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John Lee Hooker

John Lee Hooker

American musician John Lee Hooker (1917-2001) was an influential blues artist who played a role in the development of the genre from the late 1940s through the 1990s. Playing both electric and acoustic guitar, Hooker's distinctive vocal and instrumental style also shaped the development of rock and folk music during the 1960s and 1970s.

John Lee Hooker was born on August 22, 1917 (some sources say 1920), in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the fourth of 11 children born to William and Minnie Hooker. Hooker's father was a sharecropper and Baptist minister who did not like the blues, referring to it as the "devil's music." Hooker's parents separated when he was five and divorced when he was 11 years old. While Hooker received a limited formal education, music was an important component to his life. He first became exposed to it at church and constructed his first instrument out of a piece of string and an inner tube. Soon after her divorce, Hooker's mother was remarried to William Moore, a blues musician. Hooker credited Moore with mentoring him as a musician.

Moore taught Hooker how to play guitar, showing the boy his minimalist but very rhythmic style of playing. Soon Moore and Hooker were playing together at house parties and dances near their hometown. Though Hooker enjoyed playing with his stepfather he was unhappy living in Mississippi and when he was 14 years old he ran away from home.

Traveled to Tennessee and Midwest

Hooker first tried to join the U.S. Army, in part because during World War II a young man in uniform would attract attention from women. He made it through basic training and after three months was stationed in Detroit before it was discovered that he was underage and he was kicked out. Hooker then moved to Memphis, Tennessee. Supporting himself with day jobs such as movie theater usher, Hooker also worked as a musician at house parties because he could not get into clubs. Among the musician he played with was Robert Lockwood.

In his late teens Hooker moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he continued to work menial day jobs like dish washer and steel mill worker while establishing his music career at night. Because he was still a minor, Hooker could only play the blues at house parties. However, he also sang in gospel quartets like the Delta Big Four, Fairfield Four, and the Big Six. By working frequently in front of a crowd, Hooker learned the ropes of performing on stage and entertaining an audience.

In 1943 Hooker moved to Detroit, where jobs were plentiful because so many men were overseas fighting in World War II. He held day jobs washing dishes and working as a janitor in a Chrysler automobile plant until 1951. Now a legal adult, Hooker was now able to perform at the many blues clubs located near Detroit's Hastings Street.

While living in Detroit Hooker's style changed: from the country/rural folk-type blues played primarily on an acoustic guitar, he shifted to a more urban style played on an electric guitar. Part of the change was due to his encounter with Elmer Barber, a local record-store owner. Barber had heard Hooker perform and he made several primitive recordings of the young musician in the makeshift studio located in the back of his store.

Barber's recordings soon found their way to Bernie Besman, owner of a small record label, Sensation Records. It was Besman who suggested that Hooker should switch to electric guitar and include faster-paced material in his gigs at local clubs. Taking this advice, Hooker soon became one of the leading musicians in the Motor City, which at this time was witnessing a booming economy due to the men and women living there who had become wealthy due to the rise in wartime manufacturing.

Recorded First Hit Single

Hooker made his first single for Besman in 1948. "Boogie Chillen," recorded in a basement in Detroit, features only Hooker's vocals, his electric guitar, and the sound of his foot tapping the beat. When "Boogie Chillen" was released on Sensation it sold so well that the small label could not handle the demand. The single was then released on Modern Records and quickly climbed to the number-one spot on 1949's prototype R & B charts, selling a million copies.

Although Hooker did not receive the royalties he was entitled to for this and future songs, his success with "Boogie Chillen" came as a surprise to him. In 1949 he followed up his first single with ten other top-ten songs. Many of these early recordings feature only Hooker and his guitar, although fellow guitarist Eddie Kirkland sometimes appeared on recordings with him.

One reason that Hooker often recorded alone was that his beat was hard for accompanying musician to follow. By recording alone, it was easier to achieve a clean take, and the recording session took less time. Describing his sound, Hooker once told John Collis of the Independent, "I don't like no fancy chords. Just the boogie. The drive. The feeling. A lot of people play fancy but they don't have no style. It's a deep feeling—you just can't stop listening to that sad blues sound. My sound."

Despite becoming involved in conflicts regarding royalty issues, Hooker continued to record for Modern in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and some of his hits of the period include "Rock House Boogie," "Crawling King Snake," and "In the Mood." One of his most popular recordings of the period, "In the Mood" was released in 1951 and sold a million copies. To ensure that he would earn enough to support his family, Hooker recorded and released material under several other names for over two dozen other labels. Some of his pseudonyms included John Lee Booker, which he used for Chess recordings, Johnny Lee, used for DeLuxe, and Texas Slim and John Lee Cooker, which he used on his recordings for the King label.

Many of Hooker's early releases influenced other bluesmen such as Buddy Guy and are considered to be early precursors to rock and roll. His blues songs incorporated the traditional blues sound with jump and jazz rhythms. Although Hooker recorded his music with little backup, he also performed with a live band at clubs in Detroit and beyond. Due to his talent, hard work, and determination, Hooker was a success on the R & B circuit throughout the 1950s.

In 1955 Hooker signed on with VeeJay Records of Chicago. For this label he changed his recording style, his subsequent recordings becoming a better reflection of his live show. Because solo blues performance was waning in popularity, Hooker started recording with a band, producing such hits as "Dimples" and "Boom Boom."

Became Hit on Folk Circuit

Even though Hooker found success performing on electric guitar, he discovered a new audience for his acoustic blues during the late 1950s. Folk music was now undergoing a revival of interest, and groups like the Weavers and blues singers like Odetta were increasingly becoming popular among young white college students. Hooker began appearing in folk clubs, coffeehouses, on college campuses, and at folk festivals as a solo artist, and did several recordings accompanying himself with acoustic guitar. Many of his songs written and recorded during this period reflect his background in Mississippi.

In 1959 Hooker released his first record album, I'm John Lee Hooker, on Riverside Records, his new label. This new turn in the career of the 42-year-old bluesman earned him an even wider audience, not just among white folk fans but in international markets where his records were also released.

Hooker once discussed his change from electronic band to solo folk music with Peter Watrous, telling the New York Times interviewer: "I played solo for a long time, so I know how to tap my feet so it sounds like a drum. It wasn't any problem to start playing the coffeehouses. I can switch to any style, you have to be versatile as a musician. I knew the white audience was out there but I didn't know how to get it. As the years go by, thing change and to me they were just people. I had no thought that British singers would start singing my songs, I had no idea what would come with that. People got more civilized."

In the 1960s Hooker began touring internationally, and the popularity of his music spread throughout the world, particularly among the more sophisticated audience. His songs also influenced emerging British rock bands such as the Rolling Stones and the Animals. Hooker continued to record on VeeJay, although he did not end his practice of laying down tracks for other labels as well.

Returned to Electric

By the mid-to late 1960s Hooker once again moved away from performing acoustic solo blues when the trend toward electric blues prompted to put together a new band. In 1965 he recorded an album with British group John Mayall and the Groundhogs. Many of Hooker's recordings during the late 1960s were albums rather than singles, and many were recorded in collaboration with bands composed of younger musicians. While many of these recording sessions produced mixed results due to Hooker's unique rhythmic stylings, his sessions with the group Canned Heat is considered one of the best. The resulting album, 1971's Hooker 'n' Heat, was a hit.

Though Hooker continued to record a little and play a lot during the late 1970s and 1980s, the blues had declined in popularity and demand for his music had declined. He still toured as a way to pay the mortgage on the house he owned in San Francisco, often performing with his Coast-to-Coast Blues Band and sometimes coming under fire for letting other musician carry him musically. Many of his early recordings were also repackaged and released for blues collectors.

Considered one of the top blues performers in the United States, Hooker was given a small role in the blockbuster movie The Blues Brothers in 1980. That same year he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. In the late 1980s and 1990s his songs regained popularity, even appearing as part of film soundtracks. In the 1990s, Hooker himself began appearing in ads for Lee Jeans, Pepsi, various brands of liquor, and other products.

Recorded The Healer

In 1989 Hooker returned to the studio after a decade's absence and recorded The Healer. He was joined by several contemporary blues artists, including Bonnie Raitt and Robert Cray, as well as Latin artists Los Lobos and Carlos Santana. Produced by Hooker's former guitarist Roy Rogers, The Healer became one of the biggest-selling blues records of all time, selling 1.5 million copies. Hooker also won a Grammy Award for the song "I'm in the Mood," which he performs on the album with Raitt.

Hooker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and was the focus of a tribute concert at Madison Square Garden that same year. With the success of The Healer, he started recording again, again in collaboration with other blues artists. His 1991 recording Mr. Lucky was a hit on the album charts in the United Kingdom. Among the musicians he worked with on this recording were Johnny Winter, Keith Richards, Van Morrison, and Santana.

Hooker continued to perform and record into his late 70s and early 80s and found himself even more popular now than he had been earlier in his career. He continued to perform live with the Coast-to-Coast Blues Band into the 1990s, but had the added security of royalty income to rely on. Unlike many other blues and R & B artists of his generation, Hooker continued to earn royalties from his early recordings because he had wisely saved his contracts and, with the proper legal advise, went to court to ensure that recording companies continued to honor them.

After a hernia operation in 1994 made it painful for Hooker to perform, he slowed down. After the release of Chill Out in 1995 he retired from performing on a regular basis, although he still made occasional appearances on stage. In 1997 he opened a blues club in San Francisco called John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom Room. One of his final releases was the album Don't Look Back (1997), which features a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Red House."

Hooker died in his sleep of natural causes on June 21, 2001, at his home in Los Altos, California. He had performed five days earlier and was making plans to return to the recording studio. At his death he had recorded more than 500 tracks, making him one of the most recorded blues musicians of all time. Married and divorced four times, Hooker was survived by eight children. Late in his life he had contemplated his eventual passing, telling Ben Wener of Tulsa World: "We all got to go one day. We live out this life as long as we can and try to make the best of it. Simple as that. That's what I've done. All my life, just try to make the best of it."

Books

Hochman, Steve, editor, Popular Musicians, Salem Press, 1999.

Larkin, Colin, editor, Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Guinness Publishing, 1995.

Periodicals

Associated Press, June 22, 2001.

Billboard, September 5, 1998; July 7, 2001.

Daily Telegraph, June 23, 2001.

Down Beat, June 1997.

Independent, July 1, 1990.

New York Times, October 16, 1990; June 22, 2001.

Ottawa Citizen, November 1, 1992.

People Weekly, October 29, 1990.

San Francisco Chronicle, February 11, 1995.

Toronto Star, December 24, 1998.

Tulsa World, August 30, 1997.

Variety, June 25, 2001. □

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Hooker, John Lee

John Lee Hooker

Blues guitar

For the Record

The Hottest Musician in Detroit

I Aint Workin No More

People Got More Civilized

Selected discography

Sources

John Lee Hookers presence in blues, past and present, is imposing. He is a living monument to the music. Often credited as a co-founder, with Muddy Waters, of modern electric blues, Hooker influenced three or more generations of players: Dr. Ross who saw him play in Detroit in the 1940s; the Animals, Yardbirds, Van Morrison and Canned Heat who fell under his spell in the 1960s; Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray who played with him in the 1980s. Hookers own roots stretch back to Mississippi of the 1920s, the land and time when the blues were born. He recalls that as a child Charlie Patton, legendary as the Founder of the Delta Blues, visited the house to see his stepfather. After a fifty-year career of remarkable staying power and flexibility, John Lee Hooker entered the period of his greatest popularity and influence after his seventieth birthday. At eighty-one he was still going strong.

Hooker was born on August 22, 1917 near Clarksdale, Mississippi. His parents, Minnie and William, were sharecroppers. Hooker was interested in music from an early age and as a boy built himself a one-string instrument.

For the Record

Born John Lee Hooker, August 22, 1917, Clarksdale, MS.; divorced; four children: Robert, John Jr., Zakiya, and Diane.

Learned guitar from stepfather Will Moore; played house parties in Memphis and performed in various gospel groups in Cincinnati in 1930s; played clubs in Detroit in 1940s; recorded first single the smash hit Boogie Chillen for Modern Records 1948; while under contract to Modern, recorded under assumed names for other labels; recorded for Vee-Jay Records, including hit singles Boom Boom and Dimples 1955-64; recorded for Riverside Records 1959-60; worked coffeehouse circuit as folk performer; played Newport Folk Festival for first time 1960; toured Europe with American Folk Blues Festival 1962; collaborated on two albums with Canned Heat, late 1960s; recorded Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive with Van Morrison 1972; made comeback with The Healer 1989;

Awards: Grammy Best Traditional Blues Recording, Im In The Mood from The Healer, 1990; Grammy Best Traditional Blues Recording, Chill Out, 1996; Grammy Best Traditional Blues Album, Dont Look Back, and Best Pop Collaboration, Dont Look Back, (with Van Morrison); W.C. Handy Award Top Traditional Blues Artist, 1983-88; W.C. Handy Award, Contemporary Blues Artist, Male Blues Vocalist, Contemporary Blues Album (The Healer), 1989; W.C. Handy Award Traditional Blues Artist of the Year, 1993; W.C. Handy Award Traditional Blues Album of the Year, Chill Out, 1995. National Endowment for the Arts, National Heritage Fellowship, 1983; Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, 1996; Charter Inductee Blues Hall of Fame; Inducted into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 1991.

Minnies second husband, Will Moore, a popular local musician, began teaching the young boy how to play guitar. Eventually Moore even made him a present of one of his own instruments. More importantly, Hooker absorbed his stepfathers manner of playing, a hypnotic one-chord style that became an integral part of his recorded work. Whatever Im doin is his style, Hooker told Billboards Chris Morris in 1998. My style is his style.

The Hottest Musician in Detroit

When he was barely in his teens Hooker left home in the early 1930s. Where I came from in Mississippi was hell, he told Peter Watrous of the New York Times. I wanted to be a star. I knew I couldnt make it in Mississippi, so I was working my way up north. His first stop was Memphis, whose Beale Street was the center of the blues universe at the time. Still too young for bars or nightclubs, Hooker played local house parties at the boarding house he was staying at. From Memphis he moved to Cincinnati where he sang in gospel groups, which gave him valuable experience singing in front of an audience, but his heart was with the blues. Unlike many other musicians, the switch from religious music to the Devils music did not cause Hooker any crisis of conscience. When I started singing blues the church didnt like it, he told Watrous, but I was determined to be a musician and be a blues star, and I didnt care much what they thought.

In the mid 1930s, Hooker landed in Detroit. He took a day job as a janitor and by night played his blues in places like the Apex Bar or the Town Bar. The town was booming, and I was playing three and four, sometimes five nights a week in small clubs, he told Watrous. I got to be hot stuff, the hottest musician in Detroit.

I Aint Workin No More

After World War II had ended, Hooker got his first big break. Elmer Barbee, a Detroit record store owner, caught one of Hookers shows. Impressed, he invited the singer down to his downtown store. Hooker took his guitar and ended up playing most of the night while Barbee recorded the songs on his disc-cutting machine. One of the tunes they came up with was Boogie Chillen, based on a song he had once heard his stepfather Moore play. Barbee was wild for the number, convinced that they had a hit on their hands. He helped Hooker hook up with Bernard Bessman of Sensation Records. Hooker recorded the song for Sensation. The thing caught fire, Hooker says in Robert Palmers Deep Blues. It was ringin all around the country. When it come out every jukebox you went to, every place you went to, every drugstore, everywhere you went, department stores, they were play in it in there And I was workin in Detroit in a factory there for a while. Then I quit my job. I said, No, I aint workin no more!

About a year later Hooker signed a contract with Modern Records in Los Angeles for an advance of $1,000. Between 1949 and 1951, Hooker had three hits for Modern: Hobo Blues, In The Mood, and Crawling Kingsnake. He was suddenly in high demand, though, at other labels. When Modern failed to pay him royalties he was owed he began recording for other companies under a variety of pseudonyms: Johnny Williams, Delta John, Johnny Lee, Texas Slim, Birmingham Sam & His Magic Guitar, the Boogie Man, Sir John Lee Hooker, John Lee Booker, and John Lee Cooker. In 1955 he signed with Vee-Jay Records in Chicago, a label he would remain with for ten years. While there he abandoned his solo guitar accompaniment in favor of a full band. Vee-Jay wanted the big sound, he told Chris Morris. It was a good sound, a real good sound, a big fat sound. That fat sound led to another string of popular records for Hooker, including Dimples and Boom Boom, which reached number 16 on the R&B charts and number 60 on the Pop charts in 1962.

Hooker wasnt about to be pigeonholed though, especially at a moment in history when musical tastes were undergoing major changes. He hit the folk circuit, and soon solo acoustic records for Riverside complemented his electric blues on Vee-Jay. He started playing the coffeehouse circuit and made appearances, beginning in 1960, at the Newport Folk Festival. In 1962 he toured Europe for the first time with the American Folk Blues Festival.

People Got More Civilized

There was already a John Lee Hooker renaissance of sorts underway in England as he made that tour. The Animals and the Yardbirds, deeply steeped in American blues, had their own hits with Boom Boom. And other groups in the British blues revival had incorporated other Hooker songs into their repertoires. I had no thought that British singers would start singing my songs, Hooker confessed to Watrous. I had no idea what would come with that. People got more civilized. During the Sixties Hooker worked more and more with younger rock musicians who were his admirers. In England he played with John Mayals Bluesbreakers and a young guitarist named Eric Clapton. In the U.S. at the end of the sixties, he teamed up with his boogie disciples, Canned Heat, with whom he cut two albums, Hooker N Heat and Live At The Fox Venice Theater Influential collaborations that introduced Hookers music to a new, younger generation. In 1972 he recorded Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive with another old fan, Van Morrison. During the rest of the seventies and for most of the eighties, Hookers performing and recording tapered off, which wasnt surprisinghe was pushing sixty and had worked at a frantic pace for the previous twenty years.

In 1989, when Hooker was seventy-two, he made the album that initiated what might be the most successful, productive periods of his career. The Healer was conceived by his agent Mike Kappus. It featured a star-studded line-up of guest artists including Carlos San-tana, Robert Cray, Los Lobos, and Bonnie Raitt whose duet won Hooker his first Grammy, after being nominated in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties. Other albums, equally successful followed, including 1991 s Mr. Lucky, 1992s Boom Boom, and Grammy winners Chill Out (1995) and Dont Look Back (1997). The 1990s were Hookers reward for his lifetime in music. He enjoyed unprecedented worldwide popularity, performing regularly at festivals and on television. In 1990 he was presented with an all-star tribute at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and in January 1991 he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He was a Charter Inductee to the Blues Hall of Fame. He even owns his own blues club, the Boom Boom Room, which opened in 1997 in San Francisco.

John Lee Hooker is proof of the power of the blues and its ability to transcend boundaries of generation and race. The blues is the root of all music, he said. Peoples heartaches, aches and pains, trouble and disappointment, money, no money, down-and-out, that causes the blues, and that affects everybody of every color, rich and poor. The blues has got more message than anything else. Its more flashy now, but its the same thing as before. Its come down low and came back up, but itll never die.

Selected discography

John Lee Hooker Sings the Blues, King, 1961.

The Real Folk Blues, Chess, 1966.

Live At The Cafe Au Go-Go, Bluesway/ABC, 1967.

Hooker N Heat, Liberty, 1971.

Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive, ABC, 1972.

The Healer, Chameleon/Silvertone, 1989.

Mr. Lucky, Silvertone, 1991.

The Ultimate Collection, Rhino, 1991.

Boom Boom, Pointblank/Virgin, 1992.

Chill Out, Pointblank/Virgin, 1995.

Dont Look Back, Pointblank/Virgin, 1997.

The Best Of Friends, Pointblank/Virgin, 1998.

Sources

Books

Palmer, Robert, Deep Blues, Viking Press, New York, 1981.

Russell, Tony, The BluesFrom Robert Johnson to Robert Cray, Schirmer Books, New York. 1997.

Sonnier, Austin M., A Guide to the Blues: History, Whos Who, Research Sources, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT. 1994

Periodicals

Billboard, September 5, 1998; New York Times, October 16, 1990

Additional material and information provided by The Rosebud Agency and Mike Kappus.

Gerald E. Brennan

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Hooker, John Lee 1917–2001

John Lee Hooker 19172001

Blues guitarist

At a Glance

Selected discography

Sources

John Lee Hooker has been credited, along with Muddy Waters, with being the co-founder of modern electric blues. Hooker has influenced and inspired several generations of musicians, including Dr. Ross, the Animals, Van Morrison, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. His death on June 21, 2001, was a sad day for music enthusiasts around the world.

Hooker, the son of sharecroppers Minnie and William, was born on August 22, 1917, near Clarksdale, Mississippi. Raised in the birthplace of the blues, he developed an interest in music at an early age and even built a one-stringed instrument as a boy. His mothers second husband, Will Moore, was a popular local musician, and Hooker learned how to play guitar from his stepfather. Eventually Moore even gave Hooker one of his own instruments as a present. Hookers stepfather played with a hypnotic one-chord style which Hooker absorbed. This style later became an integral part of Hookers recordings. Whatever Im doin is his style, Hooker told Billboard. My style is his style.

Hooker, barely in his teens, left home in the early 1930s. Where I came from in Mississippi was hell, he told the New York Times. I wanted to be a star. I knew I couldnt make it in Mississippi, so I was working my way up north. Memphis was the first stop on his trip north, and Hooker found his way to Beale Street, the nucleus of the blues universe. Still too young to play at bars or nightclubs, Hooker found gigs at local house parties. Next, Hooker moved to Cincinnati. There he sang in gospel groups, gaining valuable experience performing in front of an audience. However, Hooker was still drawn to the blues. When I started singing blues the church didnt like it, he told the New York Times, but I was determined to be a musician and be a blues star, and I didnt care much what they thought.

Hooker arrived in Detroit in the 1940s. By day he worked as a janitor and by night he played the blues in such hot spots as the Apex Bar and the Town Bar. The town was booming, and I was playing three and four, sometimes five nights a week in small clubs, he told the New York Times. I got to be hot stuff, the hottest musician in Detroit.

Hookers first big break came after World War II came to an end. Detroit record store owner Elmer Barbee saw one of Hookers shows and invited the singer to his downtown store. Hooker brought his guitar and played

At a Glance

Born on August 22, 1917, in Clarksdale, MS; died on June 21, 2001, in Los Altos, CA; son of Minnie and William Hooker; divorced; children: eight.

Career: Played house parties in Memphis and performed in various gospel groups in Cincinnati, 1930s; played clubs in Detroit, 1940s; recorded first single, Boogie Children, 1948; recorded under various pseudonyms; recorded for Vee-Jay Records, 1955-64; recorded for Riverside Records, 1959-60; worked coffeehouse circuit as folk performer; played Newport Folk Festival for first time, 1960; toured Europe with American Folk Blues Festival, 1962; collaborated on two albums with Canned Heat, late 1960s; recorded Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive with Van Morrison, 1972; made comeback with The Healer, 1989.

Awards: National Endowment for the Arts, National Heritage Fellowship, 1983; W.C. Handy Award, Top Traditional Blues Artist, 1983-88; W.C. Handy Award, Contemporary Blues Artist, Male Blues Vocalist, Contemporary Blues Album, for The Healer, 1989; Grammy Award, Best Traditional Blues Recording, for Im In The Mood, 1990; Inducted into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 1991; W. C. Handy Award Traditional Blues Artist of the Year, 1993; charter inductee Blues Hall of Fame; W.C. Handy Award Traditional Blues Album of the Year, for Chill Out, 1995; Grammy, Best Traditional Blues Recording, for Chill Out, 1996; Grammy, Best Traditional Blues Album, for Dont Look Back; Grammy, Best Pop Collaboration, Dont Look Back, (with Van Morrison); Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, 1996.

for most of the night as Barbee recorded the tunes. One of the songs produced that night was Boogie Chillen, which was based on a song Hooker had once heard his stepfather play. Barbee, convinced the song would be a number-one hit, helped Hooker contact Bernard Bessman of Sensation Records and Hooker recorded the song for Sensation. The thing caught fire, Hooker said in Robert Palmers Deep Blues. It was ringin all around the country. When it come out every jukebox you went to, every place you went to, every drugstore, everywhere you went, department stores, they were playin it in there And I was workin in Detroit in a factory there for a while. Then I quit my job. I said, No, I aint workin no more!

Hooker signed a contract with Modern Records in Los Angeles a year later, getting a $1000 advance. Between 1949 and 1951, Hooker produced three hits for Modern: Hobo Blues, In The Mood, and Crawling Kingsnake. But after Modern failed to pay the royalties he was due Hooker began recording for other labels under a variety of pseudonyms, including: Johnny Williams, Texas Slim, Delta John, Johnny Lee, Birmingham Sam & His Magic Guitar, the Boogie Man, John Lee Booker, Sir John Lee Hooker, and John Lee Cooker. He signed with Vee-Jay Records in Chicago in 1955. While at Vee-Jay, he abandoned his solo guitar accompaniment and recorded with a full band. Vee-Jay wanted the big sound, he told Billboard. It was a good sound, a real good sound, a big fat sound. That fat sound led to another string of hits, including Dimples and Boom Boom, which reached number 16 on the R&B charts and number sixty on the pop charts in 1962.

In an attempt to avoid being pigeonholed during an era when musical tastes were undergoing major changes, Hooker set out on the folk circuit, releasing solo acoustic records for Riverside that complemented his electric blues for Vee-Jay. He started playing at coffeehouses and appeared, beginning in 1960, at the Newport Folk Festival. In 1962 he toured Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival.

Hookers influence had already reached England by the time he embarked on his European tour. The Animals and the Yardbirds, deeply steeped in American blues, had their own hits covering Boom Boom. Other British groups had incorporated Hooker songs into their repertoires, as well. I had no thought that British singers would start singing my songs, Hooker told the New York Times. I had no idea what would come with that. People got more civilized. During the 1960s Hooker worked more and more with young rock musicians. In England he played with John Mayalls Bluesbreakers and Eric Clapton. In the United States, he teamed up with his boogie disciples, Canned Heat, with whom he recorded two albums, Hooker N Heat and Live At The Fox Venice Theater. These collaborations introduced Hookers music to a new, younger generation. In 1972 he recorded Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive with another fan, Van Morrison. During the rest of the 1970s and for most of the 1980s, Hookers performing and recording tapered off, which wasnt surprising since he was nearly sixty and had worked at a frantic pace for twenty years.

In 1989, when Hooker was seventy-two, he recorded the album that ushered in the most successful and productive period of his career. The Healer, conceived by his agent Mike Kappus, featured a star-studded line-up of guest artists, including Carlos Santana, Robert Cray, Los Lobos, and Bonnie Raitt. It won Hooker his first Grammy award. Other equally successful albums followed, including 1991s Mr. Lucky, 1992s Boom Boom, and Grammy winners Chill Out (1995) and Dont Look Back (1997). In the 1990s Hooker enjoyed unprecedented worldwide popularity, performing regularly at festivals and on television. In 1990 an all-star tribute was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and in January of 1991 he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He was also a charter inductee to the Blues Hall of Fame. In 1997 Hooker opened his own blues club in San Francisco, christened it the Boom Boom Room.

Hooker died in his sleep on June 21, 2001 at age 83. When Im gone, I wont be gone, Hooker said in a 1996 interview quoted in Guitar Player. I wont be here in person, but Ill forever be in the hearts and minds of people. Thats the way I look at it. Upon his death, Carlos Santana affirmed Hookers belief, telling PR Newswire, There are no superlatives to describe the profound impact John Lee left in our hearts. For musicians and common peopleall of us feel enormous gratitude, respect, admiration, and love for his spirit.

Selected discography

John Lee Hooker Sings the Blues, King, 1961.

The Real Folk Blues, Chess, 1966.

Live At The Cafe Au Go-Go, Bluesway/ABC, 1967.

Hooker N Heat, Liberty, 1971.

Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive, ABC, 1972.

The Healer, Chameleon/Silvertone, 1989.

Mr. Lucky, Silvertone, 1991.

The Ultimate Collection, Rhino, 1991.

Boom Boom, Pointblank/Virgin, 1992.

Chill Out, Pointblank/Virgin, 1995.

Dont Look Back, Pointblank/Virgin, 1997.

The Best Of Friends, Pointblank/Virgin, 1998.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Musicians, Volume 26, Gale Group, 1999.

Palmer, Robert, Deep Blues, Viking Press, New York, 1981.

Russell, Tony, The Blues From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray, Schirmer Books, New York. 1997.

Sonnier, Austin M., A Guide to the Blues: History, Whos Who, Research Sources, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, 1994.

Periodicals

Billboard, September 5, 1998; New York Times, October 16, 1990.

Guitar Player, March 1999. Jet, July 9, 2001.

PR Newswire, June 22, 2001.

Online

Biography Resource Center, Gale, 2001, http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC.

http://www.cnn.com (June 21, 2001).

Other

Additional material and information provided by The Rosebud Agency and Mike Kappus.

Gerald E. Brennan and Jennifer M. York

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Hooker, John Lee

John Lee Hooker

Blues singer, guitarist

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

First comes the class in the small, crinkled, slightly seedy person of John Lee Hooker, a.k.a. The Hook, Doctor Feelgood, and, by way of formal onstage introduction, The Godfather of the Blues. The first great recorded practitioner of the electric blues-rock-funk and stream-of-consciousness boogie, he introduced a style to which every white blues band since 1962 must trace at least half its roots. John Lee Hooker was 72 when his 1979 appearence at New Yorks Lone Star Cafe brought on that tribute from Patrick Carr in the Village Voice. Hookers influence on blues, blues-folk and blues-rock musicians remains vital ten years later.

Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, he learned his Delta licks style of guitar playing from his stepfather, William Moore, and his colleagues James Smith and Coot Harris. He ascribed his stylewith, in writer Fred Stuckeys words, tonal bendings of the third, fifth and seventh degrees of the scale and abrasive two-finger pickingto them in an interview with Stuckey in Guitar Player, stating that Down in Clarksdale, my stepfather taught me all I know about playing the guitar. After this uprising of fancy music, I never did drop what I learned back then. Im doin what the blues singers was doin back then, and it sounded good. It still sounds good, and Im always goin to keep it just the way it is.

Hooker travelled to Memphis, Cincinnati and Detroit where, in the mid-1940s, he made a demo for distributor Bernie Besman. Hooker recorded his first single, Boogie Chillen and Sally Mae, for the Sensation label. As distributed by Modern Records, it became a hit on the blues charts of 1949. He followed this record with In the Mood for Love and Crawling King Snake for Modern. From 1955 to 1964, he recorded for Vee Jay, making singles and albums for that Chicago-based firm, such as Travelin (1961) and Big Soul: Best of John Lee Hooker (1963). He also recorded under a confounding variety of pseudonymsamong them, Delta John, Johnny Lee, and Birmingham Sam and his Magic Guitarfor a large number of companies. Many of these one-time contracted recordings have been collected and re-mastered in recent years.

During the revived interest in traditional guitar music and performance styles prompted by the popularity of folk music in the 1960s, Hooker was rediscovered for the first of many times. He performed at the Newport Folk Festival in 1960 and appeared at coffee houses and college campuses. Hooker was also being rediscovered in Great Britain, where he was an important influence on groups that equated blues with rock and roll, such as the Rolling Stones and the Animals, who recorded his Boom Boom. Hooker performances became as famous for the rock superstars who appeared

For the Record

Born August 22, 1917, in Clarksdale, Miss.; son of a Baptist minister; stepson of William Moore (a guitarist).

Learned to play guitar from his stepfather; played in Mississippi, then in Memphis, Tenn., Cincinnati, Ohio, and Detroit, Mich.; began recording in the mid-1940s; has performed and recorded under a variety of pseudonyms.

Addresses: Agent The Rosebud Agency, P.O. Box 210103, San Francisco, CA 94121.

in the audience as for his own music. In an engagement at Unganos in 1969, for example, the Village Voice reported that three nights after opening, Eric Clapton, Delaney and Bonnie, Ginger Baker and Chris Wood came down to jam with the Doctor and returned the next night for more. And on Saturday, Richie Havens with his whole band in tow showed up to sing and jam.

In the 1970s, as musical forms fused, he concertized with performers from the rock group Canned Heat (with whom he recorded Hooker n Heat) to folk vocalist Bonnie Raitt. He was frequently honored as one of the creators of his genre in joint and group concerts by the long-time greats of blues music. In the Blues Variations concert at Lincoln Center in 1973 he was paired with Muddy Waters and Mose Allison, while in A Night of the Blues at the Brooklyn Academy of Music two years later, he shared the program with Albert King and folk harmonicist Peg Leg Sam.

Hooker plays flexible blues of 10-13 bar phrases punctuated with foot tapping and an electric guitar sound that has been described as percussive just shy of dissonance and distortion. Each song is a monologue that retells a story of emotional pain that requires a unique verbal pattern. Reviews of Hooker performances, generally by music historian/journalists who are long-term admirers, provide vivid pictures of his unique song structures and performance style. Carmen Moore wrote in 1970 in the Village Voice that in his entire set, John Lee sang only one rhymed song. As usual, he paid little heed to the famed three blues chords: all, it seemed, were present at once. What his guitar did was talk, in snaky lines, in sitar quivers, in sudden shocks, in hilly phrases. Gifted with one of the richest voices in contemporary music, this serious of serene of bassos sat down, the mike at his lips, and shared a few instances from his personal black life. Ian Dove, reviewing the Blues Variations concert, also noted the personal delivery style: He is a complete, closed-in performer, who accents the rhythmic drive of his performances by chopping off phrases and choking off the ends of his rhythmic lines. He keeps things simple, rarely straying from a couple of chords, and delivers his autobiographical blues with growing menace and much vibrato. Almost a decade later, Patrick Carr wrote that Hooker continues to perform and record with the same slow mastery of blue-life imagery, the same spare, quirky, throttled-violence guitar technique, and the same beautifully resonant leather-and-raw-silk vocal genius that were his from the start.

The optimal way to hear Hooker is in live performance, but there are scores of albums featuring his work. He has made over forty albums under various names. Chess Records has recently begun to re-issue tapes and studio cuts in series of albums simply called The Blues, Volumes 1-3. Amiga Records also distributes a Hooker anthology, Blues, Collection 2.

Godfather of the blues or simply one of its greatest practitioners, Hooker has maintained one of the great native art forms of the United States. He described its universal importance and appeal to Guitar Player: Everybody understands the blues nowthe young, all races, all over the world. Back then people pretended they didnt know, but now they know. The young people have really brought it out. Its a tremendous thing because its true. Its the truest music that ever been written. Everything comes right from the bluesspirituals, jazz, rock. The blues is the root of all this.

Selected discography

Boogie Chillun (single), Sensation/Modern, 1948.

Travelin, Vee Jay, 1961.

Big Soul: Best of John Lee Hooker, Vee Jay, 1963.

Hooker n Heat, (with Canned Heat), Liberty, 1971.

Boogie Chillun (includes a new version of the title song), Fantasy, 1972.

The Cream, Tomato, 1979.

Blues, Collection 2, Amiga, 1986.

Jealous, Pausa, 1986.

The Blues, Volumes 1-3, Chess Records.

Sources

Guitar Player, March, 1971.

New York Times, July 11, 1970; September 26, 1971 ; January 7, 1973; April 28, 1975.

Village Voice, July 24, 1969; June 18, 1970; November 16, 1972; August 8, 1979; August 29, 1986.

Barbara Stratyner

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Hooker, John Lee

JOHN LEE HOOKER

Born: Clarksdale, Mississippi, 22 August 1917; died Los Altos, California, 21 June 2001

Genre: Blues

Best-selling album since 1990: Don't Look Back (1997)


John Lee Hooker was one of the most prolific and influential artists in blues history. His up-and-down career survived nearly sixty years of music industry tastes and changes, ending when it had reached its zenith. Many of his songs live as blues standards, and he is a major influence on numerous rock/blues artists who recorded Hooker's songs and borrowed from his distinctive style. In contrast to the twelve-bar, three-chord blues played by most of his contemporaries, Hooker's unique brand of blues was often based upon a simple melody wrapped around a one-chord riff, accompanied by the rhythmic stomp of his foot and the rich tones of his mesmerizing voice.

Accounts of Hooker's year of birth vary: 1915, 1917, and 1920 crop up, but most scholars hold with 1917. He was one of eleven children born to Minnie and William Hooker, Mississippi Delta sharecroppers. His mother separated from his father when Hooker was very young, and she married a farmer named Will Moore, who played the blues locally and became a prominent influence in Hooker's musical development. Moore gave Hooker his first guitar and taught his stepson a mix of 1920s country Delta and one-chord Louisiana blues. Hooker also sang gospel music locally before leaving rural Mississippi when he was fifteen for the bright lights of Memphis to start a music career.

By the 1940s, Hooker had settled in Detroit, hoping to pick up some work in the expanding automobile trade. It was there that he gained a reputation as a top-notch performer and recorded the famous blues anthem "Boogie Chillen," whose familiar riff has been borrowed by various artists, most notably, ZZ Top on their first hit, "La Grange." Hooker sang the song into a penny arcade vending machine, a novelty of its day that recorded for the price of a quarter. He presented the crude demo to a small Detroit record company, and the owner, Bernie Besman, was amazed at what he heard. He immediately began recording Hooker's songs, and "Boogie Chillen" became a number one hit across the country on R&B charts.

Over the next four years, Besman recorded Hooker's music, capturing his sound by equipping a microphone inside Hooker's acoustic guitar and placing a recording microphone inside a toilet. He rested the speaker on the lid. In this way, Hooker's forceful guitar, relentless foot-stomping rhythm, and gospel-style singing received a reverberating echo that shaped his trademark hypnotic blues sound, which was just as compelling when recorded in later years with better technology.

Hooker had several other hits, including "I'm in the Mood," "Dimples," and the frequently borrowed "Boom, Boom." However, his discography is complicatedhe recorded for more than two dozen record labels under a variety of pseudonyms because of contractual problems, usually pertaining to disputes over song royalties. Hooker's popularity waxed and waned in the United States in proportion to the popularity of blues music in general; hence he was delighted to learn of his rising status in the 1960s in the British rock scene. Bands such as the Animals, the Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, and many others began recording his music. He toured both Europe and the United States, becoming a legend and an inspiration for stars such as Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Bonnie Raitt, and Carlos Santana. Hooker continued to record throughout the 1970s and 1980s, but it was mostly a recycling of his past material. His career momentum began to slow by the end of the 1970s. Although he appeared in the film The Blues Brothers (1980) and recorded a song for another film, The Color Purple (1986), by the mid-1980s his career was on the verge of collapse.

Hooker rebounded, however, with the 1989 album The Healer, which featured guest appearances by Bonnie Raitt, Santana, Robert Cray, and George Thorogood. It earned him a 1990 Grammy Award for Best Blues Recording and sold more than 1 million copies. A string of successful recordings followed, all of them featuring contributions by big-name musical admirers. Mr. Lucky (1991) garnered critical raves and a Grammy nomination; among those featured on the album are Keith Richards, Ry Cooder, and Johnny Winter. That same year, Hooker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

His next album, Boom Boom (1992), a reprise of many of his old hits, was buoyed by the contributions of the Texas blues veterans Jimmie Vaughn and Albert Collins. Van Morrison, a longtime friend, played on Chill Out (1995), which won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Recording. Santana, on the verge of his own remarkable comeback, played on the title track. Hooker's next release, Don't Look Back (1997), also won a Grammy in that same category. Van Morrison produced the album, and it contains some of the last songs that Hooker wrote along with Jimi Hendrix's "Red House." Hooker had promised Hendrix's father and sister that he would put the slow twelve-bar blues on the album in homage to the renowned rock guitarist, who counted Hooker as one of his leading influences.

Hooker's last recording was The Best of Friends (1998). Just as the title implies, the album hosts an all-star cast of well-wishers who contributed to the album's songs, many of which are again reworked versions of Hooker's old hits. In a poetic turn the guitarist Eric Clapton, whose musical development owes as much to Hooker as anyone, plays on "Boogie Chillen." At the 2000 Grammy Awards, Hooker received a Lifetime Achievement Award for musical excellence. He continued to perform, sometimes teaming with blues legend B.B. King, on light concert tours until he died in his sleep on the morning of June 21, 2001, at his home near San Francisco. Hooker's passing marked the loss of one of the last direct links to the original Mississippi Delta blues.

SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY:

Boogie Chillen (Sensation, 1949); I'm John Lee Hooker (Vee Jay, 1959); House of the Blues (Chess, 1960); The Folklore of John Lee Hooker (Vee Jay, 1961); Burnin' (Vee Jay, 1962); The Big Soul of John Lee Hooker (Vee Jay, 1963); Moanin' and Stompin' the Blues ( King, 1970); Endless Boogie (ABC, 1970); Hooker n' Heat (Liberty, 1971); Johnny Lee (Greene Bottle, 1972); Mad Man Blues (Chess, 1973); Free Beer and Chicken (ABC Records, 1974); Never Get Out of These Blues Alive (Pickwick, 1978); The Best of John Lee Hooker (Crescendo, 1987); Real Folk Blues (MCA, 1987); Simply The Truth (One Way, 1988); The Healer (Chameleon, 1989); Mr. Lucky (Silvertone, 1991); The Country Blues of John Lee Hooker (Riverside, 1991); John Lee Hooker: The Ultimate Collection 1948-1990 (Rhino, 1991); Boom Boom (Pointblank/Virgin, 1992); Chill Out (Pointblank/Virgin, 1995); Alone (Blues Alliance, 1996); His Best (Chess/MCA, 1997); Don't Look Back (Pointblank/Virgin, 1997); The Best of Friends (Pointblank/Virgin, 1998).

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

C. Murray, Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century (New York, 2000).

donald lowe

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Hooker, John Lee

John Lee Hooker, 1917–2001, American blues singer and guitarist, b. near Clarksdale, Miss. From a cotton-sharecropping family, he learned the blues from his stepfather and various visiting Delta bluesmen, constructing his first instrument from strings made of rubber inner tube nailed to a barn. He left home at 14, sang with gospel groups, and ultimately moved (1943) to Detroit. Hooker made his first recording, the rhythm-and-blues hit "Boogie Chillun" in 1948. Accompanying himself on electric guitar, he recorded more than 100 albums, mainly of slow blues or fast boogies, and toured throughout the United States. After Hooker was "discovered" by the white blues-rockers of the 1960s, he recorded with several rock musicians and influenced a generation of players and singers. Hooker again reached a wide public with his albums The Healer (1989) and Don't Look Back (1997). He won three Grammy awards and was inducted (1991) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

See biography by C. S. Murray (2000).

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Hooker, John Lee

Hooker, John Lee

August 22, 1917
June 21, 2001


Blues singer and guitarist John Lee Hooker learned the guitar from his stepfather and began playing blues in Memphis nightclubs. He moved to Detroit in the 1940s; there he worked in a factory, continued playing in clubs, and began recording for Modern Records in 1948, achieving great success there with "Boogie Chillun." Hooker recorded for different companies under a variety of pseudonyms on some seventy recordings between 1949 and 1953. He began to temper his sound in the 1950s by using a full band to back up his rhythmically driving guitar and deep voice, which yielded the commercially successful "Boom Boom" in 1961. A remake of the song by the Animals in 1964 introduced Hooker to a much broader audience. An active performer through the 1970s and 1980s, he recorded for several labels, and his music was featured in the 1985 film The Color Purple. In 1991 Hooker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In 1995 Hooker retired from performing on a regular basis. His last release was Don't Look Back in 1997, the

same year he opened John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom Room, a blues club in San Francisco. In 2000 he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He died just five days after his last performance.

See also Blues, The

Bibliography

Hochman, Steve, ed. Popular Musicians. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 1999.

Neely, Kim. "Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Tapped." Rolling Stone (November 29, 1990): 36.

Obrecht, Jas. "John Lee Hooker." Guitar Player (November 1989): 50ff.

daniel thom (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

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Hooker, John Lee

John Lee Hooker
1917–2001

Blues musician, guitarist

John Lee Hooker was an influential blues artist who played a role in the development of the genre from the late 1940s through the 1990s. Playing both electric and acoustic guitar, Hooker's distinctive vocal and instrumental style also shaped the development of rock and folk music during the 1960s and 1970s.

John Lee Hooker was born on August 22, 1917 (some sources say 1920), in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the fourth of 11 children born to William and Minnie Hooker. Hooker's father was a sharecropper and Baptist minister who did not like the blues, referring to it as the "devil's music." Hooker's parents separated when he was five and divorced when he was 11 years old.

While Hooker received a limited formal education, music was an important component to his life. He first became exposed to it at church and constructed his first instrument out of a piece of string and an inner tube. Soon after her divorce, Hooker's mother was remarried to William Moore, a blues musician. Hooker credited Moore with mentoring him as a musician.

Moore taught Hooker how to play guitar, showing the boy his minimalist but very rhythmic style of playing. Soon Moore and Hooker were playing together at house parties and dances near their hometown. Though Hooker enjoyed playing with his stepfather he was unhappy living in Mississippi and when he was 14 years old he ran away from home.

Travels to Tennessee and Midwest

Hooker first tried to join the U.S. Army, in part because during World War II a young man in uniform would attract attention from women. He made it through basic training and after three months was stationed in Detroit before it was discovered that he was underage and he was kicked out. Hooker then moved to Memphis, Tennessee. Supporting himself with day jobs such as movie theater usher, Hooker also worked as a musician at house parties because he could not get into clubs. Among the musician he played with was Robert Lockwood.

In his late teens Hooker moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he continued to work menial day jobs like dish washer and steel mill worker while establishing his music career at night. Because he was still a minor, Hooker could only play the blues at house parties. However, he also sang in gospel quartets like the Delta Big Four, Fairfield Four, and the Big Six. By working frequently in front of a crowd, Hooker learned the ropes of performing on stage and entertaining an audience.

In 1943 Hooker moved to Detroit, where jobs were plentiful because so many men were overseas fighting in World War II. He held day jobs washing dishes and working as a janitor in a Chrysler automobile plant until 1951. Now a legal adult, Hooker was now able to perform at the many blues clubs located near Detroit's Hastings Street.

While living in Detroit Hooker's style changed: from the country/rural folk-type blues played primarily on an acoustic guitar, he shifted to a more urban style played on an electric guitar. Part of the change was due to his encounter with Elmer Barber, a local record-store owner. Barber had heard Hooker perform and he made several primitive recordings of the young musician in the makeshift studio located in the back of his store.

Barber's recordings soon found their way to Bernie Besman, owner of a small record label, Sensation Records. It was Besman who suggested that Hooker should switch to electric guitar and include faster-paced material in his gigs at local clubs. Taking this advice, Hooker soon became one of the leading musicians in the Motor City, which at this time was witnessing a booming economy due to the men and women living there who had become wealthy due to the rise in wartime manufacturing.

Records First Hit Single

Hooker made his first single for Besman in 1948. "Boogie Chillen," recorded in a basement in Detroit, features only Hooker's vocals, his electric guitar, and the sound of his foot tapping the beat. When "Boogie Chillen" was released on Sensation it sold so well that the small label could not handle the demand. The single was then released on Modern Records and quickly climbed to the number-one spot on 1949's prototype R & B charts, selling a million copies.

Although Hooker did not receive the royalties he was entitled to for this and future songs, his success with "Boogie Chillen" came as a surprise to him. In 1949 he followed up his first single with ten other top-ten songs. Many of these early recordings feature only Hooker and his guitar, although fellow guitarist Eddie Kirkland sometimes appeared on recordings with him.

One reason that Hooker often recorded alone was that his beat was hard for accompanying musicians to follow. By recording alone, it was easier to achieve a clean take, and the recording session took less time. Describing his sound, Hooker once told John Collis of the Independent, "I don't like no fancy chords. Just the boogie. The drive. The feeling. A lot of people play fancy but they don't have no style. It's a deep feeling—you just can't stop listening to that sad blues sound. My sound."

Chronology

1917
Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi on August 22
1948
Records first single, "Boogie Chillen," which climbs to the number-one spot on the R & B charts
1949
Follows up with ten other top-ten songs
1951
Releases "In the Mood"
1959
Releases his first record album, I'm John Lee Hooker, on Riverside Records
1971
Records Hooker 'n' Heat with the group Canned Heat
1980
Appears in The Blues Brothers; inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame
1989
Records The Healer
1990
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
1991
Records Mr. Lucky
1995
Retires from performing on a regular basis
1997
Opens blues club in San Francisco called John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom Room; releases Don't Look Back
2001
Dies in Los Altos, California on June 21
2003
Album Face to Face is released posthumously

Despite becoming involved in conflicts regarding royalty issues, Hooker continued to record for Modern in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and some of his hits of the period include "Rock House Boogie," "Crawling King Snake," and "In the Mood." One of his most popular recordings of the period, "In the Mood," was released in 1951 and sold a million copies. To ensure that he would earn enough to support his family, Hooker recorded and released material under several other names for over two dozen other labels. Some of his pseudonyms included John Lee Booker, which he used for Chess recordings, Johnny Lee, used for DeLuxe, and Texas Slim and John Lee Cooker, which he used on his recordings for the King label.

Many of Hooker's early releases influenced other bluesmen such as Buddy Guy and are considered to be early precursors to rock and roll. His blues songs incorporated the traditional blues sound with jump and jazz rhythms. Although Hooker recorded his music with little backup, he also performed with a live band at clubs in Detroit and beyond. Due to his talent, hard work, and determination, Hooker was a success on the R & B circuit throughout the 1950s.

In 1955 Hooker signed on with VeeJay Records of Chicago. For this label he changed his recording style; his subsequent recordings becoming a better reflection of his live show. Because solo blues performance was waning in popularity, Hooker started recording with a band, producing such hits as "Dimples" and "Boom Boom."

Becomes Hit on Folk Circuit

Even though Hooker found success performing on electric guitar, he discovered a new audience for his acoustic blues during the late 1950s. Folk music was now undergoing a revival of interest, and groups like the Weavers and blues singers like Odetta were increasingly becoming popular among young white college students. Hooker began appearing in folk clubs, coffeehouses, on college campuses, and at folk festivals as a solo artist, and did several recordings accompanying himself with acoustic guitar. Many of his songs written and recorded during this period reflect his background in Mississippi.

In 1959 Hooker released his first record album, I'm John Lee Hooker, on Riverside Records, his new label. This new turn in the career of the 42-year-old bluesman earned him an even wider audience, not just among white folk fans but in international markets where his records were also released.

Hooker once discussed his change from electronic band to solo folk music with Peter Watrous, telling the New York Times interviewer: "I played solo for a long time, so I know how to tap my feet so it sounds like a drum. It wasn't any problem to start playing the coffeehouses. I can switch to any style, you have to be versatile as a musician. I knew the white audience was out there but I didn't know how to get it. As the years go by, thing change and to me they were just people. I had no thought that British singers would start singing my songs, I had no idea what would come with that. People got more civilized."

In the 1960s Hooker began touring internationally, and the popularity of his music spread throughout the world, particularly among the more sophisticated audience. His songs also influenced emerging British rock bands such as the Rolling Stones and the Animals. Hooker continued to record on VeeJay, although he did not end his practice of laying down tracks for other labels as well.

Returns to Electric

By the mid- to late 1960s Hooker once again moved away from performing acoustic solo blues when the trend toward electric blues prompted him to put together a new band. In 1965 he recorded an album with British group John Mayall and the Groundhogs. Many of Hooker's recordings during the late 1960s were albums rather than singles, and many were recorded in collaboration with bands composed of younger musicians. While many of these recording sessions produced mixed results due to Hooker's unique rhythmic stylings, his sessions with the group Canned Heat is considered one of the best. The resulting album, 1971's Hooker 'n'Heat, was a hit.

Though Hooker continued to record a little and play a lot during the late 1970s and 1980s, the blues had declined in popularity and demand for his music had declined. He still toured as a way to pay the mortgage on the house he owned in San Francisco, often performing with his Coast-to-Coast Blues Band and sometimes coming under fire for letting other musicians carry him musically. Many of his early recordings were also repackaged and released for blues collectors.

Considered one of the top blues performers in the United States, Hooker was given a small role in the blockbuster movie The Blues Brothers in 1980. That same year he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. In the late 1980s and 1990s his songs regained popularity, even appearing as part of film soundtracks. In the 1990s, Hooker himself began appearing in ads for Lee Jeans, Pepsi, various brands of liquor, and other products.

Records The Healer

In 1989 Hooker returned to the studio after a decade's absence and recorded The Healer. He was joined by several contemporary blues artists, including Bonnie Raitt and Robert Cray, as well as Latin artists Los Lobos and Carlos Santana. Produced by Hooker's former guitarist Roy Rogers, The Healer became one of the biggest-selling blues records of all time, selling 1.5 million copies. Hooker also won a Grammy Award for the song "I'm in the Mood," which he performs on the album with Raitt.

Hooker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and was the focus of a tribute concert at Madison Square Garden that same year. With the success of The Healer, he started recording again, again in collaboration with other blues artists. His 1991 recording Mr. Lucky was a hit on the album charts in the United Kingdom. Among the musicians he worked with on this recording were Johnny Winter, Keith Richards, Van Morrison, and Santana.

Hooker continued to perform and record into his late 70s and early 80s and found himself even more popular than he had been earlier in his career. He continued to perform live with the Coast-to-Coast Blues Band into the 1990s, but had the added security of royalty income to rely on. Unlike many other blues and R & B artists of his generation, Hooker continued to earn royalties from his early recordings because he had wisely saved his contracts and, with the proper legal advise, went to court to ensure that recording companies continued to honor them.

After a hernia operation in 1994 made it painful for Hooker to perform, he slowed down. After the release of Chill Out in 1995 he retired from performing on a regular basis, although he still made occasional appearances on stage. In 1997 he opened a blues club in San Francisco called John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom Room. One of his final releases was the album Don't Look Back (1997), which features a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Red House."

Hooker died in his sleep of natural causes on June 21, 2001, at his home in Los Altos, California. At the time of his death, Hooker was working on the album Face to Face, which was released in 2003. During his lifetime he had recorded more than 500 tracks, making him one of the most recorded blues musicians of all time. Married and divorced four times, Hooker was survived by eight children. Late in his life he had contemplated his eventual passing, telling Ben Wener of Tulsa World: "We all got to go one day. We live out this life as long as we can and try to make the best of it. Simple as that. That's what I've done. All my life, just try to make the best of it."

REFERENCES

Periodicals

Independent, July 1, 1990.

New York Times, October 16, 1990; June 22, 2001.

Tulsa World, August 30, 1997.

Online

E! Online, www.eonline.com, September 15, 2003.

                                   Annette Petrusso

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Hooker, John Lee

Hooker, John Lee

Hooker, John Lee, American blues singer, guitarist, and songwriter; b. near Clarksdale, Miss., Aug. 22, 1917. A Mississippi Delta blues musician who made his mark long after relocating to a northern city, Hooker preserved a basic, direct style employing minimal, droning guitar work and idiosyncratic timing that was dubbed “boogie.” It was a style that proved remarkably popular, adaptable, and influential in a career lasting more than 50 years and including early hits like “Boogie Chilien’” and “I’m in the Mood” in the late 1940s and 1950s and award- winning collections such as The Healer in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Hooker was the son of William Hooker, a minister, and Minnie Ramsey Hooker. His parents divorced when he was a child and his mother remarried William Moore, a sharecropper and blues performer who taught his stepson to play and appeared with him locally. Hooker left home as a teenager and lived primarily in Memphis and Cincinnati in the 1930s and early 1940s, working at menial jobs while moonlighting as a musician. In 1943 he settled in Detroit, marrying a woman named Martella with whom he had four sons, two of whom, Robert and John Jr., later became musicians and worked with him. He and his wife divorced in 1970.

Hooker performed in clubs in Detroit and eventually was spotted by record distributor Bernard Besman, for whom he made his first recordings on Nov. 3, 1948. These included “Boogie Chilien’,” which, like nearly all of his songs, he was credited with having written, though in this case Besman claimed a cowriting credit. Besman leased Hooker’s recordings to L.A.-based Modern Records, which released “Boogie Chillen’” in December. In February 1949 it topped the R&B charts. By then Hooker had also begun to record for producer Joe Von Battle, who leased his recordings to other labels under pseudonyms. In this manner, though Hooker was nominally under exclusive contract to Modern, he in fact released scores of records for others over the next five years. Nevertheless, his next hit recording was on Modern, as both sides of the single “Hoogie Boogie”/“Hobo Blues” entered the R&B charts in the spring of 1949 and reached the Top Ten.

In December 1949, Hooker again entered the R&B Top Ten with “Crawlin’ King Snake” on Modern, but his next R&B chart single, “Huckle Up Baby,” in February 1950 was on Besman’s Sensation Records. In the fall of 1951, back on Modern, he scored the biggest hit single of his career with “I’m in the Mood” (music and lyrics by Hooker and Besman), which topped the R&B charts in November.

Hooker signed an exclusive contract in October 1955 with Chicago-based independent label Vee-Jay Records, after which he curtailed but did not cease his recording for other companies. He had recorded primarily alone with his electric guitar previously; on Vee-Jay he began to use a rhythm section and sometimes other instruments. By the end of the 1950s he sometimes reverted to performing with only an acoustic guitar, as he began to find work at colleges and music festivals during the folk music boom and recorded such albums as Riverside’s The Country Blues of John Lee Hooker (1959) and Vee- Jay’s The Folk Lore of John Lee Hooker (1961). His appearance at the Newport Folk Festival on June 24, 1960, was recorded and released as an album by Vee-Jay. Among his other 1960 recordings was the single “Travelin’,” which earned him his first Grammy nomination for Best Rhythm & Blues Performance.

Hooker’s next significant hit came in the spring of 1962 with “Boom Boom,” which made the Top 40 of the R&B charts and even entered the pop charts. That year, he first toured Great Britain, as part of the American Folk Blues Festival, and his records began to be released there, influencing many emerging blues bands. He returned for a month-long tour in June 1964, at which time his 1956 recording “Dimples” made the U.K. Top 40. Evidence of his impact on the British rock scene was provided by The Animals’ recording of “Boom Boom,” which became a U.S. Top 40 pop hit in January 1965.

With the demise of Vee-Jay Records, Hooker again turned to extensive freelancing, notably recording the albums John Lee Hooker and Seven Nights for Verve/Folkways (1965) and The Real Folk Blues for Chess (1966). He then signed to ABC Records, which released his albums on its Impulse! and Blues Way subsidiaries and later on ABC itself during his eight-year tenure. As usual, he made recordings for other labels as well.

Hooker moved to Oakland, Calif., in 1970 and began to associate more with younger, white rock musicians. As a result, he released two double-LPs in early 1971 that vastly expanded his following. The first was Hooker ’n Heat (Liberty Records), recorded with the blues-rock group Canned Heat, with whom he toured. The second was Endless Boogie (ABC Records), on which he was accompanied by such popular rock musicians as Steve Miller. Both albums spent several months in the charts.

Hooker’s next ABC album, Never Get Out of These Blues Alive (1972) featured guest appearances by Van Morrison and Elvin Bishop, among others, and was another pop chart entry. He followed it later in the year with Live at Soledad Prison (ABC), which earned him a second Grammy nomination for Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording. His third Grammy nomination, in the same category, came for the July 1973 United Artists album John Lee Hooker’s Detroit (1948–52), a triple-LP set of his vintage recordings. Meanwhile, his musical influence on blues-based rock performers was highlighted by the Top 40 success of ZZ Top’s Hookerlike boogie song “La Grange” (music and lyrics by Billy Gibbons, Frank Beard, and Joe Hill) in June 1974.

Hooker concluded his ABC Records contract with the September 1974 release of Free Beer and Chicken, on which listeners noted uncredited guest appearances by Joe Cocker and others. After leaving ABC, he was less active as a recording artist, although a 1978 double album, The Cream (Tomato Records), recorded at the Keynote club in Palo Alto, Calif., is notable. In June 1980 his profile was heightened by a guest appearance in the film The Blues Brothers, and he contributed to the 1986 film The Color Purple. His next album release also came in 1986 with Jealous on Pausa Records, which earned his fourth Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Recording.

Hooker enjoyed a major comeback and the biggest record sales of his career when the Chameleon label released his album The Healer in September 1989. The disc featured guest appearances by several performers who acknowledged his influence, including Canned Heat, Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray, Los Lobos, and George Thorogood. It spent eight months in the U.S. charts while going gold in six other countries. Both the album and a track from it, Hooker’s duet with Raitt on a remake of “I’m in the Mood,” earned Grammy nominations for Best Traditional Blues Recording, with the latter winning the award. Hooker earned his seventh Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Recording in 1990 for his participation in an all-star group assembled to play music for the film The Hot Spot. Released by Antilles Records in September 1990, the movie’s soundtrack album also featured Miles Davis, and the Grammy-nominated track was “Coming to Town” (music and lyrics by Jack Nitzsche).

Released in September 1991 on the Virgin Records subsidiary Charisma, Hooker’s follow-up to The Healer was Mr. Lucky, on which he was joined by Booker T. Jones, Van Morrison, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, Carlos Santana, and Johnny Winter, among others. The album spent three months in the U.S. charts and hit the Top Ten in the U.K. It brought Hooker his eighth Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album. Boom Boom, released in November 1992, was less successful, though it reached the U.K. charts and spawned a U.K. Top 40 hit in the title song. Hooker returned to the U.K. Top 40 in May 1993, cobilled with Van Morrison on a remake of Morrison’s hit with the rock group Them, “Gloria” (music and lyrics by Van Morrison). Upon the release of Chill Out in February 1995, Hooker announced that he would no longer tour. The album spent several weeks in the U.S. charts and won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album. Van Morrison produced Hooker’s next album, Don’t Look Back, released in March 1997. It reached the U.S. charts and won two Grammys, for Best Traditional Blues Album and for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals, for the track “The Healing Game” (music and lyrics by Van Morrison), a duet between Hooker and Morrison. Hooker was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2000 Grammy Award ceremonies.

Discography

The Country Blues of John Lee Hooker (1959); House of the Blues (1959); That’s My Story (1960); John Lee Hooker Plays and Sings the Blues (1961); Burnin (1962); Boogie Chillun (1962); The Big Soul of John Lee Hooker (1963); It Serves You Right to Suffer (1965); The Real Folk Blues (1966); Hooker ’N’ Heat (with Canned Heat; 1970); Endless Boogie (1971); Free Beer and Chicken (1974); The Cream (1977); Never Get out of These Blues Alive (1978); This Is Hip (1980); Chess Masters (1982); Solid Sender (1984); Jealous (1986); Simply the Truth (1988); The Healer (1989); Mr. Lucky (1991); The Ultimate Collection, 1948-1990 (1991); The Best of John Lee Hooker, 1963 to 1974 (1992); John Lee Hooker: The Legendary Modern Recordings 1948-1954 (1993); I Feel Good (1995); Chill Out (1995); Boom Boom (1995); The Very Best of John Lee Hooker (1995); Alone (1996); Don’t Look Back (1997); His Best Chess Sides (1997); Best of Friends (1998); The Complete ’50s Chess Recordings (1998); 20th Century Masters: The Best of John Lee Hooker—The Millennium Collection (1999).

—William Ruhlmann

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