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John Lee Hooker (August 22, 1917 – June 21, 2001) was a highly influential American blues singer-songwriter and guitarist.
Hooker began his life as the son of a sharecropper, William Hooker, and rose to prominence performing his own unique style of what was originally a unique brand of country blues. He developed a 'talking blues' style that was his trademark. Though similar to the early Delta blues, his music was metrically free. John Lee Hooker could be said to embody his own unique genre of the blues, often incorporating the boogie-woogie piano style and a driving rhythm into his blues guitar playing and singing. His best known songs include "Boogie Chillen'" (1948), "I'm in the Mood" (1951) and "Boom Boom" (1962), the first two reaching #1 on the Billboard R&B chart.
There is some debate as to the year of Hooker's birth in Coahoma County, Mississippi, the youngest of the eleven children of William Hooker (1871–1923), a sharecropperand Baptist preacher, and Minnie Ramsey (born 1875, date of death unknown); according to his official website, he was born on August 22, 1917.
Hooker and his siblings were home-schooled. They were permitted to listen only to religious songs, with his earliest exposure being the spirituals sung in church. In 1921, his parents separated. The next year, his mother married William Moore, a blues singer who provided Hooker with his first introduction to the guitar (and whom John would later credit for his distinctive playing style). John's stepfather was his first outstanding blues influence. William Moore was a local blues guitarist who learned in Shreveport, Louisiana to play a droning, one-chord blues that was strikingly different from the Delta blues of the time. Around 1923 his natural father died. At the age of 15, John Lee Hooker ran away from home, reportedly never seeing his mother or stepfather again.
Throughout the 1930s, Hooker lived in Memphis, Tennessee where he worked on Beale Street at The New Daisy Theatre and occasionally performed at house parties. He worked in factories in various cities during World War II, drifting until he found himself in Detroit in 1948 working at Ford Motor Company. He felt right at home near the blues venues and saloons on Hastings Street, the heart of black entertainment on Detroit's east side. In a city noted for its pianists, guitar players were scarce. Performing in Detroit clubs, his popularity grew quickly and, seeking a louder instrument than his acoustic guitar, he bought his first electric guitar.Hooker playing Massey Hall, Toronto Photo: Jean-Luc Ourlin
Hooker's recording career began in 1948 when his agent placed a demo, made by Hooker, with the Bihari brothers, owners of the Modern Records label. The company initially released an up-tempo number, Boogie Chillen', which became Hooker's first hit single. Though they were not songwriters, the Biharis often purchased or claimed co-authorship of songs that appeared on their labels, thus securing songwriting royalties for themselves, in addition to their own streams of income.
Sometimes these songs were older tunes that Hooker renamed, as with B.B. King's Rock Me Baby, anonymous jams B.B.'s Boogie, or songs by employees (bandleader Vince Weaver). The Biharis used a number of pseudonyms for songwriting credits: Jules was credited as Jules Taub; Joe as Joe Josea; and Sam as Sam Ling. One song by John Lee Hooker, Down Child, is solely credited toTaub, with Hooker receiving no credit. Another, Turn Over a New Leaf is credited to Hooker and Ling.
In 1949, Hooker was recorded performing in an informal setting for Detroit jazz enthusiasts. His repertoire included down-home and spiritual tunes that he would not record commercially. The recorded set has been made available in the album Jack O'Diamonds.
Despite being illiterate, Hooker was a prolific lyricist. In addition to adapting the occasionally traditional blues lyric (such as "if I was chief of police, I would run her right out of town"), he freely invented many of his songs from scratch. Recording studios in the 1950s rarely paid black musicians more than a pittance, so Hooker would spend the night wandering from studio to studio, coming up with new songs or variations on his songs for each studio. Because of his recording contract, he would record these songs under obvious pseudonyms such as John Lee Booker, notably forChess Records and Chance Records in 1951/52, as Johnny Lee for De Luxe Records in 1953/54 as John Lee, and even John Lee Cooker, or as Texas Slim, Delta John,Birmingham Sam and his Magic Guitar, Johnny Williams, or The Boogie Man.
His early solo songs were recorded under Bernie Besman. John Lee Hooker rarely played on a standard beat, changing tempo to fit the needs of the song. This often made it difficult to use backing musicians who were not accustomed to Hooker's musical vagaries. As a result, Besman would record Hooker, in addition to playing guitar and singing, stomping along with the music on a wooden pallet. For much of this time period he recorded and toured with Eddie Kirkland, who was still performing until his death in a car accident in 2011. Later sessions for the VeeJay label in Chicagoused studio musicians on most of his recordings, including Eddie Taylor, who could handle his musical idiosyncrasies very well. His biggest UK hit, "Boom Boom", (originally released on VeeJay) was recorded with a horn section.Toronto, August 20, 1978
He appeared and sang in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers. Due to Hooker's improvisational style, his performance was filmed and sound-recorded live at the scene at Chicago's Maxwell Street Market, in contrast to the usual "playback" technique used in most film musicals. Hooker was also a direct influence in the look of John Belushi's character Jake Blues.
In 1989, he joined with a number of musicians, including Carlos Santana and Bonnie Raitt to record the album The Healer, for which he and Santana won a Grammy Award. Hooker recorded several songs with Van Morrison, including "Never Get Out of These Blues Alive", "The Healing Game" and "I Cover the Waterfront". He also appeared on stage with Van Morrison several times, some of which was released on the live album A Night in San Francisco. The same year he appeared as the title character on Pete Townshend's The Iron Man: A Musical.
On December 19, 1989, Hooker appeared with the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton to perform "Boogie Chillen'" in Atlantic City, N.J., as part of the Rolling Stones Steel Wheels tour. The show was broadcast live on cable television on a pay-per-view basis.
Hooker recorded over 100 albums. He lived the last years of his life in Long Beach, California. In 1997, he opened a nightclub in San Francisco's Fillmore District called John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom Room, after one of his hits.
He fell ill just before a tour of Europe in 2001 and died on June 21 at the age of 83, two months before his 84th birthday. His last live in the studio recording on guitar and vocal was of a song he wrote with Pete Sears called "Elizebeth", featuring members of his "Coast to Coast Blues Band" with Sears on piano. It was recorded on January 14, 1998 at Bayview Studios in Richmond, California. The last song Hooker recorded before his death was Ali D'Oro, a collaboration with the Italian soul singer Zucchero, in which Hooker sang the chorus "I lay down with an angel'" He was survived by eight children, nineteen grandchildren, eighteen great-grandchildren, a nephew, and fiance Sidora Dazi. One of his children is the musician John Lee Hooker, Jr.
Among his many awards, Hooker has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 1991 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Two of his songs, "Boogie Chillen" and "Boom Boom" were included in the list of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. "Boogie Chillen" was included as one of the Songs of the Century. He was also inducted in 1980 into the Blues Hall of Fame. In 2000, Hooker was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Hooker's guitar playing is closely aligned with piano boogie-woogie. He would play the walking bass pattern with his thumb, stopping to emphasize the end of a line with a series of trills, done by rapid hammer-ons and pull-offs. The songs that most epitomize his early sound are "Boogie Chillen", about being 17 and wanting to go out to dance at the Boogie clubs, "Baby, Please Don't Go", a blues standard first recorded by Big Joe Williams, and "Tupelo Blues",a song about the flooding of Tupelo, Mississippi in April 1936.
He maintained a solo career, popular with blues and folk music fans of the early 1960s and crossed over to white audiences, giving an early opportunity to the young Bob Dylan. As he got older, he added more and more people to his band, changing his live show from simply Hooker with his guitar to a large band, with Hooker singing.
His vocal phrasing was less closely tied to specific bars than most blues singers. This casual, rambling style had been gradually diminishing with the onset of electric blues bands from Chicago but, even when not playing solo, Hooker retained it in his sound.
Though Hooker lived in Detroit during most of his career, he is not associated with the Chicago-style blues prevalent in large northern cities, as much as he is with the southern rural blues styles, known as delta blues, country blues, folk blues, or "front porch blues". His use of an electric guitar tied together the Delta blues with the emerging post-war electric blues.
His songs have been covered by Buddy Guy, Cream, AC/DC, ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin, Tom Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Van Morrison, The Yardbirds, The Animals, The Doors, The White Stripes, MC5,George Thorogood, R. L. Burnside, The J. Geils Band, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, The Gories, Cat Power, and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
- A Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
- Inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980.
- Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
- Best Traditional Blues Recording, 1990 for I'm in the Mood (with Bonnie Raitt).
- Best Traditional Blues Recording, 1998 for Don't Look Back.
- Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals, 1998, "Don't Look Back" (with Van Morrison).
- Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.
- Two of his songs, "Boogie Chillen" and "Boom Boom" were named to the list of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. "Boogie Chillen" was included as one of the Songs of the Century.
Hooker issued a large number of singles, with almost a hundred releases by 1960. Here are ten of his early classic recordings:
- Detroit September 1948 - Boogie Chillen' - Modern 627 (11/48) R&B #1 (Crown LP "The Blues")
- Detroit September 1948 - Hobo Blues - Modern 663 (3/49) R&B #5 (Crown LP "The Blues")
- Detroit September 1948 - Crawling King Snake - Modern 714 (10/49) R&B #6 (Crown LP "The Blues")
- Detroit August 7, 1951 - I'm In the Mood - Modern 835 (9/51) R&B #1 (Crown LP "The Blues")
- Detroit Early 1955 - The Syndicator b/w Hug And Squeeze - Modern 966 (8/55) (Crown LP "Sings The Blues")
- Chicago March 17, 1956 - Dimples - Vee-Jay 205 (8/56) (VJ LP "I'm John Lee Hooker")
- Chicago June 10, 1958 - I Love You Honey - Vee-Jay 293 (9/58) R&B #29 (VJ LP "I'm John Lee Hooker")
- Chicago March 1, 1960 - No Shoes - Vee-Jay 349 (4/60) R&B#21 (VJ LP "Travelin'")
- Chicago Late 1961 - Boom Boom - Vee-Jay 438 (4/62) R&B #16 (VJ LP "Burnin'")
- Chicago Mid 1964 - It Serves You Right (To Suffer) - Vee-Jay 708 (11/65) (VJ/Dynasty LP "In Person")
Listed below are the original albums with notable reissues. THE DETROIT YEARS (recordings 1948-1955)
- 1959 - House Of The Blues (Chess)
- 1960 - The Blues (Crown) early Modern tracks
- 1961 - Sings The Blues (Crown) - Modern tracks
- 1961 - Plays And Sings The Blues (Chess) 1950-52 tracks
- 1961 - Sings Blues (King)- reissued as "Moanin' and Stompin'", and "Don't You Remember Me", Texas Slim 1948-50 tracks
- 1962 - Folk Blues (Crown) - Modern tracks
- 1963 - The Great John Lee Hooker (Crown) - Modern tracks
- 1963 - Don't Turn Me from Your Door (Atco) 1953 and 1961 recordings
- 1963 - John Lee Hooker & Big Maceo Merriweather (Fortune)
- 1964 - Original Folk Blues (Kent)
- 1966 - John Lee Hooker & his Guitar (Advent)
- 1969 - No Friend Around (Advent/Red Lightnin')
- 1970 - Alone (Specialty)
- 1971 - Goin' Down Highway 51 (Specialty)
- 1971 - Coast to Coast Blues Band (United Artists)
- 1972 - Johnny Lee (GreeneBottle 2-LP)
- 1973 - John Lee Hooker's Detroit (United Artists 3-LP)
- 1973 - Mad Man Blues (Chess 2-LP compilation)
- 1973 - Hooker, Hopkins, Hogg (Specialty-Sonet)
- 1973 - Slim's Stomp (Polydor) - King tracks
- 1979 - Southern Blues (Savoy)
- 1981 - Blues For Big Town (Chess) - v.a. compilation featuring unissued early 1950s
- 1987 - Gotham Golden Classics - Rare Recordings (Collectables)
- 1987 - Detroit Blues (Krazy Kat)
- 1989 - 40th Anniversary Album (DCC) - reissued on Eiropean Demon as Detroit Lion
- 1990 - Boogie Awhile (Krazy Kat 2-LP)
- 1999 - Savoy Blues Legends, 1948-1949 (SavoyJazz/Atlantic) - reissued on Savoy
- 2000 - The Unknown John Lee Hooker (Krazy Kat) - 1951 tracks, reissued as "Jack 0'Diamonds" (Eagle, 2004)
THE CHICAGO YEARS
- 1959 - I'm John Lee Hooker (Vee-Jay)
- 1960 - Travelin (Vee-Jay)
- 1961 - The Folk Lore of John Lee Hooker (Vee-Jay)
- 1962 - Burnin' (Vee-Jay)
- 1962 - The Big Soul of John Lee Hooker (Vee Jay)
- 1962 - The Best of John Lee Hooker (Vee Jay) - compilation
- 1963 - John Lee Hooker On Campus (Vee Jay) - ("I Want To Shout The Blues" on European Stateside) - reissued as "Big Band Blues" (Buddah Records)
- 1965 - ... And Seven Nights (Verve-Folkways) British recordings of 1964 (re-issued with brass overdub as "On The Waterfront" on Wand) - and reissued in several versions later
- 1965 - Is He The World's Greatest Blues Singer? (Vee Jay) compilation - reissued on Exodus
- 1974 - Gold (Vee Jay) - compilation comprisising "I'm John Lee Hooker" and "The Big Soul of"
- 1974 - In Person (VeeJay/Dynasty) late Vee-Jay tracks
- 1989 - The Hook - 20 Years of Hits & Hot Boogie (Chameleon) Vee-Jay license compilation
- 1993 - John Lee Hooker on Vee-Jay 1955-1958 (VeeJay) compilation
THE FOLK YEARS (recordings 1959-1963)
- 1959 - The Country Blues of John Lee Hooker (Riverside) - reissued as "How Long Blues" (Battle, 1963)
- 1960 - That's My Story - JLH Sings the Blues (Riverside) - reissued as "The Blues Man" (Battle, 1963)
- 1962 - John Lee Hooker (Galaxy) - reissued as "The King of Folk Blues" (America)
- 1963 - Live At Sugar Hill (Galaxy)
- 1964 - Burning Hell (Riverside) recorded 1959
- 1964 - Concert At Newport (Vee Jay) - reissued with bonus tracks as "Live At Newport" (Fantasy)
- 1966 - Teachin' The Blues (Guest Star) half an LP of recordings from 1961
- 1969 - That's Where It's At! (Stax) recordings of 1961
- 1971 - Detroit Special (Atlantic) compilation ("Don't Turn Me From Your Door" plus bonus tracks)
- 1972 - Boogie Chillun (Fantasy) ("Live at Sugar Hill" plus bonus tracks) - reissued on Ace as "Live at Sugar Hill Vol. 1 & 2"
- 1972 - Black Snake (Fantasy 2-set) - reissue of Riverside's "The Country Blues" and "That's My Story"
- 1979 - Sittin' Here Thinkin (Muse) - reissued as "Sad And Lonesome" (Savoy recordings of 1961)
- 2002 - Live At Sugar Hill, Vol. 2 (Fantasy) unissued recordings from 1961 (featuring a "third session")
THE ABC YEARS (recordings 1965-1974)
- 1965 - It Serves You Right to Suffer (Impulse! Records)
- 1966 - The Real Folk Blues (Chess) new Chicago recordings
- 1967 - Live at the Café Au Go-Go (Bluesway)
- 1967 - Urban Blues (Bluesway)
- 1968 - On The Waterfront (Wand) (... And Seven Nights" with brass overdub)
- 1969 - Simply The Truth (Bluesway)
- 1969 - If You Miss 'Im ... I Got 'Im (Bluesway)
- 1970 - I Wanna Dance All Night (America) Europe recordings - reissued with the next as "Black Rhythm 'n' Blues" (Festival)
- 1970 - I Feel Good (Carson) Europe recordings - reissued on Jewel (1972)
- 1971 - Get Back Home In The USA (Black & Blue) Europe recordings - reissued with bonus tracks as "Get Back Home"
- 1971 - Hooker 'n Heat (Liberty) - reissued as "Infinite Boogie" (Rhino)
- 1971 - Endless Boogie (ABC)
- 1972 - Never Get Out of These Blues Alive (ABC)
- 1972 - Live at Kabuki Wuki (Bluesway)
- 1973 - Live At Soledad Prison (ABC)
- 1973 - Born In Mississippi, Raised Up In Tennessee (ABC)
- 1974 - Free Beer And Chicken (ABC)
- 1991 - More Real Folk Blues - The Missing Album (Chess) - also issued with "The Real Folk Blues" as "The Complete Chess Folk Blues Sessions"
THE ROSEBUD YEARS (recordings 1975-2001)
- 1976 - Alone Vol 1 (Labor) live - reissued on Tomato
- 1976 - Alone - Live in New York Vol 2 (MMG) - reissued on Tomato
- 1978 - Live + Well (Ornament)
- 1978 - The Cream (Tomato) live recordings - reissued with bonus tracks on Charly
- 1979 - Live in 1978 (Lunar)
- 1981 - Hooker 'n' Heat Recorded Live at the Fox Venice Theatre (Rhino, various artists)
- 1986 - Jealous (Pulsa) - reissued on Pointblank 1996 - and on Shout! Factory with bonus tracks
- 1989 - The Healer (Chameleon)
- 1990 - The Hot Spot (Featuring Miles Davis)
- 1991 - Mr. Lucky (Pointblank)
- 1992 - Boom Boom (Pointblank) - reissued on Shout!Factory with bonus tracks
- 1995 - Chill Out (Pointblank) - reissued on Shout!Factory with bonus tracks
- 1997 - Don't Look Back (Pointblank/Virgin) - reissued on Shout!Factory with bonus tracks
- 1998 - The Best of Friends (Pointblank) compilation 1986–1998 incl one new track - reissued on Shout!Factory download with bonus track
- 2003 - Face to Face (Eagle) new recordings
- 1990 - That's My Story/The Folk Blues of (Ace) - the two original Riverside LPs on one CD
- 1990 - That's Where It's At (Stax) reissue of Florida recordings from 1961
- 1991 - The Ultimate Collection 1948-1990 (Rhino 2CDbox)
- 1991 - Half A Stranger (Mainstream) Modern tracks 1948–1955 incl unedited masters
- 1991 - Free Beer And Chicken (BeatGoesOn/MCA) recorded 1974
- 1991 - Don't Turn Me From Your Door (Atlantic/Atco) 1953 and 1961 (incl the bonus tracks)
- 1992 - Graveyard Blues (Specialty/Ace) 1948–1950 Besman/Sensation tracks
- 1992 - The Best of John Lee Hooker 1965 to 1974 (Universal) Impulse and ABC/Bluesway recordings
- 1993 - Everybody's Blues (Specialty/Ace) Besman tracks of 1950-51 plus two 1954 sessions direct for Specialty
- 1993 - The Legendary Modern Recordings 1948-1954 (Flair/Ace) the original singles
- 1994 - The Boogie Man (Charly DIG 5) anthology box featuring 1948–1966 (excluding Modern)
- 1995 - Alternative Boogie - Early Studio Recordings, 1948-1952 (Capitol 3CD) Besman alternates
- 1995 - The Gold Collection - 40 Classic Performances (Retro) 2-CD set Made in Italy by Phonocomp
- 1996 - Live at the Café Au Go-Go (and Soledad Prison) (Universal) 1966 with Muddy Waters' band and 1972
- 1998 - The Complete 50's Chess Recordings (Chess 2CD) anthology featuring the tracks from "House of the Blues" and "Plays and Sings the Blues" (1951–52) plus several bonus tracks from Fortune 1954 incl "Blues For Big Town"
- 2000 - The Complete 1964 recordings (RPM) last Vee-Jay session 1964 plus British London recordings - the British tracks reissued with brass overdubs as "The London 1965 Sessions" on Sequel
- 2000 - I'm John Lee Hooker (Charly -with bonus tracks) his very first LP, 1955–1959 recordings - reissued on SNAP in 2003 and without bonus tracks on Shout!Factory in 2007
- 2000 - Travelin' (Charly -with bonus tracks) the great LP session of 1960- reissued on SNAP in 2003
- 2000 - The Folk Lore of John Lee Hooker (Charly -with bonus tracks) his third VJ LP - reissued on SNAP in 2003
- 2000 - Burnin' (Charly -with bonus tracks) the fourth VJ LP, 1962 - reissued on SNAP in 2003
- 2000 - The Complete - Vol. 1 1948-49 [Body & Soul 2CD]
- 2000 - The Complete - Vol. 2 1949 [Body & Soul 2CD]
- 2001 - The Complete - Vol. 3 1949-50 [Body & Soul 2CD]
- 2001 - House Rent Boogie (Ace) Modern compilation of rare early 1950s recordings
- 2001 - Testament - 3CDbox featuring some of the very best Vee-Jay recordings (Charly/Snapper)
- 2002 - The Complete - Vol. 4 1950-51 [Body & Soul 2CD]
- 2002 - The Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues (Chess) 1966 recordings; reissue of the 1991 CD "The Complete Chess Folk Blues Sessions"
- 2002 - Giant of Blues (FruitTree 2CD) Charly license featuring 20 of the "Testament" tracks
- 2003 - Boogie Chillen' (Audio Fidelity) 1949–1952 Besman and Siracuse (engineer) compilation
- 2003 - Blues Kingpins - Blues Immortal (Virgin) 1948–1955 Modern anthology
- 2004 - Early Years - The Classic Savoy Sessions (Metro Doubles 2CD) recorded 1948 and 1961 - comprising the tracks from "Savoy Blues Legends" (Savoy in 1999 and 2003) and the 1961 Savoy recordings from "Sittin' Here Thinkin'" (32Blues in 2004 with the bonus track)
- 2004 - I'm A Boogie Man (Varèse Sarabande) Vintage 1948–1953 Texas Slim and John Lee Booker (King/De Luxe tracks featuring all the King singles)
- 2004 - The Complete - Vol. 5 1951-53 [Body & Soul 2CD]
- 2005 - The Complete - Vol. 6 1953-54 [Body & Soul 2CD]
- 2005 - Blues Is The Healer (Membran), 149 songs from the early years in a German 10-CD box set
- 2006 - Hooker (4 disc chronological anthology covering his entire career) (Shout!Factory)
- 2006 - The Boogie Man 1948–1955 (Charly 4 CDBox) - not identical to Charly's rare CD DIG 5 (but this time also featuring Modern recordings)
- 2007 - Gold (Hip-O Select 2CD) 1948–2001 chronological anthology
- 2009 - John Lee Hooker Anthology: 50 Years (Shout! Factory 2CD) 1948–1998 chronological anthology
- 2009 - From Detroit to Chicago 1954-1958 (SagaBues46) Modern, Battle, and early Vee-Jay singles
- 2010 - At His Very Best (MetroUnionSquare 2CD) Vee-Jay compilation and some live recordings
- 2010 - Blues In Transition (Jasmine 2CD) Vee-Jay 1956–1959 plus the two Riverside sessions 1959 (50 tracks)