Tribute to Rock genius – John Lee Hooker

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John Lee Hooker

In the 1940s John Lee Hooker recorded under numerous names to avoid contractual disputes. There were hundreds of little recording studios, some in rooms above grocery stores or such like, and John must have signed a myriad of exclusive contracts. He probably spent his days going from one to the other laying down exclusive tracks. At the time he was mainly acoustic, had a great imagination and improvised a lot. So even if it was the same track that he started off laying down by the end it would be something different.

Like every other blues singer who stayed in the business he went electric after the war and by the 1950s had developed a number of different styles. His most successful was his boogie style. He’d always had this natural broken rhythm. It was quite typical for the Mississippi Bluesmen to base their songs round a repetitive rhythm. It was most pronounced in the North Mississippi Country Blues but it pervaded the area. Coming from a poor share-cropping background John would have been steeped in it. John’s was different because he would interrupt and break that rhythm. It created a more jerky style. When coupled with John’s deep, rich, resonant voice it was hypnotic. His first hit came with ‘Boogie Chillun’ using that boogie style. It was different to the piano boogie of the 1930s and 40’s but even more effect on his electric guitar in the sweaty blues clubs. It created a great rhythm to dance to.

Unlike other Blues singers from Mississippi John migrated to Detroit and missed out Chicago. That was mainly because he worked in the car industry performing in the blues clubs in the evenings. He made Detroit his home and signed to labels such as Vee-Jay and Modern. He did record some stuff for Chess and I wonder how his style would have fitted in there alongside Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. But that was not to be.

When the British Beat boom took off in 1964 John found his boogie style particularly popular with the British Bands. Numbers like ‘Boom Boom’ and ‘Dimples’ were on the repertoires of many bands. The Animals were firm devotees and did a great version of his chilling ‘I’m Mad’. He toured Britain and found an eager young white audience.

As time passed some of John’s songs became standards with people like Johnny Winter and George Thoroughgood giving them a real shift of gears. ‘One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer’ being a real crowd pleaser. Others like ‘I’m in the mood’ and ‘Tupelo’ were slower numbers. He could do a real sensual style, as with on ‘I’m in the Mood’ with that rich voice burning with sexuality. A number of his songs were little vignette’s of stories that he put together. ‘Boogie Chillun’ is about a young kid who was burning to get out into the clubs and dance. ‘Tupelo’ was about the terrible flooding that occurred in the 1930s when the Mississippi burst its banks and many lives were lost. ‘I’m Mad’ was about infidelity and murder.

He was always successful but it wasn’t really until he made the album ‘Healer’ late in his life that he really became a megastar. Doing duets with Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana and George Thoroughgood found him a wider appreciation. He followed that up with albums like ‘Mr Lucky’.

It was a great end to an illustrious career and much deserved.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Ophers-World-Tributes-Rock-Geniuses/1508631271/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1479141373&sr=1-5&keywords=opher+goodwin

5 thoughts on “Tribute to Rock genius – John Lee Hooker

  1. Hooker’s story is actually as thus:
    As a teenager he lied about his age to get into the army. Later he drifted to Memphis, Cincinatti and finally to Detroit where he settled, aged 23. Although he had been taught how to play guitar by his stepfather earlier, he didn’t have one until given it by T-Bone Walker in 1947.
    He worked only as a janitor at a car factory in Detroit by day, playing clubs at night.
    He always maintained he didn’t like Chicago because there were too many other guitar players there. He made his first recordings in November 1948 – Boogie Chillun was one of them.
    In 1949 he recorded as John Lee Hooker, Delta John, Birmingham Sam & His Magic Guitar, The Boogie Man and John Lee Booker.
    In 1950 he recorded as Texas Slim and Johnny Williams
    1951 as John Lee Booker and from summer as John Lee Hooker and remained as such.

      • I should really thank the Bluesologist Robert Palmer – he who wrote and published ‘Deep Blues’ in 1981. I sent him a letter back then with a load of questions and he replied and we subsequently corresponded every 6 months or so over several years. He showed me the way, who to listen to, who not to, who was original, who wasn’t (too many of them) etc.
        I couldn’t have had a more knowledgeable person.

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