Bad Like Jesse James

“Live At The Cafe Au Go-Go (And Soledad Prison)” (John Lee Hooker)

There are certain songs that give you chills, no matter how many times you’ve heard them. John Lee Hooker singing, “I’m Bad Like Jesse James”, from the album, Live at Cafe Au Go Go is one such song for me.

It is one of those tracks you want to stomp your own foot to the relentless and insistent beat.

Simply one of the greatest live blues recordings ever. Hooker plays alone at Soledad, yet the real thrill is hearing him backed at Greenwich Village’s Café Au-Go-Go in 1966 by Muddy Waters and his band, including pianist Otis Spann, unsung harmonica giant George Smith, Francis Clay on drums, and guitarists Sammy Lawhorn and Luther Johnson. All are at the height of their abilities, but it’s Hooker who works like a hoodoo conjurer, making misery rain down in “Seven Days” and “When My First Wife Left Me.” This August night’s reading of I’m Bad Like Jesse James ranks among the most intimidating vocal performances ever taped. His guitar and baritone singing sink to rarely heard depths of the blues–that secret place in the music (known only to its absolute masters) where it becomes an elemental force.

the lyrics go something like this:

A little thing I’m going to do called
‘I’m Bad Like Jesse James’

I’m bad
I’m bad
Like Jesse James, uh-huh

I had a friend one time
Least I thought I did
He come to me
Said, ‘Johnny?’
[I ] Said, ‘What man?’
‘I’m outdoor’
I say, ‘Yeah?’

I taken the cat in
Get him a place to stay
And I found out
He goin’ ’round town
Tellin’ everybody that he
He got my wife

Then I gets mad
I goes to the cat
Like a good guy should
I said, ‘Look man
‘I’m gonna warn, you just one time’
Next time I warn you’
‘I’m gonna use my gun’

‘Cause I’m mad, I’m bad, like Jesse James

I’m so mad, I’m so mad.
I’m gonna ruin you this mornin’.
I’ve got three boys
Do my dirty work
Now, you don’t see me
I’m the big boss
I do the payin’ off
After they take care of you

In their own way
They may shoot you
They may cut you.
They may drown you
I just don’t know
I don’t care
Long as they take care of you
In their own way

I’m so mad, I’m bad this mornin’, like Jesse James.

They gon’ take you right down
By the riverside
Now four is goin’ down
Ain’t but three comin’ back
You read between the line
We’re gonna have a deal

‘Cause I’m mad, I’m bad, like Jesse James.

They gonna tie yo’ hands
They gonna tie yo’ feet
They gonna gag your throat
Where you can’t holler none

An cryin’ won’t help you none
Set you in the water
Yeah, the bubbles comin’ up.

Oh yeah, I’m so mad!

So intense. When I saw John Lee Hooker perform at Antone’s1 he stomped his foot to keep time. Hard not to when playing songs like this. When I saw him perform, he was playing solo, but surprisingly, turned up his distortion and played a little proto-grunge on a couple of songs. I’d say circa 19882

a 1986 solo version, not nearly as intense, but still, JLH!3

  1. the famous blues club in Austin – I think it is closed down now – Clifford Antone had some problems with the law, sold drugs or something, and has since passed away []
  2. I remember being too young to drink, went by myself, and tried to tip the waitress $5 for taking her table and only drinking a coke. Of course, I had my bong in my car, but that’s another story []
  3. playing a guitar with BB King’s name on it for some reason. []

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