ZZ Top and John Lee Hooker-Cheap Sunglasses- The Origins of Rock Part 1

Don't Look Back (John Lee Hooker album)
Don’t Look Back (John Lee Hooker album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have started working on a timeline of Rock music and I am being careful; something I post on WordPress might not get corrected immediately.  It could stand there for a long time as a monument to my ineptitude-so we go one step at a time.

There is an argument about the first rock song ever created-Is it “Rock around the Clock” by Bill Haley or one of the many other better sounding songs around that era? John Lee Hooker gets thrown in this mix with his 1948 “Boogie Chillun”.

While my brain is churning these things- I hear “Cheap Sunglasses” on the radio and all I can think is “Damn- that is John Lee Hooker- from the growling “tiger in a cage” vocal to the surly guitar riff.” But then -that is not John Lee Hooker-that is three guys from Texas putting a strong amount of boogie flavor into a song about wearing plastic sunglasses while stalking cute chicks and trying to look cool with epic beards.

They take a musical style and bend it to their own view point- adding in the tight sweaters and cheap sunglasses while removing years and years of the frustration that created the riff to begin with.

I don’t want to start another lawsuit but this goes right to the roots of rock. That difference between inspiration and downright theft. When white musicians started borrowing blues and gospel for the first time -Rock started to gain form.  Almost nobody disputes that.

John Lee Hooker playing John Lee Hooker is pure blues. ZZ Top playing John Lee Hooker is Rock Music. Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup doing “That’s alright Mama” is delta R&B while Elvis Presley covering the same song is Rock n Roll. It’s like the same river flowing through a different landscape.  I am not saying that the originals are bad…I love all of it!!!…Even those famed Robert Johnson records from the 1930’s, but when Eric Clapton takes those records and channels them through his own experience and talent-they become something else…they have to …different time-different culture-different world.

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2 thoughts on “ZZ Top and John Lee Hooker-Cheap Sunglasses- The Origins of Rock Part 1

  1. You are not the only one who goes back to La Grange, I know it was a copyright lawsuit -ZZ Top won the first round because Boogie Chillun had fallen in the public domain…I think John Lee got a settlement out of court the second time around but I need to do a little more research. What hit me was hearing John Lee in almost all (at least the good stuff) of ZZ Top. It is on that stealing/inspiration line that is part of rock right from the start.

  2. A lot of ZZ Top’s music is based on that John Lee Hooker boogie riff. To me, the purest example is La Grange. I don’t think of this as theft, it’s the evolution of music — take what you’ve heard and add your own twist to it.

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