http://assets-s3.rollingstone.com/assets/images/album_review/ec8deb683394b74b4f1726eedb13ee34fb0dad6f.jpg The Healer

John Lee Hooker

The Healer

Rolling Stone: star rating
Community: star rating
5 4 0
October 19, 1989

Take pure John Lee Hooker, add strong doses of Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray, Canned Heat, Los Lobos and George Thorogood (all of whom appear on The Healer), and what do you get? Brilliant, 100-proof blues, that's what. One of the archetypal postwar Delta-born urban bluesmen, John Lee Hooker has been dispensing his own brand of corrosive blues for more than forty years, influencing the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Bob Dylan, the Doors, Van Morrison and countless others. Possessed of a harsh, primal power, his inimitable deep, dark vocals evoke sex, violence, defiant joy and doomed love in harmonically simple songs driven by rhythmic electric guitar and the clanging, open-tuned chords and foot tapping characteristic of country blues.

On The Healer, Hooker has concocted big, bad medicine. The opening title cut, performed with Santana, is sheer spirit-invoking incantation. Then Hooker enters the realm of the senses, covering his 1951 million seller "I'm in the Mood" in a slow bump-and-grind duet with Bonnie Raitt. As John Lee states his need, Raitt, at her seductive best, sidles up to and curls around each phrase in a sassy moan and response. Song after song lands its ideal groove as Hooker guides his players through an earthy blues cycle that chronicles the rites of carnal knowledge — from the don't-do-me-wrong pleas of "Baby Lee," spiked with Cray's trenchant guitar, to the somber, contemptuous stomp of "Sally Mae," whammied with Thorogood's slash 'n' trash slide.

Throughout, Hooker's mellowed-with-age growl reverberates, but his most powerful performances strip bare his soul in slow tombstone blues with stark accompaniment. Tormented by a cheating woman, he sways in sorrowful forgiveness to doomsday bass and Charlie Mussel-white's wailing blues harp ("That's Alright") and rocks with raw despair to dissonant National Steel chords ("Rockin' Chair") before he can whisper the record's last, hushed lesson — there "ain't no substitute for love."

Producer-guitarist Roy Rogers of the Delta Rhythm Kings faithfully captures the intimate banter and live-in-the-barroom, Fender-tube-amp quality of authentic blues. But the spirit that animates this album is the ageless voice of John Lee Hooker and his boogie-man blues. He has conjured up a renewed world blues with the canniness of the hoodoo healers and root doctors who first gave birth to the Delta blues.

Album Review Main Next


Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...


Sort by:
    Read More
    Around the Web
    Powered By ZergNet
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.


    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “Hungry Like the Wolf”

    Duran Duran | 1982

    This indulgent New Romantic group generated their first U.S. hit with the help of what was at the time new technology. "Simon [Le Bon] and I, I think, had been out the night before and had this terrible hangover," said keyboardist Nick Rhodes. "For some reason we were feeling guilty about it and decided to go and do some work." Rhodes started playing with his Jupiter-8 synth, and then "Simon had an idea for a lyric, and by lunchtime when everyone else turned up, we pretty much had the song." The Simmons drumbeat was equally important to the sound of "Hungry Like the Wolf," as Duran Duran drummer Roger Taylor stated it "kind of defined the drum sound for the Eighties."

    More Song Stories entries »