Mississippi Writers and Musicians
MISSISSIPPI MUSICIANS: John Lee Hooker


John Lee HookerJohn Lee Hooker

Major Works

  • Boogie Chillen
  • Sally Mae
  • Crawling King Snake
  • Boom Boom
  • Hooker 'n' Heat
  • I'm Bad Like Jesse James
  • One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer
  • House Rent Boogie
  • Sugar Mama
  • Hittin' the Bottle Again
  • Thought I Heard
  • Same Old Blues Again
  • Trick Bag (Shoppin' for My Tombstone)
  • Boogie at Russian Hill
  • Bottle Up and Go
  • I Ain't Gonna Suffer No More 

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John Lee Hooker: A Biography
By Katine MacDonald (SHS)

John Lee Hooker is one of the original innovators and kings of African American popular music, commonly called the blues. He was born on August 22, 1917, in Clarksdale, Mississippi, to a Baptist minister. Later he became the stepson of William Moore, a guitarist. At the age of 14, he started singing with spiritual groups. Hooker learned his style of guitar playing from his stepfather.(Stratyner 112) He also learned to play from his colleagues, James Smith and Coot Harris. His style of guitar playing is known as two-finger picking.(Stratyner 112) His two-finger picking style is known as Deltalick

Best of Friends by John Lee HookerHooker introduced a style to which every white blues band since 1962 must trace at least half their roots.(Stratyner 112). His guitar talks in snaky lines, in sitar quivers, in sudden shocks, and in hilly phrases. His songs are a monologue that retells a story of emotional pain that requires a unique verbal pattern. Hooker was the first great recorded practitioner of the electric blues-rock-funk and stream of consciousness boogie. Hooker likes to keep things simple. He rarely strays from a couple of cords and delivers his autobiographical blues with growing menace and much vibrato. He's a completely closed-in performer who accents the rhythmic drive of his performance, according to Quallette, by "chopping off the ends of his rhythmic lines."

When Hooker cut his first single, a stomping guitar boogie called, "Boogie Chillen" in 1948, the Mississippi native was working as a janitor in a Detroit steel mill.

The song became a hit, and Hooker quit his job to play full-time the hypnotic one chord country blues--sung in his preternatural growl--that he had learned from his stepfather. (Shea 18)

In 1962, Hooker brought out another smashing hit, entitled Boom Boom, which is, according to Puterbaugh, "a rough uncut Hooker." Hooker also has as an album on the market entitled Boom Boom. Hooker released this album in 1993.

In the late 70's, Hooker appeared in the hit movie Blues Brothers. In the movie Hooker sang the smashing hit Boom Boom. Hooker has made many appearances in big places. In 1960, he performed at the Newport Folk Festival. In 1973, he was in a concert at the Lincoln Center. Hooker still also plays in many average clubs, but he has had the chance to work with numerous well-known people. To name a few, he's worked with Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Peg Leg Sam, Ginger Baker, and Chris Wood. He's worked with a few rock groups such as the Rolling Stones and Animals.

Hooker, who is now 83 years old, has now made his home in Long Beach, California. His voice has deepened into a "throaty, lubricious vehicle for conveying pain, trouble desire, and wicked irony " His guitar playing is "tangled and gnarly, the sound of a man groping for an honest expression of deep, disturbing feelings." (Peterbaugh 81).  Until recently he sometimes  grabbed  the mike to perform when he's just at the club having a night out (Drozdowski 63).  He is, however, in poor health now and has stopped making public appearances. Nobody sounds like John Lee Hooker. Mississippi's John Lee Hooker is different. He is the king of the blues.

Editor's Note: John Lee Hooker, the great bluesmen,  passed away in his sleep on  June 21, 2001, at his home in the San Francisco Bay area at the age of 83. Hooker influenced countless generations of musicians and inspired music fans around the world during his sixty-year career.

From Hooker's Official Web Site  John Lee Hooker piled up more milestones in each of his final years than most artists compile in a lifetime. In February of 2000 John Lee received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Sciences (The Grammys). In October of 1999 "Boogie Man: John Lee Hooker In The American 20th Century," a biography penned by noted author Charles Shaar Murray, was released in England. Earlier that year Hooker was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Rhythm  and Blues Foundation and presented by Bonnie Raitt and Eric Clapton. Fall of 2000 saw the much anticipated release of the book in the United States and other parts of the world. 1999  was John Lee Hooker's 50th year as a recording artist, and to celebrate, he released THE BEST OF FRIENDS on Virgin/Pointblank, a compilation album representing some of his best songs from the past ten years. The album features performances with John Lee and his friends including Van Morrison, Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, Robert Cray, Ben Harper, Los Lobos, Charlie Musselwhite, Jimmie Vaughan and more.  In last years, John Lee was inducted into Los Angeles' Rock Walk, the Bammies Walk of Fame in San Francisco, and he now has his own star on Hollywood Boulevard's Walk Of Fame. In October  of 1998 he was honored with a tribute concert by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The concert featured some of his best friends including Eddie Kirkland, Charlie Musselwhite, Elvin Bishop and Johnnie Johnson. Film from that show was aired as part of a documentary on John Lee due for worldwide release the following year. In 1997, John Lee received two Grammy Awards for his latest  studio release, DON'T LOOK BACK. The first Grammy was for Best Traditional Blues Album and the second for his duet with Van Morrison beating out such notable artists as Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Stevie Wonder, Babyface, and Bryan Adams in the Best Pop Collaboration category.

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Timeline

1917-Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi
1930-Hooker left home
1931-Hooker joined the army.
1940-Hooker made a demo for Bernie Benson
1948-Hooker cut his first single, Boogie Chillen
1955-Hooker started recording for Vee-Jay Records
1960-Hooker performed at the Newport Folk Festival
1961- Hooker album called "Boom Boom"
1965- Hooker was the first Delta bluesman to record along with a English rock band
1968-1969 -Hooker won major music award in Europe and the United States
1970-Hooker performed with the rock group Canned Heat and folk vocalist Bonnie Rait
1973-Hooker was paired with Muddy Waters and Mose Allison in the Blues Variations concert at Lincoln Center
1975-Hooker was paired with Albert King and folk harmonicist Peg Leg Sam in a Night of the Blues at the Brooklyn Academy of Music
1979-Hooker appeared at New York's Lone Star Cafe
1992-Hooker at  71 years old wins a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Recording, is inducted into the  Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame
1995-Releases Chill Out
1997-  Hooker's best Chess Sides (Chess 50th Anniversary)
1997-Records Don't Look Back
1998- Best of Boom Boom
1999- I’m in the Mood [BGM International]
2000- Millennium Edition [Remastered]
2001--June 21, John Lee Hooker died at his home in the San Francisco Bay area at the age of 83.

Robert Cray, Cliff Woolley on harp, Deacon Jones,and John Lee Hooker (far right).  Photo courtesy of Cliff Woolley.

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Related Websites

Very thorough reference for everything about John Lee Hooker  by Claus Röhnisch.

Eyeneer Music Archives provides biography and other info about Hooker.

John Lee Hooker (article from The Daily News, Atlanta, Ga. 1992) by David S. Rotenstein . What do you call a 71-year-old man who within a year's time wins a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Recording, is inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, and is feted with a tribute at New York's Madison Square Gardens? You call him John Lee Hooker, or as the title of his new LP suggests, Mr. Lucky.

Home page by Virgin Records for John Lee Hooker, has audio slide show, info on the Danceland Years, and a biography.

Information about John Hooker by Rosebud Agency.  It is now titled In Memorium: John Lee Hooker.


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Bibliography

Stratyner, Barbara. "John Lee Hooker." Contemporary Musicians:Volume I. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Inc. 112-113.

Drozdowski, Ted. "Blue Blood." Los Angeles Magazine. vol. 40. March 1995. 62-67.

Puterbaugh, Parke. "Popular Music: Boom Boom" by John Lee Hooker," Stereo Review. vol. 583. March 1993. 81.

Shea, Lisa. "Picks and Pans: Boom Boom" by John Lee Hooker." People Weekly. vol 39. March 22, 1993. 18-19

Swenson, John. "Recordings: Boom Boom" by John Lee Hooker." Rolling Stone. n655. April 29, 1993. 65

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Last updated in 2002
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