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Savoring All the Flavors

Zakiya Hooker
Like Father, Like Daughter: Following the family tradition, Zakiya Hooker is an adept interpreter of the blues.

Photo by Denise Milford

Zakiya Hooker, John Lee's singing daughter, samples the full range of the blues on new album

By Nicky Baxter

IT TOOK A WHILE, but Zakiya Hooker has finally decided to follow in her daddy's footsteps--sort of. Like 1994's Another Generation of the Blues, Hooker's new release, Flavor of the Blues (Pointblank/Virgin), won't satisfy blues purists expecting John Lee Hooker's daughter to pretend she's just arrived from the Mississippi Delta.

The fact of the matter is that Hooker has inherited her father's blues sensibility and applied it to contemporary uptown R&B. In other words, she's no Bessie Smith or Big Mama Thornton, just Zakiya. Wah-wah guitar, swatches of keyboards and funky, sharp horns ensure that the longtime Oakland resident's music has an identity distinct from that of her legendary father.

On Robert Johnson's classic "Stones in My Passway," the Little Big Horns punctuate Hooker's bravado-filled braying. "Look Me Up" is lip-smackingly sexy; here and elsewhere, Hooker reminds one of Denise LaSalle, one of the prototypal blues and R&B singers.

Like most R&B, the songs on Flavor of the Blues are about sex and love: looking for it ("Look Me Up"), finding it ("Drowning in Your Love"), losing it ("Art of Divorce") and trying to regroup after the bottom falls out of it ("Receipt to Sing the Blues").

However, there's more here than meets the hips. "New Orleans Rain," for instance, finds Hooker displaying a knack for subtler fare. "Protect Me From the Blues," co-written by Hooker, Ollan Christopher (who engineered and produced the album) and guitarist Anthony Cook, is even more impressive, with its ethereally twinkling guitar intro, jazzy-blue sax, inventive bass line and Zakiya's impeccable phrasing. Ditto "Drowning in Your Love," with its Count Basie­like instrumentation and smoky, evocative vocals.

Another Hooker-Christopher-Cooke tune, "Art of Divorce," is probably the funkiest number Flavor has to offer, due largely to the brassy Little Big Horns. They more than earn their name as Ed Early (trombone), Tom Poole (trumpet) and Dave Stone (saxophone) come close to sounding like a full horn section. In terms of straight blues, "Receipt to Sing the Blues" and "Protect Me From the Blues" ought to satisfy the self-appointed standard-bearers of the genre.

Perhaps Flavor of the Blues is not a completely accurate description of the music here; "flavors" is more like it. The point is, the songs all derive their power from the source of nearly every pop form this country has produced.

Like Another Generation of the Blues, Flavor of the Blues includes a cameo from John Lee Hooker himself. On top of his instantly recognizable country-blues pulse, father and daughter exchange half-completed phrases on "Bit By Love (Hard Times)." But Zakiya really doesn't need her father's assistance; she shines brightly enough on her own. The only obstacle that could prevent the Oakland resident from leapfrogging to stardom is the sex-and-skin game. Let's hope she can take the proper evasive action--whatever it may be.

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From the February 13-19, 1997 issue of Metro

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