A Brief History of the Blues #10 John Lee Hooker

Humble student
Joined: 06/12/05
Posts: 1,579
Humble student
Joined: 06/12/05
Posts: 1,579
03/27/2008 10:22 pm
A Brief History of the Blues #10
John Lee Hooker

By Hunter60

"Like you and your woman ain't gettin' along and you're in love. You can't sleep at nights. Your mind is on her - on whatever. You know, that's the blues. You can't hug that money at night. You can't kiss it."

John Lee Hooker

One thing that most musicians of any stripe seek is the creation of a signature, that tone, that style that is so distinctive that you know exactly who it is within the first two bars even if you've never heard the song before. John Lee Hooker was a guitarist whose "boogie" sound was idiosyncratic that it has become known as '"Hooker Style" guitar. An almost monotonous thrumming of chording, lazing in and out of time, an almost blatant disregard for the standard rules of composition and keeping a percussive rhythm beat with his feet (tapping quarter notes with one foot, eighths with the other), Hooker emulated the boogie piano on a guitar. Punctuated with hypnotic vocals in an easy Delta growl, Hooker was a favorite not only of audiences but of musicians as well.

Born in Coahoma County, near Clarksdale, Mississippi on August 22nd, 1917, Hooker was the youngest of 11 children. His natural father, William Hooker, was a sharecropper and Baptist preacher who forbid secular music in their home so Hookers first exposure to music was spirituals. He began his foray into music singing spirituals around the home. His first musical instrument was a tire inner-tube stretched across a barn door. William and Minnie, his mother, separated in 1921 and young John went with his mother, the other children stayed behind with their father. Minnie married local blues musician, William Moore (never recorded) who, Hooker said in interviews, taught him to play the guitar. Moore was originally from Louisiana and had developed the droning style of guitar playing from his early days in the Gulf where jazz and boogie piano were the preferred style. Hooker also claims that it was from Moore that he learned to back himself up by tapping out the percussion with his feet on a piece of ply-board.

At the age of 15, John left the Clarksdale area and never returned to see his mother or stepfather again. From Clarksdale, he made his way to Memphis where he stayed with his aunt. He split his time working at the New Daisy Theatre and playing at house parties, fish frys and the occasional bar gig where he continued to develop his style. Hooker claimed to have worked several gigs with Robert Nighthawk, Eddie Love and pianist Joe Willard during his time in Memphis.

Leaving Memphis, he worked his way through Knoxville, Tennessee, ending up in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1935. During this time, Hooker worked with gospel groups like Big Six, The Fairfield Four while working in warehouses, factories and as an usher at local theatres.

After a short stint in the Army at some point between 1939 and 1943, he made his way to Detroit. He found a job working as a janitor Ford Motor Company's Rouge Plant. In an interview for Guitar Player, Hooker said "I pushed a broom … I was so into my music, but I had to work to survive. I would play my guitar at night, be up late, and would catch me asleep, wake me up. They wouldn't fire me, because at that time it was so union, and they wanted to help me so bad, they did give me all kinds of chances. They'd wake me up if they found me asleep: "Little John …Little John, get up! Wake up".

It was during this time that Hooker began to play gigs up and down Detroit's infamous Hastings Street, the heart of African American culture on the East Side, a place where you could find "everything you wanted and you could find everything you didn't want too!" Hooker is quoted many times as saying that it was during this time that T. Bone Walker gave him his first electric guitar.

In 1948, Hooker had his first recording session at Allied Sound Studios which produced a few classic postwar blues pieces, "Boogie Chillun" and "Hobo Blues." Of "Boogie Chillun," Hooker said "I wrote that song in Detroit, just sitting around strumming my guitar. The thing just come into me. It was just an old funky lick I found. I heard Will Moore do a song like that when I was a little kid down South but he didn't call it Boogie Chillun. But it had that beat". The following year, Hooker hit again with "Crawling King Snake" which was followed by "In the Mood" (his first million seller) two years later. These have all become blues standards that work their way into most blues bands repertoires.

An extremely prolific songwriter and recording artists, he recorded nothing but singles between 1948 and 1959. Some estimates indicate that he may have recorded upwards of 70 singles in an 11-year time frame. Following what appears to be a very real pattern among blues guitarist of that period, Hooker recorded under several names during this time in an effort to dodge certain contractual obligations. He recorded under the names Birmingham Sam, John Lee Booker, Boogie Man, John Lee Cooker, Delta John, Johnny Lee, Texas Slim and Johnny Williams.

His first major concert was when appeared at the Newport Folk Festival alongside Muddy Waters in 1960. In 1962, he released "Boom, Boom" which turned out to be his only real chart hit in both the U.S. and in England, although when Eric Burdon and The Animals re-did the single in 1964, it outsold Hookers original version. He went to England in 1962 with the American Blues Folk Fesitval where he found himself, much to his surprise, revered. "It was just like God just let Jesus go over there. That's all you could hear: 'John Lee Hooker!"

He continued to record and tour during the 60's, playing his electrified Delta blues for the cross-over rock and roll crowds, he also played acoustic blues for the coffee-house, folk crowds that were discovering'the blues and American roots music at that time.

His influence on the development of rock and roll through the sixties is immeasurable and he is often cited as a major influence on a majority of both blues and rock bands of the time. Everyone from The Animals, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Foghat and Canned Heat have stated on more than one occasion how much they feel indebted to The Boogie Man from Detroit. Hooker made major inroads into the rock audience when he recorded what many consider a seminal blues/rock double album with Canned Heat called "Hooker and Heat" which made it to 73 on the national charts. In the mid to late Seventies, he continued to record for a variety of labels but it appeared that interest in his brand of unique boogie blues was waning. Hooker recollected "I got so disgusted, and I said 'I ain't gonna record no more'. The record companies, they rob you blind". He stopped recording for approximately for 8 years.

He made a cameo appearance in 1980's '"The Blues Brothers" film (John Belushi's character Joliet Jake Blues borrowed his look of black glasses and a soul patch directly from Hooker) but any resurgence his career may have felt was short-lived.

Hooker came roaring back with 1989's release "The Healer" which included a guest list of rock and blues luminaries such as Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt (with whom he won his only Grammy for their duet "In the Mood"), Robert Cray, George Thorogood, Los Lobos, Roy Rogers and Charlie Musselwhite. With its commercial success, 'The Healer' led to Pointblank Records to release "Mr. Lucky" in 1991, this time teaming hooker up with such seasoned players as Albert Collins, Van Morrison, John Hammond and Keith Richards.

Hooker decided to move into semi-retirement in the 90's but would still make an occasional appearance on various friends disc's for the remainder of his life. He died of natural causes on June 21st, 2001.

When asked about the best advice he ever received, Hooker said "Well, the best advice I ever received was from my stepfather Will Moore, and T-Bone Walker. Both of 'em told me 'Once you start, don't stop. If you really want to do it, don't let people dis-encourage (sic) you. Don't let people tell you what you ain't gonna make it. If you're determined to do it, just keep on pluckin' … Sometimes things don't go like you want to, and you kind of disgusted and say 'Oh, I'm gonna quit. I'm gonna hang it up.' But don't do it. Keep on pluckin'. If you really want it, you'll have it. I found that was the best advice".

That is good advice.
[FONT=Tahoma]"All I can do is be me ... whoever that is". Bob Dylan [/FONT]
# 1

Please register with a free account to post on the forum.