John Lee Hooker

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John Lee Hooker
Hooker performing at the Long Beach Blues Festival, Long Beach, California, August 31, 1997
Hooker performing at the Long Beach Blues Festival, Long Beach, California, August 31, 1997
Background information
Born(1912-08-22)August 22, 1912[1][2][3] or 1917[4][5]
Tutwiler, Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, U.S.
DiedJune 21, 2001 (aged either 83 or 88)
Los Altos, California, U.S.
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • musician
  • Guitar
  • vocals
Years active1930s–2001[4]

John Lee Hooker (August 22, 1912[1] or 1917[4][5] – June 21, 2001) was an American blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist. The son of a sharecropper, he rose to prominence performing an electric guitar-style adaptation of Delta blues. Hooker often incorporated other elements, including talking blues and early North Mississippi Hill country blues. He developed his own driving-rhythm boogie style, distinct from the 1930s–1940s piano-derived boogie-woogie. Hooker was ranked 35 in Rolling Stone's 2015 list of 100 greatest guitarists.[6]

Some of his best known songs include "Boogie Chillen'" (1948), "Crawling King Snake" (1949), "Dimples" (1956), "Boom Boom" (1962), and "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" (1966). Several of his later albums, including The Healer (1989), Mr. Lucky (1991), Chill Out (1995), and Don't Look Back (1997), were album chart successes in the U.S. and UK. The Healer (for the song "I'm In The Mood") and Chill Out (for the album) both earned him Grammy wins[7][8] as well as Don't Look Back, which went on to earn him a double-Grammy win for Best Traditional Blues Recording and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals (with Van Morrison).[9]

Early life[edit]

Hooker's date of birth is a subject of debate; the years 1912, 1915, 1917, 1920, and 1923 have all been suggested. Most official sources list 1917, though at times Hooker stated he was born in 1920. Information found in the 1920 and 1930 censuses indicates that he was actually born in 1912.[1] In 2017, a series of events took place to celebrate the purported centenary of his birth.[10] In the 1920 federal census, John Hooker is seven years old and one of nine children living with William and Minnie Hooker in Tutwiler, Mississippi.

It is believed that he was born in Tutwiler, in Tallahatchie County, although some sources say his birthplace was near Clarksdale, in Coahoma County.[11] He was the youngest of the 11 children of William Hooker (born 1871, died after 1923),[12] a sharecropper and Baptist preacher, and Minnie Ramsey (born c. 1880, date of death unknown). In the 1920 federal census,[13] William and Minnie were recorded as being 48 and 39 years old, respectively, which implies that Minnie was born about 1880, not 1875. She was said to have been a "decade or so younger" than her husband (Boogie Man, p. 23), which gives additional credibility to this census record as evidence of Hooker's origins.

The Hooker children were homeschooled. They were permitted to listen only to religious songs; the spirituals sung in church were their earliest exposure to music. In 1921, their parents separated. The next year, their mother married William Moore, a blues singer, who provided John Lee with an introduction to the guitar (and whom he would later credit for his distinctive playing style).[14]

Moore was his first significant blues influence. He was a local blues guitarist who, in Shreveport, Louisiana, learned to play a droning, one-chord blues that was strikingly different from the Delta blues of the time.[11]

Another influence was Tony Hollins, who dated Hooker's sister Alice, helped teach Hooker to play, and gave him his first guitar. For the rest of his life, Hooker regarded Hollins as a formative influence on his style of playing and his career as a musician. Among the songs that Hollins reputedly taught Hooker were versions of "Crawlin' King Snake" and "Catfish Blues".[15]

At the age of 14, Hooker ran away from home, reportedly never seeing his mother or stepfather again.[16] In the mid-1930s, he lived in Memphis, Tennessee, where he performed on Beale Street, at the New Daisy Theatre and occasionally at house parties.[11]

He worked in factories in various cities during World War II, eventually getting a job with the Ford Motor Company in Detroit in 1943. He frequented the blues clubs and bars on Hastings Street, the heart of the black entertainment district, on Detroit's east side. In a city noted for its pianists, guitar players were scarce. Hooker's popularity grew quickly as he performed in Detroit clubs, and, seeking an instrument louder than his acoustic guitar, he bought his first electric guitar.[17]

Earlier career[edit]

Hooker was working as janitor in a Detroit steel mill when his recording career began in 1948,[18] when Modern Records, based in Los Angeles, released a demo he had recorded for Bernie Besman in Detroit.[19] The single, "Boogie Chillen'", became a hit and the best-selling race record of 1949.[11] Despite being illiterate,[20] Hooker was a prolific lyricist. In addition to adapting traditional blues lyrics, he composed original songs. In the 1950s, like many black musicians, Hooker earned little from record sales, and so he often recorded variations of his songs for different studios for an up-front fee. To evade his recording contract, he used various pseudonyms, including John Lee Booker (for Chess Records and Chance Records in 1951–1952), Johnny Lee (for De Luxe Records in 1953–1954), John Lee, John Lee Cooker,[21] Texas Slim, Delta John, Birmingham Sam and his Magic Guitar, Johnny Williams, and the Boogie Man.[22]

His early solo songs were recorded by Bernie Besman.[23] Hooker rarely played with a standard beat, but instead he changed tempo to fit the needs of the song. This often made it difficult to use backing musicians, who were not accustomed to Hooker's musical vagaries. As a result, Besman recorded Hooker playing guitar, singing and stomping on a wooden pallet in time with the music.[24]

For much of this period he recorded and toured with Eddie Kirkland. In Hooker's later sessions for Vee-Jay Records in Chicago, studio musicians accompanied him on most of his recordings, including Eddie Taylor, who could handle his musical idiosyncrasies. "Boom Boom" (1962)[25] and "Dimples", two popular songs by Hooker, were originally released by Vee-Jay.

Later career[edit]

Hooker playing Massey Hall, Toronto. Photo: Jean-Luc Ourlin

Beginning in 1962, Hooker gained greater exposure when he toured Europe in the annual American Folk Blues Festival.[4] His "Dimples" became a successful single on the UK Singles Charts in 1964, eight years after its first US release.[26] Hooker began to perform and record with rock musicians. One of his earliest collaborations was with British blues rock band the Groundhogs.[27] In 1970, he recorded the joint album Hooker 'n Heat, with the American blues and boogie rock group Canned Heat,[28] whose repertoire included adaptations of Hooker songs.[29] It became the first of Hooker's albums to reach the Billboard charts, peaking at number 78 on the Billboard 200. Other collaboration albums soon followed, including Endless Boogie (1971) and Never Get Out of These Blues Alive (1972), which included Steve Miller, Elvin Bishop, Van Morrison, and others.

Hooker appeared in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers. He performed "Boom Boom" in the role of a street musician. In 1989, he recorded the album The Healer with Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, and others. The 1990s saw additional collaboration albums: Mr. Lucky (1991), Chill Out (1995), and Don't Look Back (1997) with Morrison, Santana, Los Lobos, and additional guest musicians. His re-recording of "Boom Boom" (the title track for his 1992 album) with guitarist Jimmie Vaughan became Hooker's highest charting single (number 16) in the UK.[26] Come See About Me, a 2004 DVD, includes performances filmed between 1960 and 1994 and interviews with several of the musicians.[30]

Hooker owned five houses in his later life, including houses located in Los Altos, California; Redwood City, California, Long Beach, California, and Gilroy, California.[31]

Hooker died in his sleep on June 21, 2001, in Los Altos, California in his home.[32] He is interred at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, California.[33] He was survived by eight children, 19 grandchildren, and numerous great-grandchildren.[32]

Hooker was among hundreds of artists whose recordings were reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.[34]


  • 1968 with The Groundhogs: Hooker & the Hogs
  • 1969 with The Doors: Hooker and Jim Morrison sing "Roadhouse Blues", published 2000 on the tribute album Stoned Immaculate: The Music of The Doors
  • 1971 with Canned Heat: Hooker 'n' Heat
  • 1985 with Kingfish: "Put A Hand On Me" on the album Kingfish, featuring John Lee Hooker and Mike Bloomfield
  • 1989 Hooker sang on the album The Iron Man by Pete Townshend, on the songs "Over the Top" and "I Eat Heavy Metal"
  • 1991 with Charlie Musselwhite: "Cheatin' On Me" on the album Signature
  • 1992 with Lightnin' Hopkins: "Katie Mae" and "Candy Kitchen" on the album It's A Sin To Be Rich
  • 1992 with Branford Marsalis: "Mabel" on I Heard You Twice the First Time
  • 1992 with John P. Hammond: "Driftin' Blues" on the album Got Love If You Want It
  • 1993 with Zakiya Hooker: "Loving People" and "Mean Mean World" on the album Another Generation Of The Blues
  • 1993 with B.B. King: "You Shook Me" on his album Blues Summit
  • 1993 with Van Morrison: "Gloria" on his album Too Long In Exile
  • 1996 with Michael Osborn: "Shake It Down" on his album Background in the Blues
  • 1997 with Big Head Todd and the Monsters: "Boom Boom" on the album Beautiful World
  • 2001 with Zucchero: "I Lay Down" on his album Shake

Several Hooker songs have resulted in remixes. The piece "Sure Thing" on the album Tourist (2000) by the French musician St Germain became well known. This remix is based on vocal and guitar passages from "Harry's Philosophy" from the album Hot Spot (1990). Hooker's adaptation "It Serves Me Right to Suffer" was remixed by French DJ and music producer The Avener (actually Tristan Casara) on his album "The Wanderings of the Avener" (2015).

Awards and recognition[edit]

Among his many awards, Hooker was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980,[35] and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. He was a recipient of a 1983 National Heritage Fellowship awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts, which is the United States government's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.[36] He was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000[37] and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is also inducted into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame.[38]

Two of his songs, "Boogie Chillen" and "Boom Boom", are included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.[39] "Boogie Chillen" is also included in the Recording Industry Association of America's list of the "Songs of the Century".[40]

In 2007, John Lee Hooker was voted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame.[41]

Grammy Awards[edit]


Charting singles[edit]

Year Title
A-side / B-side
Label Peak chart
US 100
UK Singles
1948 "Boogie Chillen'" / "Sally May" Modern 627 1
1949 "Hobo Blues" / "Hoogie Boogie" Modern 663 5 / 9
"Crawlin' King Snake" / "Drifting from Door to Door" Modern 714 6
1950 "Huckle Up Baby" / "Canal Street Blues" Sensation 26 15
1951 "I'm in the Mood" / "How Can You Do It" Modern 835 30 1
1958 "I Love You Honey" / "You've Taken My Woman" Vee-Jay 293 29
1960 "No Shoes" / "Solid Sender" Vee-Jay 349 21
1962 "Boom Boom" / "Drug Store Woman" Vee-Jay 483 60 14
1964 "Dimples" / "I'm Leaving" $tateside SS 297 23
1992 "Boom Boom" / "Homework" Point Blank/
Virgin POB 3
1993 "Boogie at Russian Hill" / "The Blues Will Never Die" Point Blank/
Virgin POB 4
"Gloria" (remake)[43] / "It Must Be You" Exile VANS 11 31
1995 "Chill Out (Things Gonna Change)" /
"Tupelo" (remake)
Point Blank/
Virgin POB 10
1998 "Baby Lee" (remake)[44] / "Cuttin' Out" (remake)[45] /
"No Substitute"
Silvertone ORE CD 21 65
"—" denotes a release that did not chart

Charting albums[edit]

Year Title Label Peak chart
US 200
US Blues
UK Albums
1967 House of the Blues Marble Arch MAL 663 34
1971 Hooker 'n Heat Liberty LST-35002 73
Endless Boogie ABC ABCD-720 126 38[48]
1972 Never Get Out of These Blues Alive ABC ABCX-736 130
1989 The Healer Chameleon D2-74808 62 63
1991 Mr. Lucky Point Blank/
Virgin 91724-2
101 3
1992 Boom Boom Point Blank/
Virgin 86553-2
1995 Chill Out Point Blank/
Virgin 7243 8 40107 2 0
136 3 25
1997 Don't Look Back Point Blank/
Virgin 7243 8 42771 2 3
163 3 63
1998 The Best of Friends Point Blank/
Virgin 7243 8 46424 2 6
2002 Winning Combinations: John Lee Hooker & Muddy Waters Universal 008811264628 6
2004 Face to Face Eagle ER 20023-2 3
2007 Hooker (box set) Shout! Factory 826663-10198 14
2015 Two Sides of John Lee Hooker Concord 888072375970 12
"—" denotes a release that did not chart



  1. ^ a b c Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues – A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. p. 190. ISBN 978-0313344237.
  2. ^ "John Lee Hooker biography". Archived from the original on May 28, 2011. Retrieved February 19, 2011.
  3. ^ In the 1920 federal census, series T625, Roll 895, p. 235, in the city of Tutwiler, Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, Supervisor's District 2, Enumeration District 87, Sheet #29 A, line 25, enumerated February 3, 1920, John Hooker is one of nine children living with William and Minnie Hooker. John is listed as 7 years of age at his last birthday. If this is accurate – and if his birthday is August 22, as he claimed – he was born August 22, 1912.
  4. ^ a b c d Dahl, Bill. "John Lee Hooker: Overview". Retrieved November 4, 2011.
  5. ^ a b "John Lee Hooker Biography".
  6. ^ "Rolling Stones 100 greatest guitarists". Rolling Stone.
  7. ^ "32nd Annual GRAMMY Awards". January 15, 2013.
  8. ^ "38th Annual GRAMMY Awards". January 15, 2013.
  9. ^ "40th Annual GRAMMY Awards". January 15, 2013.
  10. ^ Brian McCollum, "John Lee Hooker to get year-long 100th birthday tribute", Detroit Free Press, May 1, 2017.
  11. ^ a b c d Palmer, Robert (1982). Deep Blues. Penguin Books. pp. 242–43. ISBN 0-14-006223-8.
  12. ^ According to Boogie Man, p. 24, "In 1928, Will Hooker Sr. and Jr. made a profit of twenty-eight dollars" from farming, making his death in 1923 impossible.
  13. ^ U.S. Census, Series T625, Roll 895, p. 235, in the city of Tutwiler, Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, Supervisor's District 2, Enumeration District 87, Sheet 29 A, Lines 18–19, enumerated February 3, 1920.
  14. ^ Oliver, Paul. Conversation with the Blues. p. 188. See also Bennett, Joe; Curwen, Trevor; Douse, Cliff. Guitar Facts. p. 76.
  15. ^ Murray, Charles Shaar (2011). Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century, Canongate Books.
  16. ^ Boogie Man p. 43.
  17. ^ Wogan, Terry (1984). Shoes Off the Record. New York: Da Capo Press. pp. 116–18. ISBN 0-306-80321-6.
  18. ^ Robert Palmer (1981). Deep Blues. Penguin Books. p. 242. ISBN 978-0-14-006223-6.
  19. ^ Robert Palmer (1981). Deep Blues. Penguin Books. p. 243. ISBN 978-0-14-006223-6.
  20. ^ "Hooker, John Lee | Detroit Historical Society". Retrieved October 30, 2020.
  21. ^ Liner notes. Alternative Boogie: Early Studio Recordings, 1948–1952.
  22. ^ Leadbitter, M.; Slaven, N. (1987). Blues Records 1943–1970: A Selective Discography. London: Record Information Services. pp. 579–95.
  23. ^ Robert Palmer (1981). Deep Blues. Penguin Books. p. 244. ISBN 978-0-14-006223-6.
  24. ^ Boogie Man, p. 121.
  25. ^ Robert Palmer (1981). Deep Blues. Penguin Books. p. 245. ISBN 978-0-14-006223-6.
  26. ^ a b c "John Lee Hooker: Singles". Official Charts. Retrieved June 20, 2016.
  27. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Groundhogs: Artist Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved September 12, 2017.
  28. ^ Russo, Greg (1994). Uncanned! The Best of Canned Heat (CD compilation booklet). Canned Heat. EMI/Liberty. p. 14. 7243 8 29165 2 9.
  29. ^ Palmer, Robert (1981). Deep Blues. Penguin Books. p. 244. ISBN 0-14-006223-8.
  30. ^ Viglione, Joe. "John Lee Hooker: Come and See About Me [DVD] – Review". AllMusic. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
  31. ^ Finz, Stacy (July 28, 1998). "Fire Damages Blues Artist's Los Altos Home / John Lee Hooker escapes unharmed with his 8 guitars". SFGate. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  32. ^ a b Pareles, Jon (June 22, 2001). "John Lee Hooker, Bluesman, Is Dead at 83". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 9, 2019.
  33. ^ "John Lee Hooker". Retrieved September 20, 2016.
  34. ^ Rosen, Jody (June 25, 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  35. ^ Blues Foundation (1980). "1980 Hall of Fame Inductees: John Lee Hooker". Blues Foundation. Archived from the original on December 18, 2015. Retrieved July 13, 2016.
  36. ^ "NEA National Heritage Fellowships 1983". National Endowment for the Arts. Archived from the original on September 20, 2020. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  37. ^ "Lifetime Achievement Award". 2000. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  38. ^ "Inductees: Rhythm and Blues (R & B)". Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame.
  39. ^ "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 1995. Archived from the original on May 13, 2007. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  40. ^ "Songs of the Century". March 7, 2001. Retrieved May 3, 2016.
  41. ^ "Michigan Rock and Roll Legends - JOHN LEE HOOKER". Retrieved September 30, 2018.
  42. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (1988). Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Record Research. p. 194. ISBN 0-89820-068-7.
  43. ^ "Gloria" recorded with Van Morrison
  44. ^ "Baby Lee" recorded with Robert Cray
  45. ^ "Cuttin' Out" recorded with Canned Heat
  46. ^ a b "John Lee Hooker: Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved June 20, 2016.
  47. ^ "John Lee Hooker: Albums". Official Charts. Retrieved June 20, 2016.
  48. ^ Endless Boogie appeared in the R&B Albums chart.

External links[edit]