Hooker, John Lee


Hooker, John Lee
▪ 2002

      American blues artist (b. Aug. 22, 1917, Clarksdale, Miss.—d. June 21, 2001, Los Altos, Calif.), sang and played guitar with a passionately intense feeling that made him one of the most emotionally compelling of all bluesmen. His voice was a big strong baritone; he shouted fast blues over simple, repeated, driving boogie guitar, and he sang bleak slow blues, often muffling the lyrics, over stark guitar chords; he wore dark glasses when singing because, he said, the blues often moved him to tears. Hooker was one of 11 children in a Mississippi sharecropping family; he learned to play guitar from his stepfather and became interested in gospel music and blues in boyhood. In 1943 he moved to Detroit, where he made his first recordings, including “Boogie Chillen,” “Crawling King Snake,” and “Weeping Willow” (1948–49), hit singles notable for the raw power of his singing, accompanied only by his riveting guitar. Though his unrhyming lines, pentatonic melodies, and one-chord modal harmonic structures sounded primitive, his swinging energy and his electric guitar, which was just becoming popular among blues audiences, marked him as an urban blues performer with a unique sound. In later hits such as “Dimples” (1956) and “Boom Boom” (1962), he was accompanied by bands. One of the most prolific blues recording artists, he recorded for many labels, often using pseudonyms such as John Lee Booker, John Lee Cooker, Texas Slim, and Birmingham Sam and his Magic Guitar. As the black blues audience dwindled, Hooker gradually became popular with white listeners, first playing unamplified guitar and singing traditional blues in folk music venues and recordings; he eventually sang with rock stars Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, and Canned Heat. Hooker toured widely for most of his career and appeared in the films The Blues Brothers (1980) and The Color Purple (1985). He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

▪ 1994

      A septuagenarian known as the "Godfather of the Blues," John Lee Hooker was still a force in popular music during the early 1990s. The singer-guitarist won a Grammy award in 1990 for "I'm in the Mood," a duet with Bonnie Raitt. His album Mr. Lucky (1991) was also nominated for a Grammy, and Boom Boom (1992) was critically acclaimed. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. In 1993 he was named best traditional blues male at the W.C. Handy Blues Awards in Memphis, Tenn.

      Hooker, the fourth of 11 children, was born in Clarksdale, Miss. Although most sources gave his birthdate as Aug. 22, 1917, Hooker later claimed to have changed the year from 1920 while trying to appear older as a youth. His stepfather taught Hooker to play blues guitar, and the two performed together at local fish fries. Hooker ran away from home in 1931 to Memphis, where he played with B.B. King and other future blues greats.

      He moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1933 and performed with various gospel acts through the early 1940s. In 1943 he left for Detroit, Mich., where he formed a band and played at local clubs. Modern Records signed him in 1948, and the next year his single "Boogie Chillen" rose to the top of the rhythm-and-blues charts. A prolific recording artist, Hooker appeared on numerous record labels—often under pseudonyms such as Texas Slim, John Lee Cooker, and Delta John—before joining Chicago-based Vee-Jay. More successes followed, including "Dimples," which was a hit in the U.K. Hooker's career took a turn in the late 1950s when he began recording acoustic blues-revival tunes. Ensuing appearances at U.S. and European folk festivals further established his folk stardom. Many of his fans in England soon turned to rock and roll, however, so Hooker adjusted again and recorded an album in 1965 with the rock band the Groundhogs. Later collaborations with rock artists led some critics to deride Hooker for abandoning his roots to attain commercial success. He scoffed at the charges, explaining that, unlike most blues artists, he was merely keeping pace with the changing character of popular music.

      Hooker's single-chord, rhythm-driven style and gravelly vocals, accompanied by the tap of his foot, inspired a generation of musicians, among them the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Led Zeppelin, Pete Townshend, and Jimi Hendrix. He recruited a group of disciples—including Raitt, Robert Cray, Carlos Santana, and George Thorogood—to record The Healer (1989) and made a triumphant return to the charts. The album was an international success, selling more than one million copies. Guest artists also featured prominently on Mr. Lucky and Boom Boom. Hooker's other ventures included a cameo appearance in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers and a collaboration with Quincy Jones on "Don't Make Me No Never Mind" for the soundtrack of The Color Purple (1986). (ANTHONY G. CRAINE)

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▪ American musician
bynames  John Lee Booker,  John Lee Cooker,  Texas Slim , and  Birmingham Sam and His Magic Guitar 
born August 22, 1917, Clarksdale, Mississippi, U.S.
died June 21, 2001, Los Altos, California
 American blues singer-guitarist, one of the most distinctive artists in the electric blues idiom.

      Born into a Mississippi sharecropping family, Hooker learned to play the guitar from his stepfather and developed an interest in gospel (gospel music) music as a child. In 1943 he moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he made his mark as a blues musician. On such early records as "Boogie Chillen," "Crawling King Snake," and "Weeping Willow (Boogie)" (1948–49), Hooker, accompanied only by an electric guitar, revealed his best qualities: aggressive energy in fast boogies (boogie-woogie) and no less intensity in stark, slow blues. A primitive guitarist, he played simple harmonies, pentatonic scales (pentatonic scale), and one-chord, modal harmonic structures. Later hits included "Dimples" (1956) and "Boom Boom" (1962). He toured widely from the 1950s and appeared in the motion pictures The Blues Brothers (1980) and The Color Purple (1985). Hooker, whose music influenced such bands as the Rolling Stones and the Animals, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. Among the more than 100 albums he recorded are The Healer (1989), which features appearances by Bonnie Raitt and Carlos Santana; the Grammy Award-winning Don't Look Back (1997); and The Best of Friends (1998).

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