John Lee Hooker

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John Lee Hooker
Hooker performing at the Long Beach Blues Festival, Long Beach, California, August 31, 1997
Background information
Born(1917-08-22)August 22, 1917 [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]
Tutwiler, Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, U.S.
DiedJune 21, 2001 (aged 83)
Los Altos, California
Genres Blues
  • Guitar
  • vocals
Years active1942–2001 [4]

John Lee Hooker (August 22, 1917 [4] [5] – June 21, 2001) was an American blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist. The son of a sharecropper, he rose to prominence performing an electric guitar-style adaptation of Delta blues. Hooker often incorporated other elements, including talking blues and early North Mississippi Hill country blues. He developed his own driving-rhythm boogie style, distinct from the 1930s–1940s piano-derived boogie-woogie.

Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1870s by African Americans from roots in African musical traditions, African-American work songs, spirituals, and the folk music of white Americans of European heritage. Blues incorporated spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The blues form, ubiquitous in jazz, rhythm and blues and rock and roll, is characterized by the call-and-response pattern, the blues scale and specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues is the most common. Blue notes, usually thirds or fifths flattened in pitch, are also an essential part of the sound. Blues shuffles or walking bass reinforce the trance-like rhythm and form a repetitive effect known as the groove.

Sharecropping form of agriculture in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crops produced on their portion of land

Sharecropping is a form of agriculture in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crops produced on their portion of land. Sharecropping has a long history and there are a wide range of different situations and types of agreements that have used a form of the system. Some are governed by tradition, and others by law. Legal contract systems such as the Italian mezzadria, the French métayage, the Spanish mediero, the Slavic połowcy,издoльщина or the Islamic system of muqasat, occur widely.

Delta blues early style of blues music

Delta blues is one of the earliest-known styles of blues music. It originated in the Mississippi Delta, a region of the United States stretching from Memphis, Tennessee, in the north to Vicksburg, Mississippi, in the south and from Helena, Arkansas, in the west to the Yazoo River in the east. The Mississippi Delta is famous for its fertile soil and for its poverty. Delta blues is regarded as a regional variant of country blues. Guitar and harmonica are its dominant instruments; slide guitar is a hallmark of the style. Vocal styles in Delta blues range from introspective and soulful to passionate and fiery.


Some of his best known songs include "Boogie Chillen'" (1948), "Crawling King Snake" (1949), "Dimples" (1956), "Boom Boom" (1962), and "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" (1966). Several of his later albums, including The Healer (1989), Mr. Lucky (1991), Chill Out (1995), and Don't Look Back (1997), were album chart successes in the U.S. and U.K. The Healer (for the song "I'm In The Mood") and Chill Out (for the album) both earned him Grammy wins [6] [7] as well as Don't Look Back, which went on to earn him a double-Grammy win for Best Traditional Blues Recording and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals (with Van Morrison). [8]

Boogie Chillen single by John Lee Hooker

"Boogie Chillen'" or "Boogie Chillun" is a blues song first recorded by John Lee Hooker in 1948. It is a solo performance featuring Hooker's vocal, electric guitar, and rhythmic foot stomps. The lyrics are partly autobiographical and alternate between spoken and sung verses. The song was his debut record release and in 1949, it became the first "down-home" electric blues song to reach number one in the R&B records chart.

"Crawling King Snake" is a blues song that has been recorded by numerous blues and other artists. It is believed to have originated as a Delta blues in the 1920s and be related to earlier songs, such as "Black Snake Blues" by Victoria Spivey and "Black Snake Moan" by Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Dimples (song) single by John Lee Hooker

"Dimples" is a song written and recorded by blues singer-songwriter John Lee Hooker in 1956. It is an ensemble piece, with Hooker accompanied by Jimmy Reed's backup band. Eight years after its first release, it became Hooker's first record to appear in the British record charts. Called a "genuine Hooker classic" by music critic Bill Dahl, it is one of his best-known songs, with interpretations by several artists.

Early life

Hooker's date of birth is a subject of debate; the years 1912, 1915, 1917, 1920, and 1923 have been suggested. Most sources give 1917, though at times Hooker stated he was born in 1920. Information in the 1920 and 1930 censuses indicates that he was born in 1912. [1] In 2017, a series of events took place to celebrate the purported centenary of his birth. [9] In the 1920 federal census, John Hooker is seven years old and one of nine children living with William and Minnie Hooker in Tutwiler Mississippi.

It is believed that he was born in Tutwiler, Mississippi, in Tallahatchie County, although some sources say his birthplace was near Clarksdale, in Coahoma County. [10] He was the youngest of the 11 children of William Hooker (born 1871, died after 1923), [11] a sharecropper and Baptist preacher, and Minnie Ramsey (born c. 1880, date of death unknown). In the 1920 federal census, [12] William and Minnie were recorded as being 48 and 39 years old, respectively, which implies that Minnie was born about 1880, not 1875. She was said to have been a "decade or so younger" than her husband (Boogie Man, p. 23), which gives additional credibility to this census record as evidence of Hooker's origins.

Tutwiler, Mississippi Town in Mississippi, United States

Tutwiler is a town in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, United States. The population at the 2010 census was 3,550.

Clarksdale, Mississippi City in Mississippi, United States

Clarksdale is a city in Coahoma County, Mississippi, United States, and seat of the county.

The Hooker children were homeschooled. They were permitted to listen only to religious songs; the spirituals sung in church were their earliest exposure to music. In 1921, their parents separated. The next year, their mother married William Moore, a blues singer, who provided John Lee with an introduction to the guitar (and whom he would later credit for his distinctive playing style). [13]

Homeschooling, also known as home education is the education of children at home or a variety of other places. Home education is usually conducted by a parent or tutor or online teacher. Many families use less formal ways of educating. "Homeschooling" is the term commonly used in North America, whereas "home education" is commonly used in the United Kingdom, Europe, and in many Commonwealth countries.

Moore was his first significant blues influence. He was a local blues guitarist who, in Shreveport, Louisiana, learned to play a droning, one-chord blues that was strikingly different from the Delta blues of the time. [10]

Shreveport, Louisiana City in Louisiana, United States

Shreveport is a city in the U.S. state of Louisiana. It is the most populous city in the Shreveport-Bossier City metropolitan area. Shreveport ranks third in population in Louisiana after New Orleans and Baton Rouge and 126th in the U.S. The bulk of Shreveport is in Caddo Parish, of which it is the parish seat. Shreveport extends along the west bank of the Red River into neighboring Bossier Parish. The population of Shreveport was 199,311 as of the 2010 U.S. Census. The United States Census Bureau's 2017 estimate for the city's population decreased to 192,036.

Another influence was Tony Hollins, who dated Hooker's sister Alice, helped teach Hooker to play, and gave him his first guitar. For the rest of his life, Hooker regarded Hollins as a formative influence on his style of playing and his career as a musician. Among the songs that Hollins reputedly taught Hooker were versions of "Crawlin' King Snake" and "Catfish Blues". [14]

At the age of 14, Hooker ran away from home, reportedly never seeing his mother or stepfather again. [15] In the mid-1930s, he lived in Memphis, Tennessee, where he performed on Beale Street, at the New Daisy Theatre and occasionally at house parties. [10]

He worked in factories in various cities during World War II, eventually getting a job with the Ford Motor Company in Detroit in 1943. He frequented the blues clubs and bars on Hastings Street, the heart of the black entertainment district, on Detroit's east side. In a city noted for its pianists, guitar players were scarce. Hooker's popularity grew quickly as he performed in Detroit clubs, and, seeking an instrument louder than his acoustic guitar, he bought his first electric guitar. [16]

Earlier career

Hooker was working as janitor in a Detroit steel mill when his recording career began in 1948, [17] when Modern Records, based in Los Angeles, released a demo he had recorded for Bernie Besman in Detroit. [18] The single, "Boogie Chillen'", became a hit and the best-selling race record of 1949. [10] Despite being illiterate, Hooker was a prolific lyricist. In addition to adapting traditional blues lyrics, he composed original songs. In the 1950s, like many black musicians, Hooker earned little from record sales, and so he often recorded variations of his songs for different studios for an up-front fee. To evade his recording contract, he used various pseudonyms, including John Lee Booker (for Chess Records and Chance Records in 1951–1952), Johnny Lee (for De Luxe Records in 1953–1954), John Lee, John Lee Cooker, [19] Texas Slim, Delta John, Birmingham Sam and his Magic Guitar, Johnny Williams, and the Boogie Man. [20]

His early solo songs were recorded by Bernie Besman. [21] Hooker rarely played with a standard beat, but instead he changed 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 recorded Hooker playing guitar, singing and stomping on a wooden pallet in time with the music. [22]

For much of this period he recorded and toured with Eddie Kirkland. In Hooker's later sessions for Vee-Jay Records in Chicago, studio musicians accompanied him on most of his recordings, including Eddie Taylor, who could handle his musical idiosyncrasies. "Boom Boom" (1962) [23] and "Dimples", two popular songs by Hooker, were originally released by Vee-Jay.

Later career and death

Hooker playing Massey Hall, Toronto. Photo: Jean-Luc Ourlin John Lee Hooker two.jpg
Hooker playing Massey Hall, Toronto. Photo: Jean-Luc Ourlin

Beginning in 1962, Hooker gained greater exposure when he toured Europe in the annual American Folk Blues Festival. [4] His "Dimples" became a successful single on the UK Singles Charts in 1964, eight years after its first US release. [24] Hooker began to perform and record with rock musicians. One of his earliest collaborations was with British blues rock band the Groundhogs. [25] In 1970, he recorded the joint album Hooker 'n Heat , with the American blues and boogie rock group Canned Heat, [26] whose repertoire included adaptations of Hooker songs. [27] It became the first of Hooker's albums to reach the Billboard charts, peaking at number 78 on the Billboard 200. Other collaboration albums soon followed, including Endless Boogie (1971) and Never Get Out of These Blues Alive (1972), which included Steve Miller, Elvin Bishop, Van Morrison, and others.

Hooker appeared in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers . He performed "Boom Boom" in the role of a street musician. In 1989, he recorded the album The Healer with Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, and others. The 1990s saw additional collaboration albums: Mr. Lucky (1991), Chill Out (1995), and Don't Look Back (1997) with Morrison, Santana, Los Lobos, and additional guest musicians. His re-recording of "Boom Boom" (the title track for his 1992 album) with guitarist Jimmie Vaughan became Hooker's highest charting single (number 16) in the UK. [24] Come See About Me , a 2004 DVD, includes performances filmed between 1960 and 1994 and interviews with several of the musicians. [28]

Hooker owned five houses in his later life, including houses located in Los Altos, California; Redwood City, California; and Long Beach, California. [29]

Hooker died in his sleep on June 21, 2001, in Los Altos, California in his home. [30] He is interred at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, California. [31] He was survived by eight children, 19 grandchildren, and numerous great-grandchildren. [30]

Awards and recognition

Among his many awards, Hooker was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980, [32] and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. He was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000 [33] and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Two of his songs, "Boogie Chillen" and "Boom Boom", are included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of the "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll". [34] "Boogie Chillen" is also included in the Recording Industry Association of America's list of the "Songs of the Century". [35]

In 2007, John Lee Hooker was voted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame. [36]

Grammy Awards


Charting singles

A-side / B-side
LabelPeak chart
US 100
UK Singles
1948"Boogie Chillen'" / "Sally May" Modern 6271
1949"Hobo Blues" / "Hoogie Boogie"Modern 6635 / 9
"Crawlin' King Snake" / "Drifting from Door to Door"Modern 7146
1950"Huckle Up Baby" / "Canal Street Blues"Sensation 2615
1951"I'm in the Mood" / "How Can You Do It"Modern 835301
1958"I Love You Honey" / "You've Taken My Woman" Vee-Jay 29329
1960"No Shoes" / "Solid Sender"Vee-Jay 34921
1962"Boom Boom" / "Drug Store Woman"Vee-Jay 4836014
1964"Dimples" / "I'm Leaving" $tateside SS 29723
1992"Boom Boom" / "Homework" Point Blank/
Virgin POB 3
1993"Boogie at Russian Hill" / "The Blues Will Never Die"Point Blank/
Virgin POB 4
"Gloria" (remake) [38] / "It Must Be You"Exile VANS 1131
1995"Chill Out (Things Gonna Change)" /
"Tupelo" (remake)
Point Blank/
Virgin POB 10
1998"Baby Lee" (remake) [39] / "Cuttin' Out" (remake) [40] /
"No Substitute"
Silvertone ORE CD 2165
"—" denotes a release that did not chart

Charting albums

YearTitleLabelPeak chart
US 200
US Blues
UK Albums
1967House of the Blues Marble Arch MAL 66334
1971 Hooker 'n Heat Liberty LST-3500273
Endless Boogie ABC ABCD-72012638 [43]
1972 Never Get Out of These Blues Alive ABC ABCX-736130
1989 The Healer Chameleon D2-748086263
1991 Mr. Lucky Point Blank/
Virgin 91724-2
1995 Chill Out Point Blank/
Virgin 7243 8 40107 2 0
1997 Don't Look Back Point Blank/
Virgin 7243 8 42771 2 3
1998The Best of FriendsPoint Blank/
Virgin 7243 8 46424 2 6
2002Winning Combinations: John Lee Hooker & Muddy Waters Universal 0088112646286
2004Face to Face Eagle ER 20023-23
2007Hooker (box set) Shout! Factory 826663-1019814
2015Two Sides of John Lee Hooker Concord 88807237597012
"—" denotes a release that did not chart


See also

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<i>Hooker n Heat</i> 1971 studio album by John Lee Hooker & Canned Heat

Hooker 'n Heat is a double album released by blues musician John Lee Hooker and blues-rock band Canned Heat in early 1971. It was the last studio album to feature harmonica player, guitarist and songwriter Alan Wilson, who died in September 1970 from a drug overdose. The photo on the album cover was taken after Wilson's death, but his picture can be seen in a frame on the wall behind John Lee Hooker. Guitarist Henry Vestine was also missing from the photo session. The person standing in front of the window, filling in for Henry, is the band's manager, Skip Taylor. Careful examination of the photo reveals that Henry's face was later added by the art department. Although featured on the cover, vocalist Bob Hite does not sing on the album.

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<i>Mr. Lucky</i> (John Lee Hooker album) 1991 studio album by John Lee Hooker

Mr. Lucky is a 1991 album by American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist John Lee Hooker. Produced by Ry Cooder, Roy Rogers and Carlos Santana under the executive production of Mike Kappus, the album featured musicians including Keith Richards, Blues Hall of Fame inductee Johnny Winter; and three inductees of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Van Morrison, Booker T. Jones and Johnnie Johnson. Released on Virgin Records, including on its imprint label Classic Records, Mr. Lucky peaked at #101 on the "Billboard 200".

John Lee Hooker was an American blues singer and guitarist who recorded from 1948 to 2001. His discography includes recordings issued by various record companies in different formats.


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  3. In the 1920 federal census, series T625, Roll 895, p. 235, in the city of Tutwiler, Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, Supervisor's District 2, Enumeration District 87, Sheet #29 A, line 25, enumerated February 3, 1920, John Hooker is one of nine children living with William and Minnie Hooker. John is listed as 7 years of age at his last birthday. If this is accurate – and if his birthday is August 22, as he claimed – he was born August 22, 1912.
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