John Lee Hooker helps Big Head Todd make a Beautiful World

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MAY 8, 1997

By Steve Newton

Big Head Todd & the Monsters’ Beautiful World is one of my most-played CDs these days; I can’t get enough of the Denver trio’s stimulating brand of funky, soulful roots-rock. Strangely enough, some of the disc’s most memorable moments occur in songs that are eight years old, making you wonder why it took the band so long to record standout tracks like “True Lady” and “Heart of Wilderness”.

“They were just sort of sittin’ around,” explains singer-songwriter-guitarist Todd Park Mohr, calling from Columbia, Missouri. “Originally, I was planning on making an album of all those unrecorded songs, and it just worked out that I had a gust of inspiration and wrote another batch of new ones. So this album’s kind of a combination [of old and new].”

Although BHT&TM only has three major-label recordings under its belt, the original lineup of Mohr, bassist Rob Squires, and drummer Brian Nevin has been performing together since ’86. Instrumentally, there’s a radarlike rapport between the players, which Mohr feels is getting even stronger with time. “We’re still learning how to be a better band,” he says, “and that’s one of the things that keeps us goin’.”

BHT&TM has toured incessantly since its inception, covering more than 400,000 miles. The band will add to that tidy total on a tour that visits Graceland as part of Music West on Saturday (May 10). Then, come July, the frequent-driver points will really start accumulating as the band joins Neil Young and Primus on the H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) tour. The group’s road-ready routine has both drawbacks and advantages, according to Mohr. “I go through phases where I really enjoy it a lot,” he says, “and then after a while it just seems like it’s been too long, and you’re way too old to still be livin’ in a bus.”

At 31, Mohr isn’t quite ready to retire the band’s wheels and confine all musical activities to his home state of Colorado. If he did, he wouldn’t get to run into folks like John Lee Hooker, whom the group met during the Beautiful World sessions in Sausalito, California. Seems the 79-year-old blues legend was working just down the hall in the same studio and, after a little urging from producer Jerry Harrison, agreed to sing on a version of his boogie classic, “Boom Boom”. That’s a tune Mohr and his mates have been playing ever since their first blues jams; now it’s the show-closer in their encore.

“We’re very proud of the outcome of that,” says Mohr, whose rampaging guitar burns a white-hot swath alongside Hooker’s throaty growl. “That was certainly a high point in our career, and just a great opportunity to pay tribute to John Lee in that way.”

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