Jane Lee Hooker

An interview with Guitarist Tracy 'High Top' Almazan
by Michelle Harper
July 2016

Jane Lee Hooker on the cover of Maximum Ink  - photo by Alan Rand

Jane Lee Hooker on the cover of Maximum Ink
photo by Alan Rand

The Blues just got an exciting makeover, and it’s called Jane Lee Hooker.

The band’s debut album entitled “No B!” was released April of this year by Ruf Records. It’s filled with original takes on classic blues songs such as Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” and “Champagne and Refer”, Willie Dixon’s “Shake for Me” and Albert King’s “The Hunter”, along with an original track “In the Valley”. It’s earned rave reviews and high praise for its electric vibe and aggressive sound.

Formed in New York City in 2013, the members of JLH are no strangers to the music business. Guitarist Tracy ‘High Top’ Almazan has been playing for years in such bands as The Wives (with JLH bassist Hail Mary Z), Helldorado and Nashville Pussy, while the band’s other guitarist Tina “T Bone” Gorin, played with NYC band Bad Wizard. After a long hiatus from playing music, longtime friends High Top and T Bone decided to get together and make something new and exciting happen.

“I had stopped playing music altogether for about eight years”, High Top recalls. “Tina had stopped playing music for a bunch of years. We just didn’t feel like doing it anymore separately. And we just reconnected and said hey, let’s try to put a band together for fun. We got Melissa “Cool Whip” Houston on drums right away, and she was amazing! And I brought in (bassist) Mary”.

JLH’s original singer left the band after a short time. They had already built a fan base, so when High Top heard of Dana ‘Danger’ Athens through a friend of a friend; she jumped at the chance to get her on board.

“We had a great band musically before Dana, but once she opened her mouth in the rehearsal room for the first time, we were all floored! We were like ‘oh my God, this is beyond anything we could ever have imagined. Dana’s voice…I’ve never been in a room with someone who could sing that like. And from that moment, it was just magical. It was very familiar and brand new at the same time. That really was a game changer for all of us.”

Dana Athens is indeed a game changer in the world of modern blues. Her soul-wrenching vocals bring a sultry, honey-dripping aggression to such songs as Muddy Water’s “Champagne and Refer” and the spiritual classic “Wade in the Water”. She’s got the spirit of Janis Joplin and the rock force of Ann Wilson.  Her presence breaths fiery energy into the group that’s charged and ready to rock your face off.

But, as High Top recalls, she didn’t even know the blues existed until she discovered it embedded in the sound of one of her favorite bands of all time in the records of her family’s basement.

“I was, I still am and have been since I was a really young kid, an enormous Rolling Stones fan. And I’ve always been like one of those kids that studied my albums and my LPs, and I read all the liner notes. I’d go back and kind of use one album as a launching pad to find out about different bands. So I was really soaking in as much as I could and when I found the Rolling Stones…I didn’t know anything about blues music until the Rolling Stones taught me, opened up my ears and my heart to, you know, the best music in the world.”

Listening to the back and forth of dueling guitars, primal vocals and rocking beats on every song they perform, it’s obvious that Jane Lee Hooker is passionate about their music.

“It gets me excited that I’m able to kind of pay tribute to these masters, and the other generations are learning about them”, High Top said. “There are people who don’t know about Muddy Waters, don’t know about John Lee Hooker [who inspired the band’s name], and it’s just another opportunity for us to say “HEY, this is out there! Go back and check it out! It’ll blow your mind! It blew my mind for years. That’s part of the joy for us; that we’re just passing on this gift; this gift that the Rolling Stones gave me.”

High Top credits the band’s high energy cohesive chemistry with the fact that the members of JLH really love hanging out with each other. She calls going on tour with the band “Tourcation”.

“We’re on tour but we’re on vacation with our best buddies in the world, and we have a great show every night. We’re very happy with our label. We’re very thankful.”

Jane Lee Hooker has been tearing up venues since their conception in 2013, and they aren’t about to slow down any time soon.

“We have a new booking agency called Atomic and we’re really happy with them. We’re already playing the Big Blues Bender in Las Vegas that we’re REALLY looking forward to, that’s a four-night all-blues event. We’re going to do some shows in Texas with The Bluebonnets, that’s Kathy Valentine’s band (formerly of the band ‘The Go-Go’s). She’s an amazing guitar player and we’ve done shows with them before. I hear that we’re going to be in Europe for a big portion of March 2017. We’re really enjoying everything that’s happening and that’s really important.”

When asked what the one must-have is while touring, High Top quickly replies “Coffee. We travel with coffee at all times.”

“We have, like a whole kit that we bring with us. Cool Whip is a genius. She like gets the coffee selection for us, she gets the cream, gets the different brews for us, she sets up the sugar, she is extremely diligent about keeping our café stocked. God bless Cool Whip, because without her, we’d be a hot mess. We need coffee in the morning as quickly as possible.”

High Top went on to say the one thing she wishes people would know about her and the rest of JLH. “The best thing about our band is, we’re coming to your town and we’re gonna have a lot of fun and rock really hard and we love what we do. So I’d encourage anyone who’s curious to stop by and check us out and fall in love. It’s infectious. There’s a lot of love in all of this.”

And it definitely shows.

Jane Lee Hooker is playing Atwoodfest in Madison Wisconsin Sunday July 31st at 5:45 pm on the Alchemy Café stage. 

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