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Docurama presents
John Lee Hooker: That's My Story (2002)

"Well, look at my face..every time someone says John Lee, I gotta smile...I just love him."
- Bonnie Raitt

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: August 20, 2003

Stars: John Lee Hooker, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Carlos Santana, Peter Wolf, Johnnie Johnson, Lizz Fischer, Maude Hooker, Archie Lee Hooker, Jr.
Other Stars: Famous Coachman, Robert Cray, John Hammond, Zakiya Hooker, Mike Kappus, Eddie Kirkland, John Mayall, Roy Rogers, Charles Musselwhite, Pete Sears, Bernard Besman, John Lee Hooker, Jr., Elvin Bishop, Vala Cupp, Bryant Mills, Billy Johnson, Rich Kirch
Director: Joerg Bundschuh

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for nothing objectionable
Run Time: 01h:28m:02s
Release Date: June 24, 2003
UPC: 767685954935
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

In my recent review of Albert Collins in Concert, I referred to how a cameo appearance by the guitar legend in Adventures in Babysitting turned me on to his music. But my cinematic blues roots actually date back a little further.

During a summer night at the movies some 23 summers ago, it happened. Flash back to the midpoint of John Landis' The Blues Brothers: Jake and Elwood were taking a break from their "mission from God" to grab a bite to eat when they were stopped dead in their tracks by four hypnotizing words: "Boom...boom...boom...boom." The brim-hat-wearing guitar man may have been fashion-challenged as judged by the horrendously outdated tan suede jacket he donned, but doggone if he wasn't the coolest person in my musical universe at that moment in time, thumbing away on that six string.

"A-haw-haw-haw-haw...heeeeeeey, heeeey, yeah…" Man, it was love at first growl.

Like Albert Collins and others in the blues field that gained prominence thanks to Hollywood admirers in high places, John Lee Hooker got quite a boost from his big screen debut, which sparked off a twilight-years renaissance that resulted in award-winning and critically acclaimed albums including Mr. Lucky and The Healer (the latter including a frisky duet on I'm in the Mood with longtime worshiper and blues maven, Bonnie Raitt). Incredibly, it took over a decade into this comeback for a savvy filmmaker to take up the challenge of chronicling the life of a very private musician, whose past had been poorly documented and almost derailed by bad business deals.

Past sins and oversights are rectified in John Lee Hooker: That's My Story, a fine film from German director Joerg Bundschuh that was finished just before the legendary performer succumbed to natural causes. Piecing together rare interviews with family members, fellow peers (Famous Coachman, Buddy Guy) and longtime admirers/torchbearers (Eric Clapton, Raitt, Carlos Santana, and former J. Geils Band front man, Peter Wolf, among them), along with occasional asides from the center of attention himself, a stirring portrait emerges of the unschooled Clarksdale, Mississippi sharecropper's son, who claimed he got all the education he ever needed from the good Lord above and, naturally, the blues.

Granted, many die-hard aficionados have heard the basics life story of "The King of the Boogie": His early days as a teenage runaway honing his craft on Memphis' Beale Street, the lucky relocation to Detroit where he landed his first record contract (and subsequent hit with Boogie Chillen), and rediscovery by the classic British blues-oriented/-influenced bands of the 1960s, including The Animals, The Yardbirds, and The Rolling Stones. But even the staunchest appreciators may have forgotten just how productive Hooker was in his early prime, making music under a wide variety of pseudonyms along with changing record labels the way Elizabeth Taylor acquired husbands. And it wasn't just for the sake of survival, according to devoted nephew Archie Lee Hooker, Jr., whose opinion of his renowned uncle's creative prowess sums it up: "He's [had]…so much life built up inside of him." Even when faced with bitter racism in the '50s and '60s, the power of his music proved to be a barrier breaker, according to blues guitarist Roy Rogers, who offers a powerful quote via a conversation he had with the master who once told him, "When you close your eyes, do you see colors? I don't."

In addition to all the tributes and history, That's My Story couldn't have had a better soundtrack as many Hooker classics (including Coming to Town, Dimples, and Come Back Baby) underscore period photographs and historical footage. There's also a lot of great clips, including an excerpt from his legendary 1960 performance at Newport and footage recorded at one of his final concert appearances at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-sponsored event at Stanford in California. Although these moments are disappointingly truncated, there's enough left to show that even in his eighties, John Lee still had the goods to move an audience to boogie woogie.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: With the new footage sharing room with archival material from a plethora of sources (hazy film clips, video that sometimes reeks of multi-generational quality), normal grading goes out the window here. On a whole, the presentation is extremely watchable given the various qualities, with the newest material obviously faring the best (especially during the Stanford concert clips, which were nicely photographed).

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: It's expected that the oldest sequences would not be of superb quality, but having the 1998 performances sounding flatter than a stack of IHOP pancakes is truly bumming; the late '80s video for I'm In The Mood, teaming Hooker with Bonnie Raitt, has more dynamic range, for pete's sake. That major nusance aside, interspersed excerpts from John Lee's vast oeuvre sound warm and vibrant by comparison, and all of the interview sequences are recorded well and easily understood.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues
11 Other Trailer(s) featuring Regret to Inform, Speaking in Strings, Dont Look Back, Paul Taylor: Dancemaker, Fastpitch, Sound and Fury, Sophie B. Hawkins: Cream Will Rise, Todd McFarlane: The Devil You Know, Go Tigers!, Keep the River on Your Right, Porn Star: The Legend Of Ron Jeremy
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. John Lee Hooker Biography
  2. Filmmaker Biography
  3. About Docurama
  4. Catalog/Trailers
  5. (Disc) Credits
Extras Review: Other than the usual (and impressive) array of trailers for other titles in the Docurama family, the bios for subject and director wind up a rather perfunctory set of extras. Too bad that unused interview segments and complete performances abbreviated in the main film couldn't have been utilized as bonus nuggets.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

As fellow John Lee admirer Peter Wolf might rap, "Are you ready for the King of the Blues?" Functional as both a superb introduction for neophytes and permanent keepsake for longtime disciples, John Lee Hooker: That's My Story is a lovingly assembled documentary saluting a cornerstone performer in blues history.


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