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head and shoulders of Johnny Hooper with saxaphone Johnny Hooper

Come Blow Your Horn
with Graham Lees


Whilst on holiday on the Portuguese Algarve around three years ago I stumbled over saxophonist Johnny Hooper playing in the town square in Albufeira old town. A couple of mornings each week during the tourist season, Johnny and his wife Sue set up a small stand and Johnny entertains the holiday-makers playing sax along with the accompaniment of now routinely utilized backing-tracks. Sue would hand out leaflets and sell his CDs to the masses who would take the opportunity to take a Johnny at the Kingswayrest and listen to Johnny's wide repertoire of popular jazz styled music.

There are now nine CDs available in Hooper's catalogue. Suitably impressed by his musical talents and repertoire I made myself known to Johnny and Sue and purchased a couple of CDs, which I use in my weekly radio show 'Swing's The Thing'.

During the winter months….December to February, Sue Hooper organises a U.K. tour for Johnny which gives the many people who have enjoyed listening to Hooper's music while on holiday the opportunity to see him again. There are about twelve gigs on this current tour around the country plus some private work and it was at one of these venues…The Kingsway Hotel, Rochdale that I took the opportunity to renew my acquaintance with Johnny Hooper and enjoy an evening listening to his exquisite playing and to have a chat with him about his musical career.

Although Johnny was making a living out of his music in the U.K., he felt he was not really going anywhere with it. He comments; "It's kind of hard to make a living if you come from my musical background, which is not having any formal musical education…teaching myself…starting to play on the street…selling CDs on the street and trying to get work." Although Hooper was playing with a band at that time and was getting a few gigs, it wasn't enough to sustain a reasonable living. One summer Johnny and Sue decided to take an adventurous trip; "We rented our house out, bought a Johnny playing sax in Portugalmotorhome and my wife and I drove around Europe with a saxophone looking for work." Hooper continues; "We ended up in Portugal, got some gigs there and we enjoyed it so much that we would go back each year for a few years and eventually we sold the house and ended up down there." During the tourist season thousands of people fly into the Algarve; "There is a new audience every week with tourists landing and taking off, so you get your regulars who come out once or twice a year sometimes, and you get the new people all the time. So I decided to record a new album every other year and try to make it go from there." At the weekend Hooper was found playing at a nearby restaurant The Cave, just a couple of streets away from the town square. With pride Hooper states; "It's been eleven years now!!! The Cave's been great and I've met a lot of great people from all over Europe and work comes from that. Last night for example, I played at somebody's 50th birthday who saw me quite a few years ago over there and had the memory of a nice evening and kindly booked us to do their party."

Around twenty years ago Hooper co-founded and played with a Reggae Band. Johnny recalls; "We did O.K. to start with, we worked very hard gig-wise! We didn't get a record deal, but we produced a record ourselves with some money that somebody lent us and got it done with Bob Lamb from Birmingham, who produced UB40…it was that kind of music. Our manager at the time (from the Rochdale area) managed to our demos around London, record companies and radio stations and got us quite a bit of interest. We got played on Radio 1 a few times back in the 1980's, but we never really got a deal after that and it all just fell apart and I ended up busking around the underground in London." I laughingly commented that Johnny could have done much worse than that, but his Johnny playing live at The Kingswaysceptical reply was simply "Not much worse!!!"

One of Johnny Hooper's CDs is a 15 track live performance entitled 'The Johnny Hooper Band - Live At The Watermill'. It gives the listener an ideal insight to a musical evening with Johnny Hooper complete with the band. I asked Johnny how this recording came about. "That's a place in Surrey and again…my wife who organises the gigs, the tickets and and all the promotion booked that venue. There was a nice crowd in, I'd put the band together for a few gigs that week…the third gig was the Watermill and we recorded it." Johnny continues; "The band is made up of friends who are session players basically, at the moment I haven't got my main guys…..my first choice guys because they are busy doing other things, but there's a pool of guys back home in South Wales who are ready and willing to do a gig and that's been nice….working with some new musicians. I've got a brand new guitarist who I'm meeting soon for the gigs with the band…I'm looking forward to that as I can put a different slant on things.

In November 2003 Johnny Hooper recorded his eagerly awaited new CD 'Secret Jewels', which is being eagerly snapped-up by his many fans here in the U.K. There are 12 tracks on the album with Johnny playing saxthe title track was written by Johnny. Another track on the album is "Rise", which was written by Randy Alpert (the nephew of Herb Alpert). "I had a nice e-mail a few months ago from Randy…."Rise" was a Grammy award winning tune from 1979. You pay your royalties when you record an album and my name must have popped up on their screen and Randy contacted me saying that he would like to buy a copy of my new CD. (Johnny laughingly states) As he is the composer I thought that I'd better send him a complimentary copy. I got a lovely response from him and he said some nice things and said that he would be playing the track to Herb Alpert (I'm waiting on that!). He also knows Steve Cropper who wrote "Green Onions" and "Knock On Wood", which are on my live album and he said that he'd be playing that when he is next in the studio. Randy is a top record producer in California and has worked with everyone. So it was a big thrill for me to get a response for my cover version of his song!!!"

Originally from around Newport in Gwent, South Wales, Johnny Hooper's headquarters is still basedJohnny Hooper there incorporating his CD mail order business, which is all kept in the family; (with a laugh) "That's my mom!!! It all sounds very quaint, and it is! It all sounds too quaint to be true, and at this time in my life you think, well when am I going to get to the bigger audience, but it's still very quaint…mom doing the mail orders and my wife doing most of the work behind the scene and I'm still blowing and trying to make a living and get to that bigger audience." The sale of CDs is a key factor in the Johnny Hooper design. "I do very well with the CDs with loyal fans that buy the new one as soon as it comes out and we make an average living from the sale of CDs! There are a few radio presenters playing Johnny's music on their shows, but he readily admits; "I never really aggressively tried to push my thing around….maybe I should have done a few years ago and that's probably why it's so quaint at the moment!" A new album is in the works, but Johnny was very guarded as not to give anything away…."I have a few little ideas on the go, (laughs) I don't really want to say anything about it in case it doesn't come off , but I'll definitely be doing something in the next 12-18 months!!!"