John Lee Hooker!

Gary: “Now when I first heard the song written by this famous blues man, it was on Yonge Street in Toronto and I was 23/24 years of age, single and really getting into Blues and R&B.

The person I am talking about is John Lee Hooker, and I heard a group called David Clayton Thomas (of Blood Sweat & Tears Fame) & the Shays in 1963/64 cover one of his songs (Boom Boom).

John-Lee-Hooker2John Lee Hooker

Videos:

1964/ England/ Boom Boom Boom/
.
1962/ By himself doing Boom Boom Boom/
.
1989/ with Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones/ Boogie Chillen/
.
1965 at the American Folk Festival/ Hobo Blues/
.
One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer/

John Lee Hooker made hundreds of recordings but they really did not cross over to the Pop field. It would be impossible to list all of his music, so I will take a cross section from 1949 through 1964.

I am sure that I will miss some of your favourites, so just send me your requests and I will try to add them later.

Some of His Hits:

  • Detroit September 1948Boogie Chillen’Modern 627 (11/48) R&B #1 (Crown LP “The Blues”)
  • Detroit September 1948Hobo BluesModern 663 (3/49) R&B #5 (Crown LP “The Blues”)
  • Detroit September 1948Crawling King SnakeModern 715 (10/49) R&B #6 (Crown LP “The Blues”)
  • Detroit August 7, 1951I’m In the MoodModern 835 (9/51) R&B #1 (Crown LP “The Blues”) with Bonnie Raitt * – could only find the later recording)
  • Chicago March 17, 1956DimplesVee-Jay 205 (8/56) (VJ LP “I’m John Lee Hooker”)
  • Chicago June 10, 1958I Love You HoneyVee-Jay 293 (9/58) R&B #29 (VJ LP “I’m John Lee Hooker”)
  • Chicago March 1, 1960No ShoesVee-Jay 349 (4/60) R&B#21 (VJ LP “Travelin'”)
  • Chicago Late 1961Boom Boom Boom – Vee-Jay 438 (4/62) R&B #16 (VJ LP “Burnin'”)
  • Chicago Mid 1964It Serves You Right (To Suffer)Vee-Jay 708

Cover Song:

  • Boom Boom/David Clayton Thomas & the fabulous Shays/1964

John Lee Hooker (Coahoma County, Mississippi, August 22, 1917 – Los Altos, California, June 21, 2001) was an influential American post-war blues singer, guitarist, and songwriter.

John Lee Hooker could be said to embody his own unique genre of the blues, often incorporating the boogie-woogie piano style and a driving rhythm into his masterful and idiosyncratic blues guitar and singing. His best known songs include “Boogie Chillen” (1948) and “Boom Boom” (1962).

Hooker was the youngest of the eleven children of William Hooker (1871–1923), a sharecropper and a Baptist preacher, and Minnie Ramsey (1875–?).

Hooker and his siblings were home-schooled. They were permitted to listen only to religious songs, with his earliest musical exposure being the spirituals sung in church.

In 1921, his parents separated. The next year, his mother married William Moore, a blues singer who provided John’s first introduction to the guitar (and whom John would later credit for his distinctive playing style). The year after that (1923), John’s natural father died; and at age 15, John ran away from home, never to see his mother and stepfather again.

Throughout the 1930s, Hooker lived in Memphis where he worked on Beale Street and occasionally performed at house parties. He worked in factories in various cities during World War II, drifting until he found himself in Detroit in 1948 working at Ford Motor Company.

He felt right at home near the blues venues and saloons on Hastings Street, the heart of black entertainment on Detroit’s east side. In a city noted for its piano players, guitar players were scarce.

Performing in Detroit clubs, his popularity grew quickly, and seeking a louder instrument than his crude acoustic guitar, he bought his first electric guitar.

Though he stuttered slightly in his normal speech, he performed in a half-spoken style that became his trademark. Rhythmically, his music was free, a property common with early acoustic Delta blues musicians.

His vocal phrasing was less closely tied to specific bars than most blues singers’. This casual, rambling style had been gradually diminishing with the onset of electric blues bands from Chicago but, even when not playing solo, Hooker retained it in his sound.

Hooker’s recording career began in 1948 with the hit single, “Boogie Chillen” cut in a studio near Wayne State University.

Despite being illiterate, he was a prolific lyricist. In addition to adapting the occasionally traditional blues lyric (such as “if I was chief of police, I would run her right out of town”), he freely invented many of his songs from scratch.

Recording studios in the 50s rarely paid black musicians more than a pittance, so Hooker would spend the night wandering from studio to studio, coming up with new songs or variations on his songs for each studio.

Due to his recording contract, he would record these songs under obvious pseudonyms such as “John Lee Booker,” “Johnny Hooker”, or “John Cooker”.

His early solo songs were recorded under Bernie Besman.

John Lee Hooker rarely played on a standard beat, changing tempo to fit the needs of the song. This made it nearly impossible to add backing tracks. As a result, Besman would record Hooker, in addition to playing guitar and singing, stomping along with the music on a wooden palette.

John Lee Hooker’s guitar playing is closely aligned with piano Boogie Woogie. He would play the walking bass pattern with his thumb, stopping to emphasize the end of a line with a series of trills, done by rapid hammer-ons and pull-offs.

The songs that most epitomize his early sound are “Boogie Chillen,” about being 17 and wanting to go out to dance at the Boogie clubs,

Boogie Chillen

Baby Please Don’t Go,” a more typical blues song, summed up by its title, and “Tupelo,” a stunningly sad song about the flooding of Tupelo, Mississippi.

He maintained a solo career, popular with blues and folk music fans of the early 1960s and crossed over to white audiences, giving an early opportunity to the young Bob Dylan. As he got older, he added more and more people to his band, changing his live show from simply Hooker with his guitar to a large band, with Hooker singing.

In 1989 he joined with a number of musicians, including Keith Richards and Carlos Santana to record The Healer, which won a Grammy award — one of many awards.

He fell ill just before a tour of Europe in 2001 and died soon afterwards at the age of 83.

Hooker recorded over 100 albums and lived the last years of his life in San Francisco, California, where he licensed a nightclub to use the name Boom Boom Room, after one of his hits.

Among his many awards, John Lee Hooker has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In 1991 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Two of his songs, “Boogie Chillen” and “Boom Boom” were named to the list of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

John Lee recorded several songs with Van Morrison, including “Never Get Out of These Blues Alive”, “The Healing Game” and “I Cover the Waterfront”. He also appeared on stage with Van Morrison several times, some of which was released on the live album “A Night in San Francisco”.

John Lee also recorded in the sixties with British blues band The Groundhogs. These recordings are still available as a CD “John Lee Hooker with The Groundhogs”. More importantly, Hooker recorded with the Blues-rock outfit Canned Heat, delivering the album ‘Hooker N’ Heat’ in 1971. Hooker was influential and topical even in his lifetime, as evidenced in the MC5 cover of “Motor City’s Burning” on their first album, recorded almost immediately after the riots, which are the song’s topic.

* Here’s what Bonnie Raitt had to say about him:

Everything parents don’t want you to get into as a teenager — that’s what you could hear in John Lee Hooker’s voice. Everything you love about the night, about love and desire, sex and retribution, all those sides of us the blues was meant to call up.

His voice encompassed such a deep range of emotions, the widest range of colors of any blues singer. It was as seductive as it was foreboding. Pain, defiance, anger — all those emotions were so acute with John Lee, and that’s what draws us to the blues.

My favorite part of his voice was actually his cry. His low, slightly menacing tone made the other side of his singing that much more powerful. There was a gravity to his tone — with his shades, the suit — but there was also this impish, elfin quality, and you could hear it when he laughed, which he did a lot onstage because he enjoyed playing so much. Especially on the boogie tunes, he would go from growl to glee in quicksilver time.

Because we had been friends since 1969, I wasn’t prepared for how overwhelming it was singing face to face with him when we did “I’m in the Mood” for his album The Healer. When he turned it on, that was as powerful an erotic pull as I’ve ever had from a singing partner. I was just swept away by the power of his voice. And, you know, I was a grown woman, but I was literally trembling and had broken out in a sweat by the time we were done. If I were a smoker, I would have needed a cigarette.

My favorite singing of his was when he would call me on the phone and sing to me, sometimes for an hour. It was a little flirty, but he was never actually hitting on me, he was just having fun. It was all the power and none of the guilt! I miss him so much. If they could make a drug that was John Lee, I’d never be sober.


–o–

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