John Lee Hooker
– June 21
) was an influential American post-war blues
, and songwriter
born in Coahoma County
. From a musical family, he was a cousin of Earl Hooker
. John was also influenced by his stepfather, a local blues guitarist, who learned in Shreveport
to play a droning, one-chord blues that was strikingly different from the Delta blues
of the time. John developed a half-spoken style that was his trademark. Though similar to the early Delta blues, his music was rhythmically 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 masterful and idiosyncratic blues guitar and singing. His best known songs include "Boogie Chillen
" (1948) and "Boom Boom
Hooker was born on August 22
in Coahoma County
, Mississippi, the youngest of the eleven children of William Hooker (1871–1923), a sharecropper
and a Baptist preacher
, and Minnie Ramsey (1875–?). Hooker and his siblings were home-schooled
. They were permitted to listen only to religious songs, with his earliest musical 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 John's first introduction to the guitar (and whom John would later credit for his distinctive playing style). The year after that (1923), John's natural father died; and at age 15, John ran away from home, never to see his mother and stepfather again.
Throughout the 1930s, Hooker lived in Memphis where he worked on Beale Street 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 piano players, guitar players were scarce. Performing in Detroit clubs, his popularity grew quickly, and seeking a louder instrument than his crude acoustic guitar, he bought his first electric guitar.
Hooker's recording career began in 1948 when his agent placed a demo disc, 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 streams of income.
Sometimes these songs were older tunes renamed (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 to "Taub", with Hooker receiving no credit for the song whatsoever. Another, "Turn Over a New Leaf" is credited to Hooker and "Ling".
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. Due to his recording contract, he would record these songs under obvious pseudonyms such as "John Lee Booker", "Johnny Hooker", or "John Cooker.
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 is still performing as of 2008. Later sessions for the VeeJay label in Chicago used 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) had a horn section to boot!
He appeared and sang in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers. Due to Hooker's improvisatory 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, borrowing his trademark sunglasses and soul patch.
In 1989, he joined with a number of musicians, including Keith Richards, Carlos Santana and Bonnie Raitt to record The Healer, for which he and Carlos 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.
Hooker recorded over 100 albums. He lived the last years of his life in the San Francisco Bay Area, where, in 1997, he opened a nightclub 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 soon afterwards at the age of 83. The last song Hooker recorded before his death, is "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, numerous great-grandchildren and a nephew.
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 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. 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
. 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 stunningly sad 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 The White Stripes, MC5, The Doors, George Thorogood, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, The Yardbirds, The Animals, R. L. Burnside, the J. Geils Band and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
Awards and Recognition
- * 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
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 715 (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 Me Right (To Suffer) - Vee-Jay 708 (11/65) (VJ/Dynasty LP "In Person")
There are many John Lee Hooker albums out there. Below you will find the original albums with notable reissues.
THE DETROIT YEARS (recordings 1948-1955)
- 1960 - The Blues (Crown) - reissued on United, also as "The Greatest Hits" (Kent, 1971) Modern tracks
- 1960 - House Of The Blues (Chess) 1951-52 tracks
- 1961 - Sings The Blues (Crown) - reissued on United, also as "Driftin' Thru The Blues" (Custom) 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" (Charly) Texas Slim 1948-50 tracks
- 1962 - Folk Blues (Crown) - reissued on United (Modern tracks)
- 1963 - The Great John Lee Hooker (CrownCrown) - reissued as "The Great Blues Sounds of" (United) Modern tracks
- 1963 - Don't Turn Me from Your Door - John Lee Hooker Sings His Blues (Atco) 1953 and 1961
- 1963 - Big Maceo Merriweather / John Lee Hooker (Fortune) 1/2 of an LP
- 1964 - Original Folk Blues (Kent) Modern compilation - reissued on United
- 1967 - John Lee Hooker & his Guitar (Advent) British bootleg; early tracks
- 1969 - No Friend Around (Red Lightnin') early tracks, bootleg compilation
- 1970 - Alone (Specialty) 1949-1951 tracks
- 1971 - Goin' Down Highway 51 (Specialty) 1949-1951 tracks
- 1972 - Coast to Coast Blues Band - Anywhere Anytime Anyplace (United Artists) 1948-1952 tracks
- 1972 - Johnny Lee (Greene Bottle) early Besman alternates (not issued on CD)
- 1973 - Hooker, Hopkins, Hogg (Specialty) half an LP of 1954 recordings
- 1973 - Slim's Stomp (Polydor) King's "Sings Blues" plus bonus tracks
- 1973 - John Lee Hooker's Detroit (United Artists) Besman alternate 1948-1952 tracks
- 1973 - Mad Man Blues (Chess) compilation 1950s and 1966
- 1979 - Southern Blues (Savoy) 1948 tracks on half an LP
- 1981 - Blues For Big Town (Chess) compilation featuring unissed early 1950s
- 1987 - Gotham Golden Classics - Rare Recordings (Collectables) 1951-52 tracks - also issued as "Detroit Blues, 1950-51" (Krazy Kat with bonus tracks)
- 1989 - 40th Anniversary Album (DCC) - also issued on Demon as "The Detroit Lion" (compilation of early tracks)
- 1990 - Boogie Awhile (Krazy Kat) unissued early Elmer Barbee recordings
- 1999 - Savoy Blues Legends, 1948-1949 (SavoyJazz/Atlantic) - reissued on Savoy (Elmer Barbee recordings)
- 2000 - The Unknown John Lee Hooker (Krazy Kat, 1951 tracks) - reissued as "Jack 0'Diamonds" (Eagle, 2004)
THE CHICAGO YEARS (recordings 1955-1964)
- 1959 - I'm John Lee Hooker (Vee Jay 1955-1959)
- 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
- 1962 - Gold (Vee Jay) - compilation
- 1963 - John Lee Hooker On Campus (Vee Jay) - reissued as "Big Band Blues" (Buddah)
- 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 - In Person (VeeJay/Dynasty) late Vee-Jay tracks
- 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"
- 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)
- 1966 - It Serve You Right To Suffer (Impulse)
- 1966 - The Real Folk Blues (Chess) new Chicago recordings
- 1967 - Live at the Cafè Au Go-Go (Bluesway)
- 1968 - Urban Blues (Bluesway)
- 1969 - Simply The Truth (Bluesway)
- 1969 - If You Miss 'Im ... I Got 'Im (Bluesway)
- 1969 - On The Waterfront (Wand) (... And Seven Nights" with brass overdub)
- 1970 - I Wanna Dance All Night (America) Europe recordings - reissued with the next as "Black Rhythm & Blues" (Festival)
- 1970 - I Feel Good (Carson) Europe recordings - reissued on Jewel (1972)
- 1971 - Endless Boogie (ABC)
- 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)
- 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
Selected CD Compilations
- 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"
- 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 (Varése Sarabande) Vintage 1948 - 1953 Texas Slim and John Lee Booker (King/DeLuxe 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]
- 2006 - Hooker (a terrific 4CD Box chronological anthology covering his whole 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
- Boogie Man: Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American 20th Century, by Charles Shaar Murray, ISBN 0-14-016890-7.
- "John Lee Hooker - That's my story" Documentary by Jörg Bundschuh