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Our July 18, 1987 show with the great John Lee Hooker at the Union Bar in Minneapolis was put together by Morris Wilson, a local jazz saxophonist, and his girlfriend (who was a “special friend” of John Lee’s.) Neither one seemed to have any experience as a promoter as far as we could tell. It was also very unusual for the Union to present a show by an outside promoter on a Saturday night. The Union was a large bar with a good record of booking the finest national and local blues acts. I saw Albert Collins record his live album, Frozen Alive! there and I was introduced to Muddy Waters by Mojo Buford when he played his final Minneapolis show at the Union. John Lee wasn’t on the road at the time but flew in for this show along with his guitarist/musical director, Michael Osborn. Jealous had recently been released to positive reviews but the mega-stardom of The Healer was still a few years away. We arrived for rehearsal in the afternoon and found the PA and amps for John Lee and Michael had not arrived on stage as planned. We rehearsed for a few minutes with Michael and then went around the corner to Kramarczuk’s for lunch. John spilled Borscht on the neck of some poor guy in a white shirt and left a pink stripe down his spine. We giggled like fools. I think Michael thought we were all crazy and would really blow the show as we paid little attention to his advice on how to play with John Lee, instead laughingly recounting tales of our own last night’s wild behavior.

Showtime came and we met Mr. Hooker - a true gentleman. Dressed impeccably as always, he generously offered us access to his cooler filled with soft drinks and beer. We happily accepted and grabbed beers for the band. I opened another and brought it to him as we headed upstairs to do the opening set. As we took the stage we learned that Morris had also put vocalist Willie Walker on the show. Unfortunately, this was the first mention of it to us and we did not really know any of Willie’s material. We played about half of the set alone and then called up Willie, faking our way though a handful songs. The crowd seemed to enjoy it almost as much as we did.

Star time came and we did a song or two featuring Michael Osborn and then called up John Lee. We found out they had a strange keyboard amp (with a horn!) for John Lee to play through instead of the Fender called for in the contract. When he sat down to play, his amp and the PA began to feed back. He initially cussed out everybody involved on mic and off then played bravely on through the problems. The sound was never truly fixed all night but no one in the audience seemed to mind so maybe it was only the stage sound that was bad. Maybe the audience just didn't care as long as John Lee Hooker was entertaining them. Somewhere in the middle of the show John Lee remarked to me that he wished he had one of those beers right about now. I sent a friend after drinks for us all and John Lee seemed grateful and rather amazed when a beer showed up for him right before “Serves Me Right to Suffer.” While singing that "his-doctor-had-put-him-on-a-diet-of-milk-cream-and-alcohol" and that he "wasn’t-gonna-drink-no-more" he often looked over at me, then at his half full beer, and smiled.

After the show Michael Osborn remarked that he had no idea how I had followed him so well, standing on the other side of the stage and never looking at him. I replied that since I was standing next to Mr. Hooker I thought I’d follow him. John Lee laughed and signed an autograph for bassist John Lindberg. He carried it in his wallet for years after the show.

Click here to read what Bob "Bobo" Bingham had to say about the show...

More on John Lee Hooker
http://w1.191.telia.com/~u19104970/johnnielee.html

http://www.blueflamecafe.com/index.html

 

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