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Juke Joint John

Old Enough To Know Better, Wise Enough Not To Care

by Ian Mann

May 12, 2010


Skilfully evokes the sound of classic country blues, but from a very English perspective.

Juke Joint John is the working name of John Snocken a solo blues performer based in Bridgnorth, Shropshire. JJJ plays six, twelve string and resonator guitars, mandolin and harmonica and also sings. He is a popular figure on the pub circuit of the West Midlands and the Welsh Borders mainly performing covers of classic blues songs but he is also a songwriter in the blues style and this self released album comprises of all original material. It’s available at gigs or as a download from JJJ’s myspace page

The album was recorded “live in the studio” with additional guitar and harp parts dubbed on later. JJJ names his main influences as Country Blues (certainly the main inspiration here), Chuck Berry and fellow Shropshire resident Tony “TS” McPhee of Groundhogs fame.

Mississippi John Hurt, Rev. Gary Davis, Skip James and Fred McDowell are among the roll call of country bluesmen JJJ lists on his myspace page and there’s certainly something of Hurt’s understated style in JJJ’s mostly warm and affectionate take on the blues. Many of the songs appear to be autobiographical and chart JJJ’s enviable life style, retired on a pension and with his lifelong hobby now generating an extra income that enables him to visit his daughter in Australia on a regular basis. “Old Enough To Know Better, Wise Enough Not To Care” is more than a convenient album title, it’s a whole philosophy.

Not that everything is sweetness and light. The opening “Black Dog” is a song that borrows from Winston Churchill’s metaphor for depression. Here John sings with an intensity that sounds as if he knows his subject matter all to well. Frenzied strumming and wailing slide guitar match the anguish in his voice. It’s a stark and dramatic opener, easily the most powerful and affecting song on the album.

“Victim Of Comfort” is altogether warmer, a list of JJJ’s likes, among them strong coffee, red wine, malt whisky and Gibson guitars. It’s warm and conversational, the sound of a man happy in his own skin, a far cry from the angstiness of “Black Dog”. Musically we get our first glimpse of JJJ’s considerable harp skills.

“Christine’s Rag” is a tender instrumental for blues tinged acoustic guitar and is followed by “Dying Tonight” a reflection on the difficulties of songwriting and a wry chronicle of life on the Midlands pub circuit. The piece is enlivened by some typically tasty slide guitar.

“Life’s Too Short (For Drinking Bad Wine)” could also be a philosophical statement. It’s delivered in pure country blues style with gutbucket vocals and growling harmonica. Great fun. 

“Big Bill’s Jump” (a dedication to Broonzy presumably) is a neatly picked guitar instrumental with some gorgeously bent notes and “Franciscan Rag” must surely be the only blues song written about St. Francis Of Assissi. I assume this latter piece draws it’s inspiration from JJJ’s music funded travels.

“What You See” is another country blues slide fest whilst “Rejection”, if my ears don’t deceive me, is the first song since the Bonzo Dog Band to namecheck Keynsham. It’s another autobiographical song I suspect, regarding shyness, unrequited love and the fear of rejection. It’s a lyrical cousin of Rod Clements’ “Things I Should Have Said” from Lindisfarne’s début album “Nicely Out Of Tune”.

“Sip It Real Slow” is another piece of home spun philosophy and includes the album’s title in the lyrics. It’s about savouring life and enjoying the good times when they come along. Musically it sounds very much like Mississippi John Hurt. Good stuff.

Also highly autobiographical “Mock Orange” is more folky as JJJ steps into “singer/songwriter” territory. He sounds much more at home on the bottleneck driven “Bobbing Like A Cork"which ends the album on a high and appropriately bluesy note.

Juke Joint John is one of the better artists on the live music scene in my neck of the woods. He’s an excellent guitarist with good picking and sliding skills, a mean harmonica player and an accomplished vocalist. He clearly has a wide ranging and deep seated love for the blues but wisely doesn’t try too hard to sound like he’s from the American Deep South. JJJ writes in the blues idiom but his autobiographical lyrics place him firmly in Middle England and are all the more convincing for it.

“Old Enough To Know Better..” won’t tear up many trees but it’s a good souvenir for anyone who has ever seen JJJ live and his fretboard, harp and vocal skills together with the quality of his writing ensures that the album stands up as a musical statement in it’s own right.

If you live in JJJ’s catchment area check him out. His live shows include the occasional original plus tunes by all the great blues legends with Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Blind Willie McTell and Memphis Minnie featuring alongside his heroes Mississippi John Hurt, Fred McDowell and Rev. Gary Davis. His searing slide guitar work on the resonator is a particular delight. 

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