.

John Lee Hooker

Biography

John Lee Hooker
Natkin/WireImage

Blues musician John Lee Hooker helped define the post-World War II electric blues with his one-chord boogie compositions and his rhythmic electric guitar work. His deep voice was inimitable. Historically, he was one of the great links between the blues and rock & roll.

Hooker was one of 11 children. He sang at church in Clarksdale, Mississippi. His first musical instrument was an inner tube stretched across a barn door. In his adolescence he was taught rudimentary guitar technique by his stepfather, William Moore, who often performed at local fish fries, dances, and other social occasions in the late '20s; another early influence was Blind Lemon Jefferson. In 1931 Hooker went to Memphis, where he worked as an usher at the Daisy Theater on Beale Street. He moved to Cincinnati in 1933 and sang with gospel groups like the Big Six, the Delta Big Four, and the Fairfield Four.

His career eventually took root in Detroit in the late '30s. He began recording in the late '40s. Hooker was exclusively a singles artist for his first few very prolific years. His first release, "Boogie Chillen," issued on the Modern label, was an instant million-seller and a jukebox hit. "I'm in the Mood" sold a million copies in 1951; the blues-record market was soon saturated with Hooker material on myriad labels, often released under such pseudonyms as Birmingham Sam, John Lee Booker, Boogie Man, John Lee Cooker, Delta John, Johnny Lee, Texas Slim, and Johnny Williams. His only pop chart entry was with "Boom Boom" (Number 60, 1962), later recorded by the Animals. In 1959 he cut his first album for Riverside Records and made his debut performance at the Newport Folk Festival. He toured Europe extensively in the early '60s. In the mid-'60s he toured and recorded frequently with Britain's Groundhogs.

By 1970, Hooker was living in Oakland, California. He teamed up with Canned Heat for Hooker 'n' Heat (Liberty), which made inroads on the American charts (Number 73) and abroad. Charlie Musselwhite and Van Morrison joined Hooker in 1972 for Never Get Out of These Blues Alive, the release of which roughly coincided with Fantasy's double-LP Boogie Chillen, a compilation of early material and previously unreleased tapes from 1962. Hooker continued to tour and record in the '70s and '80s, often opening for rock acts like Canned Heat and Foghat. In 1980 he appeared in The Blues Brothers film.

The late '80s brought a renewal of interest in Hooker. British and American rockers, including the Spencer Davis Group, the J. Geils Band, Canned Heat, and George Thorogood, had covered his songs. He sang the title role on Pete Townshend's 1989 album The Iron Man, which was based on a children's book. The same year he joined the Rolling Stones for their concerts in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The Healer (Number 62, 1989), which featured guest appearances by Carlos Santana, Robert Cray, Los Lobos, George Thorogood, Canned Heat, and others, was his biggest commercial success. The album spent 38 weeks on the chart. Hooker earned his first Grammy Award for "I'm in the Mood," the album's duet with Bonnie Raitt. In October 1990 New York's Madison Square Garden hosted an all-star concert celebrating Hooker's music. Raitt, Joe Cocker, Huey Lewis, Ry Cooder, Gregg Allman, Willie Dixon, and others joined the bluesman for the occasion. That year he also joined Miles Davis on the Grammy-nominated movie soundtrack The Hot Spot. (Davis reportedly called Hooker "the funkiest man alive, buried up to his neck in mud.")

In 1991 Hooker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; he was nominated for another Grammy for 1991's Mr. Lucky, which featured tracks recorded with the Robert Cray Band, Keith Richards, Ry Cooder, Tom Waits, Van Morrison, Johnny Winter, Carlos Santana, and others. His 1992 release Boom Boom featured guest guitar work by ex–Fabulous Thunderbird Jimmie Vaughan and blues great Albert Collins.

In early 1995 Hooker announced that he would lighten his touring schedule. Van Morrison, who played on 1995's Chill Out, produced 1997's Don't Look Back, which features appearances by both Morrison and Los Lobos. The Best of Friends rounds up Hooker's numerous superstar collaborations. The first biography about the bluesman, Boogie Man, was published in Europe in 1999, and in America the following year. In 2000 Hooker won a Grammy for lifetime achievement. He died in his sleep at the age of 83.

This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.

X

We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

 
www.expandtheroom.com