife Alone 
Ramblin’ by Myself

Side Two

Sugar Mama 
Down at the Landing 
Louise 
Ground Hog Blues 
High Priced Woman 
Women and Money

AMG  Review

… [collects] 1951-1954 efforts by the Hook. Some important titles here: an ominous “Leave My Wife Alone,” and the stark “Sugar Mama” and “Ramblin’ by Myself,” and with Eddie Kirkland on second guitar, “Louise” and “High Priced Woman.”

The Blues… A Real Summit Meeting

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The Blues… A Real Summit Meeting

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all four sides of this wonderful double album collection from 1973 
  • This copy is surprisingly spacious, full-bodied and natural, with a nice extended top end, plenty of space around the instruments and few of the problems that plagued most of the pressings we played
  • Features B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Big Mama Thornton, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and more
  • Recorded live at Newport in New York, this is an OUTSTANDING blues album

This is an excellent sounding Buddah Brown & Pink Label Double LP. Listen to ’Big Mama’ Thorton’s voice on this record — it sounds like somebody forgot to put a limiter on her mic. It is without a doubt one of the most dynamic vocals I have ever heard on any record in my entire life. You feel like you are sitting front row center.

This record sounds JUST RIGHT to me. It doesn’t sound like there’s anything you could do to it to make it sound better. It’s tonally correct from top to bottom and very transparent. If you want a great introduction to the blues, I can’t think of a better one than this. (more…)

Willie Dixon – I Am The Blues

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

TWO EXCELLENT SIDES for this Red Label pressing, including a shootout-winning, A+++ side one. The sound here is big and open, with the kind of life and presence we just don’t hear on the typical pressings. And the material is TOP NOTCH — Dixon was one of the blues’ greatest songwriters, responsible for Spoonful, Hoochie Coochie Man, Little Red Rooster, Back Door Man and other songs you’ve probably heard your favorite classic rock band covering. (more…)

The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Brubeck And Rushing

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This Minty looking Columbia Six Eye Demo LP has SUPERB SOUND and some of the quietest Six Eye vinyl I’ve ever heard. If you’re a fan of either Dave Brubeck or Jimmy Rushing you can’t do better than this album. The sound is as close to perfection as I can imagine.

Albert King – Live Wire – Blues Power

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  • An outstanding copy of this Must Own Live Blues album, with Double Plus (A++) sound for both sides
  • Accept no substitutes – no reissue of the album can ever give you the energy, size and you-are-there presence that’s on this disc
  • Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus – finding these originals with top quality sound and surfaces this quiet is not getting any easier
  • “Live Wire/Blues Power is one of Albert King’s definitive albums. Recorded live at the Fillmore Auditorium in 1968, the guitarist is at the top of his form throughout the record — his solos are intense and piercing… he makes Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” dirty and funky and wrings out all the emotion from “Blues at Sunrise.””

This is one of the all time great live Blues albums. THIS IS BLUES POWER! (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – The Original Fleetwood Mac

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  • This CBS Orange Label Import LP is one of the BEST SOUNDING Fleetwood Mac albums ever 
  • With Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, this was one of the better copies from our shootout
  • Original Fleetwood Mac (1971) is an undeniably strong collection culled primarily from the band’s first incarnation, featuring John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Peter Green, and Jeremy Spencer.”

The music on this album was recorded when they were still a blues band — tracks left off their early albums for one reason or another.

As is so often the case with unreleased material, these songs do not have that overproduced, too-many-generations-of-tape sound. This sounds like Fleetwood Mac live in the studio most of the time. In other words, awesome. If the drum sound on the first track isn’t enough to convince you this is an amazing sounding record, I don’t know what would. (more…)

Willie Dixon – I Am The Blues – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album.

It was pretty easy to separate the men from the boys in this shootout. A quick drop of the needle on each side would immediately answer our number one question: “How BIG is the sound?” The copies that lacked top end extension or heft in the bottom end were just too uninvolving. This is the BLUES, baby — you think it’s supposed to sound small and distant?

Another problem we ran into on many copies was excessive smoothness. When a copies was overly rich or smeary, it usually lacked the “gritty” feel that music like this should have.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m listening to the blues I am not looking for glossy sound. Give me the texture and the detail that Willie Dixon put on the tape. I don’t want his sound to be “fixed” after the fact. (more…)

B.B. King – Live & Well

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  • With two Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning sides, this original Bluesway pressing from 1969 simply could not be beat
  • Surprisingly dynamic, with great energy, this copy brought BB King’s music to life in our listening room like no other could
  • This copy had the Tubes and the Big Bass that this music needs to work it’s Electric Blues Magic from The Master himself
  • “…a worthy recording on its own merits, divided evenly between live and studio material. King’s always recorded well as a live act, and it’s the concert tracks that shine brightest…”

Some of the Bluesway pressings we’ve auditioned recently have had exceptionally big, rich, lively sound, and that’s the way we like our music to sound.

There are plenty of dogs in the King canon, especially in the ’70s, so you have to be somewhat careful with the man’s recordings, but good titles in the ’60s with excellent sound can still be found if you’re willing to do the work (or you’re willing to let us do it for you). (more…)

Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac – A Simply Vinyl Winner

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Sonic Grade: B

160 gram Simply Vinyl pressing of this EXCELLENT LP. This is the early, BLUESY Mac, about as far from Rumours as you can get. The sound here is excellent — dark and smooth like a good British Blues album should be.  Simply Vinyl did a superb job here.

Correction: an unnamed mastering engineer at the label that owns the tape did a superb job. Simply Vinyl isn’t in the business of mastering or remastering ANYTHING. They leave that up to the pros at the record labels.

Sometimes those guys screw it up and sometimes they get it right.

Albert King – Born Under a Bad Sign on Mediocre Sundazed Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: C

Commenting about the first Hot Stamper pressing of this album ever to come our way, we noted:

This original Stax LP has AMAZING sound. You could not make this record sound any better. We really liked the Sundazed copy of this record until we heard this bad boy. It MURDERS their pressing! It has far more life, energy and presence than the Heavy Vinyl pressing. We always suspected that a good original would be better but we had no way of knowing since all the copies we saw were beat to death.