When The King of The Blues Quietly Met The King of Jazz…and Nothing Went Viral
Vinyl Treasure: Miles Davis Meets Up With John Lee Hooker on the Soundtrack Album “The Hot Spot”
Unless you're a hard-core movie hound, you very likely have never heard of a 1990 Don Johnson film called “The Hot Spot” – a homage to 1940’s B-movie crime dramas. It was one of many commercial flops actor Dennis Hopper served up as a director. In a review of the movie, USA Today said, “Hopper's direction isn't any great shakes, and the wrap-up is somewhat confusing, but this film does make you want to go skinny-dipping with someone else's mate."
But the brilliant soundtrack to this forgettable movie is well protected from the knives of critics, guaranteed at least a small measure of musical immortality because it miraculously united jazz giant Miles Davis with blues icon John Lee Hooker….and the collaboration actually worked!... Brilliantly!
Who knew that the famously snide trumpet virtuoso Miles Davis and the introverted bluesman Hooker were actually mutual admirers?
Well, renowned record producer and film composer Jack Nitzsche knew.
Nitzsche took on the assignment of scoring Hopper’s film, artfully assembling a dream band consisting of Hooker, Miles, blues icon Taj Mahal, legendary drummer Earl Palmer, slide guitarist Roy Rogers and longtime studio session bassist Tim Drummond.
The inspired teaming of musicians created a unique rootsy blend -- merging Miles' cool with the weighty truth anchoring Hooker's blues. The music sounds spontaneous, even though the recording process actually occurred in layers across three days, with Miles Davis joining only in day three to put his trumpet licks atop the work laid out by Hooker, Taj Mahal and crew. The straw that stirs this vibrant drink is Nitzsche’s idea to use Miles as a soloist handling what normally would have been a harmonica player’s part in a traditional blues ensemble.
The day that Miles recorded his contribution to the soundtrack, he delivered a compliment to John Lee Hooker that John never forgot. As Hooker fondly recalled in the biography of his life Boogie Man…”When [Miles] got through playing, he looked at me, he give me a big hug, and he said, ‘You the funkiest man alive.” I said, ‘What you say?’ He say, ‘You the funkiest man alive. You in that mud right up to your neck.’ That means the deep, deep blues, you know.”
If I’ve piqued your interest in this jazz-blues treasure, don’t shoot me for telling you that acquiring the “Hot Spot” soundtrack on vinyl will be a bit difficult and expensive-- prices currently range from $50 to $100.