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John Lee Hooker Dies

Blues innovator performed for six decades

June 22, 2001 12:00 AM ET

Legendary bluesman John Lee Hooker died in his sleep at his home near San Francisco on June 21st; he was eighty-three.

Born in Clarksdale, Miss., on August 23, 1917, Hooker was one of eleven children. He began performing in his early teens developing a distinctive one-chord rhythmic style of blues that relied on mood over flashy fret work, a sound he paired with his inimitable vocal growl, stripping the music to its bare essentials.

After trying to make a go of it as a musician in Memphis and Cincinnati, Hooker relocated to Detroit in the early Forties. Soon after, he scored his first hit in 1948 with "Boogie Chillun," followed by a string of popular sides, which have become his most enduring classics, including "Crawling King Snake."

Hooker recorded prolifically for numerous labels, under numerous different names. Though the rise of rock & roll created a drought for his hits, the genre was full of young upstarts who cited Hooker as an influence, including the Animals who covered the Hook's "Boom Boom." In 1970, Canned Heat took their homage a step further, recording an entire album, Hooker 'n' Heat, with the bluesman.

Hooker continued to perform and record through the Seventies and Eighties, though 1989 marked a turning point. The Healer was Santana's Supernatural ten years ahead of its time. With a guest list that included Los Lobos, George Thorogood, Bonnie Raitt and Carlos Santana, Hooker's public profile raised again, and his collaboration with Raitt on "In the Mood" earned him his first Grammy award. It would be the first of four Grammys that Hooker would win over the next decade, marking a period of increased productivity for Hooker that included another star-studded album with 1991's Mr. Lucky, which featured songs with Keith Richards and Van Morrison.

Morrison produced Hooker's last great album, 1997's Don't Look Back, which included a mix of tracks old and new. But with Hooker's Nineties rejuvenation came waves of recognition and reissues of his older work, ensuring the legacy of his utterly singular brand of blues.

"There are no superlatives to describe the profound impact John Lee left in our hearts," Carlos Santana said. "All of us feel enormous gratitude, respect, admiration and love for his spirit. When I was a child, he was the first circus I wanted to run away with."

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