John Lee Hooker

John Lee Hooker is arguably one of the most famous and influential bluesmen of all time. There is some ambiguity surrounding his year of birth but it is commonly recorded as being 1917. Born in Mississippi to a Baptist preacher and sharecropper, his early exposure to music was mainly spiritual songs sung in church.

When Hooker’s parents separated in 1921, his mother remarried a blues singer named William Moore. It was here that a young John Lee Hooker was introduced to blues music and Moore would have a strong influence on Hooker’s distinctive playing style.

At the age of 14, Hooker ran away from home, never to see his parents again. During the 1930s he lived in Memphis, Tennessee where he would hone his craft as a blues performer, playing house parties. After some time drifting between cities as a factory worker, Hooker would eventually end up in Detroit, the city that would inspire and push him to new limits as an artist.

Hooker was quick to gain a local following in Detroit and in search of something louder, bought his first electric guitar. He released his first single, ‘Boogie Chillen’ in 1948 for Modern Records, which in my opinion earns the place as his signature tune. Unfortunately, like many black artists of the time, Hooker was financially exploited by his label, whose owners insisted on being included in his songwriting royalties.

John Lee Hooker’s early material is electrifying. Due to his idiosyncratic time keeping, Hooker found it hard to play with a band. As a result he was recorded solo, accompanied only by his electric guitar and the primordial stomp of his feet.

Later in his career, Hooker assembled a band of musicians that were able to work around his off-kilter playing style and recorded a number of sessions for VeeJay Records (including his biggest hit ‘Boom Boom’). Like many blues artists of his generation, there was a resurgence of interest in Hooker’s music during the 1960s. His unique playing style can be heard in bands such as ZZ Top, The Rolling Stones and Canned Heat.

By the 1980s, John Lee Hooker had become a household name and makes a memorable performance in the 1980 film, The Blues Brothers. In 1989, Hooker would release a collaborative record, ‘The Healer’ with renowned musicians such as Carlos Santana and Bonnie Rait, winning a Grammy Award.

Hooker continued to tour regularly and collaborate with musicians from Van Morrison to Eric Clapton. During his recording career he released over 100 albums and in 1997 opened a nightclub in San Francisco, named ‘John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom Room’.

John Lee Hooker was taken ill just before a European tour in 2001 and died in his sleep at the age of 83. His influence has spread far and wide and continues to inspire musicians today. Hooker’s songs have appeared on TV commercials and have been covered by hundreds of bands, ranging from Led Zeppelin to Bruce Springsteen. In 1991 John Lee Hooker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has a star included on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It’s fair to say that John Lee Hooker firmly cemented his place as one of the most accomplished and individual bluesmen of all time.