John Lee Hooker Biography

John Lee Hooker Biography - Hooked on Blues

Author: Peter J. Black  

John Lee Hooker was born on August 22, 1917 in Coahoma County near Clarksdale, Mississippi. His parents were William Hooker, a sharecropper and preacher, and Minnie Ramsey. He is considered one of the most prominent African-American blues singer-songwriters and guitarists of his age, and is best known for his trademark style of "talking blues".

This is the unique style that brought him to prominence as he rose to popularity with his brand of music incorporating the boogie-woogie style of piano playing. Two of his well-known songs are "Boogie Chillen" (1948) and "Boom Boom" (1962), two pieces of music separated by a generation, yet unmistakably John Lee Hooker.

In his childhood, considering the profession or calling of his father, Hooker was unremarkably exposed to predominantly religious songs, largely also as a result of him being home-schooled. The youngest of eleven children, all of them knew only spiritual songs during their childhood.

However, when his mother separated from her husband William, she married a blues singer, one William Moore who introduced John Lee to a new style of music and a new instrument: the 'geetar'. He was greatly influenced by his stepfather's droning one-chord blues, but when his real father, William Hooker, died in 1923 he ran away from home, away from his mother and stepfather forever.

The 30s were chains of events in Hooker's life in Memphis where he took a number of different jobs. He performed at house parties, worked at the New Daisy Theater on Beale Street, in factories and eventually at the Ford Motor Company in Detroit in 1948. It was here that his skills as guitarist gave him the opportunity to make his mark in several Detroit clubs.

John Lee Hooker's first hit single "Boogie Chillen", which he made himself, was released in 1948 and his recording career has begun. That was produced by the Bihari Brothers, owners of the Modern Label. However, the songwriting royalties went to the Biharis because they generally purchased or claimed co-authorship of songs that were recorded on their labels.

In spite of a lack of formal education, a major talent that he developed was that of a lyricist. He had this ability to come up with some great songs from nothing. In order to augment his meager income from recording out of his contract, he would continue writing new songs and visit several studios at night to record them.

In order to make sure that he could not be sued for breach of contract, he would make up names such as "John Lee Booker" during his stint with Chess Records and Chance Records from 1951 to 1952, "Johnny Lee" for De Luxe Records from 1953 to 1954. Other names that he used were "Johnny Hooker", John Cooker", "Texas Slim", "Delta John", "Birmingham and his Magic Guitar", "Johnny Williams", and "The Boogie Man".

Bernie Besman became his partner in recording his early songs. Hooker had a unique style of not playing on a standard beat which at that time only Besman could "understand". It was difficult to use backing musicians for such a style of music, so Besman had to take on three jobs when recording - playing the guitar, singing, and stomping along with the music on a wooden pallet. Later, Eddie Taylor was able to handle these musical idiosyncrasies with skill and ease.

When John Lee Hooker appeared in the movie 'The Blues Brothers" in 1980, his skills at improvisation enabled his entire performance to be filmed and sound-recorded live at the scene. The "Jake Blues" character of John Belushi was actually Hooker's trademarks - sunglasses and soul patch.

Hooker's collaboration with Carlos Santana in "The Healer" won them a Grammy Award in 1989. Aside from Santana, he also worked with Van Morrison recording among others, "Never Get Out of These Blues Alive", "The Healing Game", and "I Cover the Waterfront". The live album "A Night in San Francisco" included some of his appearances on stage with Van Morrison. Peter Townshend's "The Iron Man: A Musical", released in the same year, featured him as the title character.

All in all, he was able to record over 100 albums. In 1997 his nightclub called "John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom Boom" was opened in the San Francisco's Fillmore District. At that time, he was staying in the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent the last years of his life. He died on June 21, 2001 at the age of 83.

Hooker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, has a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980. His Grammy Awards include Best Traditional Blues Recording in 1990 and 1998, Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals in 1998 and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. All well deserved by Johnny Lee Hooker who was one of the blues greats.
Playing the blues on the guitar can be easy with http://acousticblueslessons.com 

This John Lee Hooker biography was originally published at http://encyclopediaofblues.com/?p=187 

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