BigDawg Spotlight On: Grammy-Winning Singer/Songwriter James Hooker

In honor of Memorial Day, I thought we'd to try something a little different for this week's spotlight. I wanted to feature an artist who has written some great songs that pay tribute to our fallen heroes. As luck would have it, one of our site members, Sibella Giorello, an accomplished author who has published several books (and whose first-rate journalism has garnered national awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize), contacted me a few weeks back telling me she had recently conducted an interview with this week's featured artist. I read her wonderful write-up, thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the man behind the music, and wanted to share of few highlights from her interview. You can read the full version at BigDawg Music Mafia. It is my great honor and privilege to introduce Mr. James Hooker...

By Sibella Giorello

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Listen to this song. Listen to it. If this song doesn’t crack your heart wide open -- especially on Memorial Day weekend -- don't worry about Obamacare; you’re already dead.

I first caught James Hooker's "Hanging Out With the Boys" on Big Dawg Music Mafia when the tune was on the BigDawg Jukebox. But by the final chorus I’d downloaded the entire album and felt like some IED had just gone off. An Incendiary Ear Device that blew my mind.

"Hanging Out With the Boys" album had everything from blues to ballads to bagpipes. A soulful heart, yet not sad. Patriotic but not corny. And beyond all that, it managed to be absolutely unabashed in its support for our men and women in uniform.

After days of listening to it, I wrote singer/songwriter James Hooker a thank-you note.

But musicians are a funny breed. That innate sense of timing that makes them hit the right riffs on stage also shows up in conversations. For instance, Hooker’s reply to my letter. I told him my blues-musician husband thought his voice sounded like a cross between Leon Redbone and Leon Russell.

Hooker’s reply?

“Just so long as he doesn’t say Leon Panetta.”



Born James Brown (no joke), Hooker took his middle name as his last and served time in Memphis, Muscle Shoals and Nashville as an "A Team" studio musician and a founding member of "The Amazing Rhythm Aces.” He won a Grammy -- “my 17.5 minutes of fame," he says -- and spent years as Steve Winwood’s keyboard player, including the “Back in the High Life” tour. He was also folk-star Nanci Griffith’s band leader for nearly 20 years. After moving to Ireland and setting up house in a 16th-century Irish castle, Hooker moved to Mallorca, Spain where he lives with his beloved Jessica, the woman he "intends to die with," he says, "the exact order still to be determined.”

Despite years abroad, he doesn't want to be called an ex-pat.

“‘Ex’ my butt,” he said. “I’m an American.”


Yes, musicians are a funny breed. So rather than paraphrase the sometimes acerbic, sometimes tender blues-man, here’s James Hooker in his own words, talking about how his amazing patriotic album came together, and what it's like to play music surrounded by people who don’t think the same way politically.

You were raised in the South, the land of roots music and fabulous storytelling. I hear both influences on this album. But what's your connection to the troops, what compelled you to make "Hanging Out With the Boys?"

This album grew from something I felt for a long time. All my life, growing up in South Carolina, being surrounded by military bases, military people, things that went zoom and boom just a few feet above the house. I grew up listening to WWII and Korea stories told by uncles, neighbors and such, and photos on the mantle of kin who still sleep in France. I knew from a VERY early age, the debt I owed them then, and the debt I owe now to the younger warriors who have followed.

Those people I knew and saw every day during my formative years helped put out the fires of Hitler’s ovens. They saved countless millions of people across the Pacific and Asia from an equally horrible fate.

If somebody can t find thanks for the Vets from the past and the Troops/Vets of today, well, they have my pity.

The album has some wrenching, heroic, even dark messages -- delivered through everything from bagpipes to stomping kickers. Yet all the songs hold together thematically.

One of the best songwriters ever, the late Harlan Howard, said every great song was basically “Three chords and the truth.”

Harlan was talking about country music songs. But the “truth,” whether literal or fictional, holds sway in every great song’s greatness, no matter what genre.

“Truth” in a song is indefinable, but when it's not there, you miss it terribly.

There's a lot of “truth” on this album. So much so it feels like it was written by a veteran. But you didn’t serve in the military. How did the material come to you?

This album practically wrote itself, although it took it s sweet time - about eight years. It’s the album that finally convinced me that there is, indeed, a Muse. From time to time, things would get plain spooky. The songs kept “presenting” themselves. “Here I am! Record me, dummy!”

What initially kicked the songs into motion?

9/11.

Until that time, I’d never written a patriotic song in my life. But That. Event. Pissed. Me. Off.

After that, every other song or three, I’d get an idea, usually after watching something on TV or reading the paper, something particularly confounding and egregious or stirring and moving. And then snippets of lyrics and melody would start coming to me out of virtually nowhere.

The first complete song, however, didn t occur until I had finished watching HBO’s “Band Of Brothers.” Thus begat the song “Kids 1944.” And the album's title song, “Hanging Out With The Boys”, came soon after.

The album walks a delicate line. The songs are not rah-rah patriotism. Yet the love of America and the fight for freedom shines through. Do you consider any of the songs political, in the sense of pro-country?

Political? I don t feel the album is that political, with maybe the exception of “Calling All The Clans Together.” That particular song came to me entirely in a dream. I understood it to mean: “Vote every SOB out. Even if it means replacing them with a different set of SOBs.” (R) (D) (S) (I) -- I don t care, sod em all.

The challenge I found with writing a patriotic song was to avoid “corny.” It s not easy. It s really easy to write a lyric that sounds as though it was hatched in Aunt Edna s parlor.

You know, some people have told me “Hanging Out With The Boys” is corny. Okay, it’s corny. Shoot me. The Star Spangled Banner is corny. Shoot Francis Scott Key. But I don’t think honoring veterans is corny. They got SHOT at for you and me to enjoy the freedom to call it corny, if we so wish.

I wrote “Hanging Out With The Boys” for all Vets, yesterday and today. And “All Too Soon” to honor everyone from “The Greatest Generation.”

[vimeo 23586170]


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It s been a while since we ve gotten any guff from the Germans or the Japanese, and those good people, who put a stop to that foolishness, are dying at a rate of about 1,200 a day.

We need to say, “Thank you” while they re still here to say You re welcome.

Agreed. And I want to thank you for this album. And for your time. One last question. If somebody told you Barack Obama had “Hanging Out with The Boys” on his iPod, what would you say?

I d say he probably picked up one of the Secret Service guys' iPod by mistake.

[caption id="attachment_479268" align="aligncenter" width="576" caption=""One of my proudest moments" ~ James Hooker"][/caption]

(Author's note: 10% of all sales for "Hanging Out With the Boys" will go to the charity Soldiers' Angels “No preachers or politicians need bother knocking on my door," Hooker says. "Soldiers' Angels is my tithe.")

Amen to that, James.

Thank you, Sibella.

If you enjoyed these songs as much as we do, you can find more of Mr. Hooker's fabulous music on this special shout-out to Big Hollywood page he set up on his official website.

Have a safe, and blessed Memorial Day weekend and please keep the families of our fallen heroes as well as our brothers and sisters in harm's way in your thoughts and prayers. ~ Lisa Mei & BigDawg

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