John Lee Hooker

john-lee-hooker

 

John Lee Hooker (Johnny Lee Hooker) was born on August 22, 1917 and died on June 21, 2001.  

Born in Coahoma County, Mississippi, the son of a sharecropper, he was a legendary American blue artist.  He was also known as a singer, song-writer and guitarist.

He grew popular performing electric blues guitar style - adapted from the acoustic style of Delta Blues (which arose from the Mississippi Delta region).

The Delta blues is known as one of the earliest styles of American Blues, which originated from the Mississippi Delta, more specifically, a region of the USA which is ranges north to south from Memphis, Tennessee to Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Also spanning from east to west from the Yazoo River to about the area of Helena, Arkansas.

Hooker made this style famous with the onset of the electric blues guitar.

Some would describe his style as a blend between Delta Blues, Hill country blues and a driving-rhythm boogie style, not to be confused with the piano boogie-woogie style of the 30s and 40s.

He is well known in the blues world for songs like "Boogie Chillen'" (1948), "Crawling King Snake" (1949), "Dimples" (1956), "Boom Boom" (1962), and "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" (1966).

In 1949, Boogie Chillen' happened to be the most popular race record.

Is is uncertain as to the exact date of John Lee Hooker's birthday.  He was the youngest child among 11 siblings.  His Father, William Hooker (1871-1923), was both a Baptist preacher and a sharecropper.  Sharecroppers at the time were "renting farmers" who would rent the farmland and in turn, would give a portion of their crop to the land-owner in lieu of cash rent.  Some would pay a blend of cash and crops.  His mother's name was Minnie Ramsey.

Parents Divorce and Introduction to Blues

John Lee and his brothers and sisters were home-schooled, and were restricted to listening to only religious-based songs, most of which came from his father's church.

When his mother and father separated in 1921, his mother re-married a prominent blues singer named William Moore.  It was William Moore who first influenced John Lee with blues by introducing him to the guitar.  John Lee would also give credit to William Moore for his distinct blues style and original influence, although Moore's style was significantly different than the Delta Blues style.  John Lee Hooker's father died in 1923.  

Approximately 8 years later, at the age of 14, John Lee ran away from home.  It is rumored that he never saw his mother or step-father again.

John Lee Hooker in the 1930s

During the 1930s, John Lee Hooker lived in Memphis, TN, and played frequently at house parties.  He worked at the New Daisy Theatre on Beale St, as well as many factories in different cities during WW2.

In 1948 he landed in Detroit, and found a job at the Ford Motor Company.

This would be a significant turning point in his blues career as he felt at home at the many blues locations on Detroit's east side, which was the heart of the black entertainment in that sector of Detroit.  

john-lee-hooker-blues-guitar

What was significant about this timing is that most of the blues venues dominated with piano playing, while acoustic guitar players were more scarce and commonly second to pianos.  John Lee Hooker decided to adapt by introducing an electric guitar to the blues mix, as he found it difficult to project with only an acoustic guitar.

This is when he grew significantly in the blues spotlight in the popular Detroit area.

John Lee Hooker's actual recording career began in 1948 with "the Bihari brothers" who owned the Modern Records label.  Because of his eventual contract deal and limited royalties, he recorded other songs with other studios under pseudonyms.

Although John Lee Hooker was unable to read and write, we was a very adept lyricist, recording over 100 albums!

He had a bit of a different tempo / metering style, as he would frequently change tempo throughout the song as he felt it needed to adapt.  For this reason, it was difficult to record with him and difficult to dub additional instruments after he was recorded.  Often, every time he played a song, it would have variation from the previous performance because of this "loose" style.

Throughout his later career, he recorded and performed with many other famous names in music such as Carlos Santana, Can Morrison, the Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton.

During the end of his life, he lived on Long Beach, California and opened a night club in the Fillmore District of San Francisco.

It was rightly donned after one of his greatest hits with a similar title, "John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom Room"

He died in his sleep on June 21, 2 months before his 84th birthday, just before a tour that was scheduled for several locations in Europe.

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