Bluesman John Lee Hooker Dies
By Kim Curtis / Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO - Veteran bluesman John Lee Hooker, whose foot
stompin' and gravelly voice electrified audiences and inspired several generations of
musicians, died Thursday at his Los Altos home. He was 83(sic).
He died at in his sleep at his home, said Hooker's agent Mike
Hooker died of natural causes with friends and family near, Kappus
"He always had plenty of people around him," he said.
During a more than six-decade-long music career, the veteran blues
singer from the Mississippi Delta estimated he recorded more than 100 albums. Some of his
better-known songs include "Boogie Chillen," "Boom Boom" and "I'm
In The Mood."
Throughout it all, Hooker's music remained unchanged. His rich and
sonorous voice, full of ancient hurt, and his brooding and savage style remained hypnotic
but unpredictable. To the strains of his own guitar, he sang of loneliness and confusion.
Neither polished nor urbane, his music was raw, primal emotion.
His one-chord boogie compositions and rhythmic guitar work were a
distinctive sound that influenced rock 'n' rollers as well as rhythm and blues musicians.
In 1991, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Last
year at the Grammys, he recieved a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Among those whose music drew heavily on Hooker's style are Van
Morrison, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and ZZ Top. In
1961, the then-unknown Rolling Stones opened for him on a European tour; he also shared a
bill that year with Bob Dylan at a club in New York City.
Even in the '90s, when his fame was sealed and he was widely
recognized as one of the grandfathers of pop music, Hooker remained a little in awe of his
own success, telling The Times of London, "People say I'm a genius but I don't know
Like many postwar bluesmen, Hooker got cheated by one fly-by-night
record producer after another, who demanded exclusivity or didn't pay. Hooker fought back
by recording with rival producers under a slew of different names: Texas Slim, John Lee
Booker, John Lee Cocker, Delta John, Birmingham Sam and the Boogie Man, among others.
Hooker's popularity grew steadily as he rode the wave of rock in the
'50s into the folk boom of the '60s. In 1980, he played a street musician in "The
Blues Brothers" movie. In 1985, his songs were used in Steven Spielberg's film,
"The Color Purple."
Hooker hit it big again in 1990 with his album "The
Healer," featuring duets with Carlos Santana, Raitt and Robert Cray. It sold 1.5
million copies and won him his first Grammy Award, for a duet with Raitt on "I'm in
Several more albums followed, including one recorded to celebrate
his 75th birthday, titled "Chill Out."
In his later years, Hooker laid back and enjoyed his success. He
recorded only occasionally; he posed for blue jeans and hard liquor ads. He played
benefits from time to time, but mostly performed in small clubs, dropping in unannounced.
Mostly, though, he hung out with friends and family at his homes in
Los Altos and Long Beach, watching baseball and enjoying a fleet of expensive cars.
Born in Clarksdale, Miss., in 1917, Hooker was one of 11 children
born to a Baptist minister and sharecropper who discouraged his son's musical bent.
His stepfather taught him to play guitar. By the time Hooker was a
teen-ager, he was performing at local fish fries, dances and other occasions.
Hooker hit the road to perform by the age of 14. He worked odd jobs
by day and played small bars at night in Memphis, then Cincinnati and finally Detroit in
In Detroit, he was discovered and recorded his first hit,
"Boogie Chillen," in 1948.
"I don't know what a genius is," he told the London
newspaper. "I know there ain't no one ever sound like me, except maybe my stepfather.
You hear all the kids trying to play like B.B. (King), and they ain't going to because,
ooh, he's such a fine player and a very great man. But you never hear them even try and
sound like John Lee Hooker."
"All these years, I ain't done nothin' different," he
added. "I been doing the same things as in my younger days, when I was coming up, and
now here I am, an old man, up there in the charts. And I say, well, what happened? Have
they just thought up the real John Lee Hooker, is that it? And I think, well, I won't tell
nobody else! I can't help but wonder what happened."
John Lee Hooker - bluesman
who influenced many
By Steve James
NEW YORK (Reuters) - John Lee Hooker, who has died at age 83 in San
Francisco, was one of the great Mississippi Delta bluesmen whose singing and
guitar-playing inspired generations of rock n' roll performers.
Known as "The Hook" and "The Boogie Man," he
outlived most of the other blues greats -- such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Elmore
James, Lightnin' Hopkins -- all men who learned their craft in the rural south.
These folk singers had moved north to Chicago where the emotional
music of the cottonfields became one of the foundations of jazz and rock styles --
especially when they electrified their acoustic guitars, creating a new sound.
But unlike B.B. King and other blues elder statesmen, Hooker, famed
for his droning one-chord grooves, made no concessions to popular taste, his music was
always unique and uncompromising, with a distinctive staccato guitar and gravelly voice.
This quirky style made him a cult figure in the late 1980s when he
was "rediscovered" and his 1989 album "The Healer," which teamed him
with several rock performers, was critically acclaimed.
His "I'm in the Mood," first became a hit in 1951, and
nearly 40 years later he re-recorded it with Bonnie Raitt and won a Grammy. In 1991, he
was inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame.
He had pop hits in the United States and Britain in the 1960's with
songs like "Boom Boom," and "Dimples," and his original recording of
"I'm in the Mood," was used by the city of Chicago in its tourist advertising
campaign in the late 1980's.
"Man, it's all blues to me -- comes from way back, from the
Spirituals," he once said with typical modesty, of the style that prompted Waters to
nickname him "the killer" and "the champ."
CAMEO ROLE IN 'THE BLUES
"Blues is the root of all our music," Hooker said.
"He knows all the blues there are," said his manager and
producer Al Smith, during the American Folk Blues Festival that toured Europe in 1968.
"I can ask him to sing funky blues, or the R&B kind. Deep
Chicago blues is second nature to him, and if I ask him to sing like he was in
Mississippi, he does it easily."
Music historian Larry Cohn wrote of Hooker: "He shouts, growls
and squeezes all that is possible out of every nuance. In addition to all of this, Hooker
hums better than most bluesmen can sing."
Such was his cult figure status that in 1980 he was given a cameo
role in the Dan Aykroyd/John Belushi movie "The Blues Brothers" and he later
appeared in "The Color Purple."
After recording Boogie Chillin' in 1948, he had several periods of
success separated by over 40 years.
After recording prolifically in the 1950s with the VeeJay label,
Hooker became dormant until the blues revival of the 1960s brought him back to prominence,
seeing him touring Europe. Bob Dylan played his first concert as the opening act for
Hooker in 1961 at a Greenwich Village folk club in New York City.
He recorded albums for Bluesway and the legendary Chess label before
dropping out of sight in the 1970s and early 1980s.
In 1989, he was "rediscovered" and producer Roy Rogers
recorded Hooker playing with such performers as Carlos Santana, Raitt, Robert Cray and
Thorogood borrowed heavily from his guitar style and narrative-type
vocals, adapting Hooker's "Rent Money Boogie" and turning it into one of his
showstoppers -- "One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer."
Former Who guitarist Pete Townshend used Hooker singing and playing
on several tracks of his "Iron Man" album and in 1990, Hooker recorded with
Miles Davis the soundtrack album of a movie "The Hot Spot."
In 1992, "Boom Boom" was re-released and became an even
bigger hit in Britain than it had been in the 1960s.
Born in a shack near Clarksdale, Mississippi, on August 22, 1917,
his church minister father left home when he was young and a stepfather taught him to play
Blues Guitarist John Lee
Hooker Dies at 83
By JON PARELES
John Lee Hooker, the bluesman whose stark, one-chord
boogies were some of the feistiest and most desolate songs of the 20th century, died
yesterday in his sleep at his home in Los Altos, Calif., said his agent, Mike Kappus. He
Mr. Hooker's music stayed close to its Mississippi
Delta roots. Usually playing an electric guitar with a menacing hint of distortion, he
picked barbed, syncopated guitar riffs that went on to become cornerstones of rock.
Electrified for tough urban crowds, they harked back to the rural South and to West
Africa. "I don't play a lot of fancy guitar," he once told an interviewer.
"The kind of guitar I want to play is mean, mean, mean licks."
And with his deep, implacable voice, he sang of lust
and loneliness, rage and despair in songs so bleak that they sometimes made him cry behind
his dark glasses.
"No matter what anybody says, it all comes down to
the same thing," he once said. "A man and a woman, a broken heart and a broken
Mr. Hooker's songs stoked the blues-rock of the 1960's.
They were picked up by English and American rockers, among them the Rolling Stones, Canned
Heat, the Animals and, later, Z Z Top and George Thorogood and the Destroyers. Mr. Hooker
estimated that he recorded more than 100 albums, and he toured everywhere from juke joints
to concert halls.
Mr. Hooker was born Aug. 17, 1917, near Clarksdale,
Miss. He was one of 11 children in a sharecropper family on a cotton plantation. His
father was a minister, and he learned gospel songs in church. But he learned the blues and
the beat he called the "country boogie" from his stepfather, William Moore. The
bluesmen Blind Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charley Patton were among the visitors to
the Moore household; Mr. Hooker also learned from other Mississippi musicians and from
phonograph records. He started playing on strings made from strips of inner tube nailed to
a barn, then moved on to the guitar.
As a teenager, he ran away to become a musician.
"I was young and had a lot of nerve," he said in an interview with David S.
Rotenstein. "I knew I would get nowhere down in Mississippi and I ran away by night.
I thought for sure I was gonna make it."
Mr. Hooker made his way to Memphis, where he worked as
an usher in the segregated W. C. Handy movie theater on Beale Street. He soaked up more
blues playing with musicians like Robert Nighthawk before heading farther north. In
Cincinnati at the end of the 1930's, he sang with gospel groups, including the Fairfield
Four and the Big Six, and in 1943 he moved to Detroit. There, he worked in steel and
automobile factories and played in the blues clubs.
Mr. Hooker made his first recordings in 1948 for
Sensation Records, and he almost immediately had rhythm-and-blues hits, beginning with
"Boogie Chillun," a guitar-driven tour of the Detroit ghetto. In the song, the
"One night I was layin' down/I heard Mama and Papa
talkin'/I heard Papa tell Mama,/Let that boy boogie-woogie/It's in him and it got to come
Soon he quit his job to play the blues full time.
Evading exclusive recording contracts, Mr. Hooker's label leased his recordings under
pseudonyms, including Delta John, John Lee Booker, Birmingham Sam and His Magic Guitar,
The Boogie Man and Texas Slim. Although Mr. Hooker played clubs with a band, he often
recorded solo, stomping his foot for a beat. He continued to make hits under his name,
including "Crawling Kingsnake Blues," "Hobo Blues," "I'm in the
Mood" (a million-selling single in 1951), "Dimples" and, in 1962,
"Boom Boom." By then, he had moved to Chess Records, then to Vee-Jay Records, a
Chicago label, and was recording with full bands.
Mr. Hooker was discovered by collegiate crowds during
the blues revival, and switched in the early 1960's to the solo acoustic guitar format
that pleased the folkies. But rock musicians soon latched on to his electric boogie, and
during the 1970's he recorded with Canned Heat and Van Morrison. He moved to northern
California, forming bands with local musicians. He appeared as a street musician in the
movie "The Blues Brothers."
Mr. Hooker's career was revitalized in 1989 when he
recorded "The Healer" (Chameleon Records) with guest musicians who included
Carlos Santana, Los Lobos and Robert Cray. Its new version of "I'm in the Mood,"
a duet with Bonnie Raitt, received a Grammy Award.
Yesterday, Ms. Raitt said in a statement: "I'm
deeply saddened by the loss of my dear friend and one of the last and greatest of the
original Delta bluesmen. John Lee's power and influence in the world of Rock, R & B,
Jazz and Blues are a legacy that will never die. Getting to know and work with him these
last 30 years has truly been one of the great joys of my life. I'm so very grateful to
have known him, and know that he went not in pain, truly loved and appreciated the world
"When I was a child he was the first circus I
wanted to run away with," Mr. Santana, the guitarist, said of Mr. Hooker. "He,
Jimmy Reed and Lightnin' Hopkins were the foundation for all of my music."
Mr. Hooker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame in 1991, and received a tribute concert at Madison Square Garden with performances by
Ms. Raitt, Gregg Allman, Bo Diddley and others. Although he announced he would retire from
touring in the mid-1990's, he continued to record until 1997 with many other guest
musicians for Pointblank/Virgin Records, and received two more Grammy awards in 1997 for
his album "Don't Look Back" (Best Traditional Blues Album) and for a duet with
Mr. Morrison (Best Pop Collaboration). A compilation from his 1989-1997 albums, "The
Best of Friends," was released by Virgin in 1998.
In 1997, Mr. Hooker bought a San Francisco club to
present the blues, calling it John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom Room.
Through five decades of recording and countless
collaborators, Mr. Hooker maintained the Delta style. "I just got smarter and added
things on to mine," he once said, "but I got the same bottom, the same beat that
I've always had. I'd never change that, 'cause if I change that, I wouldn't be John Lee
Hooker any more."
Mr. Hooker is survived by eight children: Francis McBee
Hooker, Diane Hooker-Roan, Zakiya Hooker Bell, John Lee Hooker Jr., Robert Hooker,
Shyvonne Hooker, Karen Hooker and Lavetta Williams. He is also survived by a nephew,
Archie Hooker; 19 grandchildren; and numerous great-grandchildren.