don't you remember?" came the quick answer, "You loaned a reel
of your John Lee Hooker tapes to Tony Schwartz in New York!" But that
was nearly 45 years ago. Tony Schwartz must be 80 years old by now, IF he's
still living, and assuming I could possibly find his phone number from the
pages full of Schwartzes in the New York phone book, and assuming that out
of his library of 30,000 tapes he'd remember this one!
Another miracle: My old New York actor friend Allen Swift told me, "I just last week ran into Tony Schwartz on the street. He's alive, and I have his phone number!" Tony did remember, and he actually had the tape! Reel 1 and reel 2 of my 1949 recordings were reunited!
I played the tapes for Paul Vernon, pulsing with excitement. Not only were these recordings completely unknown to the world of Blues expertise, but they were unique; brilliant performances of basic Mississippi Delta Blues, songs John Lee Hooker never recorded again on any of his subsequent 150 CD albums! For example, he never again recorded any gospel or spiritual songs, yet there are four on my tapes!
"These recordings have got to get out!" shouted Paul. But how? I had no permission or right to release these recordings commercially. I had no idea how to contact John Lee Hooker, and I knew I must not profit on his music. But Paul had himself been in the record business in earlier years in Britain. He knew just the small record company that would be perfect to restore and produce my tapes on CD, and who could get it to the Blues cognoscenti. The need of somehow issuing what was clearly of great historic and cultural importance was driven home to me, and I agreed to risk it on the condition that I receive no recompense whatever from the release, and that all royalties be registered in John Lee Hooker's name. The amazing clincher came from the record company:
Bruce Bastin, head of InterState Music Ltd. in Britain informed us that if a recording is 50 years old, it is in the public domain, and can be legally issued in Europe In late1999, when this news came to us, my John Lee Hooker recordings were exactly 50 years old! Another miracle!
As Paul spread the exciting news through the American embassy, word reached Ambassador John Shattuck, who turned out to be a great blues fan himself. He told Paul, "Tell Gene that when the CD is issued I will throw a big launch party and the Ambassadorial residence and invite all of the music people of Prague, the press and TV!" And he did. Over 100 jazz music performers, critics, broadcasters, journalists, etc. were invited. Bruce Bastin, of InterState Music flew in from London, and our CD got off to an elegant start. The main Czech media featured the story.
The rest has become Blues record history. Our CD, "The Unknown John Lee Hooker," issued on InterState's Flyright label, went immediately to No.1 on the European Blues Bestseller Charts! The reviews were solid superlatives. "Miraculous," "Unbelievable," "Sensational," were the words that decorated all of them. One writer likened me to "Moses, bringing god-like Blues down from the mountain." Even the stately London Times wrote, "Intense, brooding, magnificent! Buy it and be amazed!"
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