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John Lee Hooker

John Lee Hooker

(August 22, 1917 (?) – June 21, 2001)


The man who became known as the King of the Boogie was born into a large Mississippi sharecropping family, possibly Tutwiler, Tallahatchie County. Other sources have cited the vicinity of Clarksdale, while birth years between 1912 and 1920 have been suggested. Census records from 1920 indicate that he was born in 1912. John Lee Hooker was the youngest of eleven children born to William Hooker and Minnie Ramsey. He and his siblings were homeschooled, being only permitted to listen to religious songs. In 1921 his parents separated and the following year his mother married a blues singer named William Moore from Shreveport, Louisiana who taught his distinctive, droning style to his new stepson. Moore was also reputed to have been well-acquainted with Charlie Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Blake, who may have visited their home at one time or another. He also learned from his sister's boyfriend, Tony Hollins, who gave him his first guitar. It said that he first learned the songs, “Crawling Kingsnake” and “Catfish Blues” from Hollins. At fourteen years old he ran away from home, never to see his mother or stepfather again.

The nearby blues mecca of Memphis beckoned him, where he performed on Beale Street and at the New Daisy theater. Before long he relocated to Cincinnati, where he spent seven years before moving to Detroit in 1943. Working at the Ford Motor company by day, he frequented the bustling clubs of Hastings street at night. He distinguished himself as one of the few guitar players in a city known for its pianists and soon became one of the motor city’s most popular artists. Around this time he switched to the electric guitar. In 1948 he was still working as a janitor when his original song, “Boogie Chillen”, became a bona fide hit for Los Angeles-based Modern records. In fact, it was the biggest selling ‘race’ record of the year. Between the years 1948 and 1951 he had several other hits on the label. Though functionally illiterate, he was a prolific lyricist, adapting traditional blues verses and composing much of his own material. He often changed his name to elude the constraints of recording contracts, doing what he had to do to survive in an unfair music industry. Like most Black musicians of his era, he was heavily exploited by white-owned record companies and earned little royalties from record sales, instead receiving one-time cash payments after each session. The pressing need to make a living meant that he recorded under a variety of pseudonyms: Johnny Lee, Texas Slim, the Boogie Man, Delta John, Johnny Williams and Birmingham Sam.

His idiosyncratic beat and penchant for changing chords at the drop of a dime made it difficult for other musicians to follow him. Around this time he often toured and recorded with Jamaican-born bluesman, Eddie Kirkland, one of many musicians whom he influenced with his unique sound. Later recording for Chicago’s Black-owned Vee-Jay label, he had hits with “Boom Boom” and “Dimples”. He toured Europe in 1962 with the American Folk Blues Festival; two years later “Dimples” became a hit in England, a full eight years after it’s initial release in the U.S. During this period he began collaborating with rock musicians, culminating in a 1970 release with Canned Heat, Hooker ‘n Heat, which reached number 78 on the Billboard 200 charts. During the early part of this decade, he collaborated with other rock musicians, notably Steve Miller, Elvin Bishop and Van Morrison. His star continued to rise with his appearance in the popular 1980 film, The Blues Brothers, with comedians Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi and a host of other Black music luminaries such as Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. In 1989 he recorded The Healer with Bonnie Raitt and Carlos Santana for which he earned a Grammy award. He continued in the vein of star-studded collaboration albums to great success, including Mr. Lucky, Chill Out, and Don’t Look Back. Once a runaway turned manual laborer, he invested his considerable income in real estate in his adopted home state of California. In late 2000 I was scheduled to appear in a PBS documentary produced by Martin Scorsese featuring Mr. Hooker, but unfortunately it was not to be. He passed away in his sleep on June 21, 2001. His status as an icon of American music is secure. The King of The Boogie will never be forgotten.


.: 100% Airlume combed and ringspun cotton (fiber content may vary for different colors)

.: Light fabric (4.2 oz/yd² (142 g/m²))

.: Retail fit

.: Tear away label

.: Runs true to size

$16.65 

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