John Lee Hooker Jr. ready for some cooking in Newport

BMS talks with the blues favorite about his new album, show in Newport and more

, Contributing Writer

John Lee Hooker, Jr. might be the son of a legendary blues man, but he’s carved out a style all his own. On Saturday, he’ll bring his brand of contemporary blues to Rhode Island as part of the inaugural Newport Blues & BBQ Festival, alongside fellow blues greats Taj Mahal, Shemekia Copeland and more.

Saturday’s set, his only scheduled appearance on the East Coast, will give fans a preview of his forthcoming album, All Hoocked Up. Scheduled to hit stores in September, his fifth album will be packaged with a DVD of his animated film noir “Dear John”. The new release will mark his first since 2010’s Live in Istanbul, Turkey and first studio effort since 2008’s All Odds Against Me.

Never one to shy away from discussing his spirituality, music, and past struggles, Hooker recently spoke to Boston Music Spotlight about his new album, live shows and why audiences might not want to stand too close to the stage in Newport on Saturday.

Boston Music Spotlight (BMS): Can you talk about your new album?

John Lee Hooker, Jr. (JLHJ): It’s the first blues album accompanied with a double disc with the first ever blues animated cartoon. It’s a double disc. It’s a great CD. It’s rounded, meaning it has a Motown sound, it has some jazz, it has some low-down dirty blues. It is accompanied with the legendary clean-up woman Betty Wright. She does a duet with me on a song called “I Surrender”. And then the legendary guitarist Lucky Peterson is on a song I dedicated to the soldiers, the men and the women in the military called “You Be My Hero”. It’s a great song. We are so happy. Can’t wait until it comes out.

BMS: How did the visual aspects of this album come about?

JLHJ: I guess they are God given gifts. I wasn’t born with it, God gave it to me. I collaborated and produced with my co-producer [Laurent Mercier] in Paris to do the graphic illustration. His father was a jazz enthusiast and of course my father was a blues man. They both admired each other and of course both of them have gone on. This gentleman contacted my management one day saying, “Hey I do graphic animation. Let’s do something together.” And now we’ve been together now for five years. The name of the DVD animation on the CD is “Dear John”. It shows a split of how my life was and how it is now. The only thing I didn’t do was ride on a white horse but I wear a white suit for my happily ever after.

BMS: Did you have ideas for visual concepts before he approached you?

JLHJ: It’s basically, I’m a storyteller. When I was a kid they didn’t call me a big liar, they called me a big storyteller because I knew how to create stories. Now I create stories in my music. I would create the music and then the stories behind it would feed the animation. We collaborated in that way.

BMS: What visual aspects to you add to your live shows?

JLHJ: It’s part of the package. When we’re at casinos or big theatres and there’s a movie screen we show some at first. If there’s a projector we show that to introduce our show and get busy.

BMS: Any plans to do another live album?

JLHJ: I don’t know. I guess that’s a question I need to ask you or someone else. That’s a good question. Something to be considered. Live shows just happen spontaneously. When I was in Istanbul, Turkey, it was so electric and the fans were screaming and hollering and the band was clapping. That’s what was live and then all of a sudden we decided, “Hey let’s make this live. Let’s record this”. And that’s exactly what we did. So when the time comes, sure, it’ll happen again in the moment and we’ll say, “Let’s just go ahead and put this on a CD”. Whether it’s in India or Africa or what not.

BMS: In the last couple of years you’ve done a lot of interesting things, like a teaser video for the US Open. How do these side projects come about?

JLHJ: I wish I knew how those projects came about because I’d make them happen more often. For that, I received a call when I was on tour and the US Open said, “We see you’re going to be in New York and we also researched that you’ll be off on this day and the next day when you’re in New York and you’re going to be performing that night. What do you say we hook up and do this and do that and we pick you up and we’ve got your five star hotel on Park Avenue all ready and we’re going to give you this much money.” And I’m like, “Let’s do it!” So it just happens. You bring a couple of changing outfits and I had a ball.

BMS: Anything like that you want to do in the future?

JLHJ: The right people will call me. I’m sure. I keep doing the right thing in front of God and my name is clean. My name is clean now. People are hearing about me. People like you are calling me. I’m sure something else is going to happen.  A club in Jerusalem called me. I was in Israel and said a few words on stage and did an interview with the Jerusalem Post and soon TV cameras were at the house. I was on the 700 Club. So we don’t know what’s around the corner. But God does and I know somethings getting ready to happen. You mark these words. Something’s getting ready to happen again. We’re excited. It’s like a gift. You know the gift is coming and you can’t open it right now but you know there’s something in that box you know is going to be fine.

BMS: You’re playing a Blues and BBQ festival. Do you like playing these bigger shows with a bunch of artists?

JLHJ: I like the big crowds and I like the small, intimate crowds. Both of them are big fun. You got people right there in your face. You can talk to them and shake their hand while you’re singing. Big crowds are harder to get to people because of security. But I love the energy.

BMS: Are you going to play mostly new material at your Newport show?

JLHJ: I’m going to play my new material, my old material and then throw in a couple of my dad’s work. So I can satisfy everybody.

BMS: Anything else you would like our readers to know?

JLHJ: I’d advise that people don’t get too close to the stage because they might get burnt by some of the hot grease popping off. We are getting ready to do some cooking up there.

Interview has been edited and condensed.

The Newport Blues & BBQ Festival will take place Saturday at the Newport Yachting Center in downtown Newport as part of the Newport Sunset Music Series. The day-long event will feature sets from Taj Mahal, John Lee Hooker Jr., Shemekia Copeland, Marcia Ball and Joanne Shaw Taylor. Tickets the show can be purchased through the Newport Sunset Music Series website in advance for $45 or $50 on the day of.

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