John Lee Hooker

Mississippi, US
Artist / Band / Musician
Blues / Acoustic / Roots Music

John Lee Hooker was born on 22 August 1917 in Clarksdale, Mississippi the youngest of the eleven children of William Hooker (18711923), a sharecropper and a Baptist preacher, and Minnie Ramsey (1875-?). He and his numerous siblings were only permitted to listen to religious songs, and so young John's earliest musical exposure was to the spirituals sung in church. In 1921 John's parents separated and the next year his mother married William Moore, a blues singer who provided his first introduction to the guitar (and whom he would later credit for his distinctive playing style). The next year John's father died and at age 15 he ran away from home; he would never see his mother and step-father again. Attracted by factory work, Hooker moved from Mississippi to Detroit in 1943, where he would reside until 1969. He felt right at home near the blues venues and saloons on Hastings Street, the heart of black entertainment on Detroit's east side. Hooker's recording career began in 1948 with the hit single, "Boogie Chillen," cut in a studio near Wayne State University.

Despite being illiterate, he 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 50s 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 made it nearly impossible to add backing tracks. As a result, Besman would record Hooker, in addition to playing guitar and singing, stomping along with the music on a wooden palette.

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, in contrast to the usual "playback" technique used in most film musicals.

In 1989 he joined with a number of musicians, including Keith Richards and Carlos Santana to record The Healer, which won a Grammy award one of many awards. 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".

He fell ill just before a tour of Europe in 2001 and died soon afterwards at the age of 83.

Hooker recorded over 100 albums and lived the last years of his life in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he licensed a nightclub to use the name Boom Boom Room, after one of his hits.

Among his many awards, John Lee 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.
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