John Lee Hooker

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For other people named John Hooker, see John Hooker (disambiguation).
John Lee Hooker
Hooker performing at the Long Beach Blues Festival, Long Beach, California, August 31, 1997
Background information
Born c. (1912-08-22)August 22, 1912[1][2][3]
Tutwiler, Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, U.S.
Died June 21, 2001 (believed to have been 88 years old)
Los Altos, California, U.S.
Genres Blues
Occupation(s) Musician
  • Guitar
  • vocals
Years active 1943–2001[4]

John Lee Hooker (c. August 22, 1912[1] – 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.

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 U.K., and Don't Look Back won a Grammy Award in 1998.

Early life[edit]

Hooker's date of birth is the subject of debate.[2][5] He is believed to have been born in Tutwiler, in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, although some sources say his birthplace was near Clarksdale, in Coahoma County,[6] the youngest of the 11 children of William Hooker (1871–after 1923),[7] a sharecropper and Baptist preacher, and Minnie Ramsey (born circa 1880, date of death unknown).[8]

The Hooker children were home-schooled. Since they were only permitted to listen to religious songs, the spirituals sung in church were their earliest exposure to music. In 1921, his parents separated. The next year, his mother married William Moore, a blues singer, who provided Hooker with his introduction to the guitar (and whom John would later credit for his distinctive playing style).[9] Moore was his first significant blues influence. He was a local blues guitarist, who learned in Shreveport, Louisiana, to play a droning, one-chord blues that was strikingly different from the Delta blues of the time.[6] Another formative 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".[10]

At the age of 14, John Lee Hooker ran away from home, reportedly never seeing his mother or stepfather again.[11] In the mid 1930s, he lived in Memphis, Tennessee, where he worked on Beale Street at the New Daisy Theatre and occasionally performed at house parties.[6]

He worked in factories in various cities during World War II, eventually landing a job in 1943 at the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. 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 performing in Detroit clubs and, seeking a louder instrument than his acoustic guitar, he bought his first electric guitar.[12]


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

Hooker's recording career began in 1948, when Los Angeles-based Modern Records released a demo he had recorded for Bernie Besman in Detroit. The single, "Boogie Chillen'", became a hit and the biggest selling race record of 1949.[6] Despite being illiterate, Hooker was a prolific lyricist. In addition to adapting traditional blues lyrics, he also composed originals. In the 1950s, many black musicians earned little money from record sales. So Hooker often recorded variations on his songs for new studios for an upfront fee. To get around his recording contract, he used various pseudonyms, such as John Lee Booker, for Chess Records and Chance Records in 1951–1952; Johnny Lee for De Luxe Records in 1953–54; John Lee, John Lee Cooker,[13] Texas Slim, Delta John, Birmingham Sam and his Magic Guitar, Johnny Williams, and the Boogie Man.[14]

His early solo songs were recorded by Bernie Besman. John Lee Hooker rarely played with a standard beat, 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, in addition to playing guitar and singing, stomping along with the music on a wooden pallet.[15] For much of this time period he recorded and toured with Eddie Kirkland. Later sessions for Vee-Jay Records in Chicago used studio musicians on most of his recordings, including Eddie Taylor, who could handle his musical idiosyncrasies. "Boom Boom" and "Dimples", two popular Hooker numbers, were originally released on Vee-Jay.[16]

Later life[edit]

Toronto, August 20, 1978

Hooker performed as a street musician in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers. In 1989, he recorded the album The Healer with a number of guest musicians, including Carlos Santana and Bonnie Raitt.[16]

Hooker 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. On December 19, 1989, Hooker performed "Boogie Chillen'" with the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton in Atlantic City, New Jersey. As part of the Rolling Stones' Steel Wheels tour, the show was broadcast live on cable television on a pay-per-view basis. His last in-the-studio recording on guitar and vocal was of a song he wrote with Pete Sears called "Elizebeth", featuring members of his Coast to Coast Blues Band with Sears on piano. It was recorded on January 14, 1998 at Bayview Studios in Richmond, California. The last song Hooker recorded before his death was "Ali D'Oro", a collaboration with the Italian soul singer Zucchero, in which Hooker sang the chorus "I lay down with an angel."

Hooker spent the last years of his life in Long Beach, California. In 1997, he opened a nightclub in San Francisco's Fillmore District called John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom Room, after one of his hits.[16]


Hooker fell ill just before a tour of Europe in 2001 and died in his sleep on June 21, 2001 in Los Altos, California, at around 88 years of age. He was interred at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland.[17] He was survived by eight children, 19 grandchildren, and numerous great-grandchildren.[18] Among his many awards, Hooker has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 1991 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Two of his songs, "Boogie Chillen" and "Boom Boom" were included in the list of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll". "Boogie Chillen" is included as one of the Songs of the Century. He was also inducted in 1980 into the Blues Hall of Fame. In 2000, Hooker was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Awards and recognition[edit]

Grammy Awards[edit]


Charting singles[edit]

Year Title
A-side / B-side
Label Peak chart
US 100
UK Singles
1949 "Boogie Chillen'" / "Sally May" Modern 627 1
"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)[23] / "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)[24] / "Cuttin' Out" (remake)[25] /
"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[28]
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
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 Born probably in 1912, according to Bob Eagle and Eric S. LeBlanc in "Blues - A Regional Experience" (Praeger, USA 2013 ISBN 978-0-313-34423-7), p. 190; "Hooker was born on August 22, 1912 in Tutwiler"
  2. ^ a b "John Lee Hooker biography". 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 accurate – and if his birthday is August 22, as he claimed – he was born August 22, 1912.
  4. ^ Dahl, Bill. "John Lee Hooker profile". AllMusic. Retrieved November 4, 2011. 
  5. ^ 1912, 1915, 1917, 1920, and 1923 have all been suggested (Boogie Man, p. 22). 1917 is the one most commonly stated, though Hooker claimed, at times, 1920, which would have made him "the same age as the recorded blues" (p. 59).
  6. ^ a b c d Palmer, Robert (1982). Deep Blues. Penguin Books. pp. 242–243. ISBN 0-14-006223-8. 
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ 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, lines 18–19, enumerated February 3, 1920), William and Minnie were 48 and 39 years of age, respectively. Given this information, Minnie's year of birth is ca. 1880, not 1875. Minnie was thought a "decade or so younger" than husband William (Boogie Man, p. 23), again giving further credibility to this census record as corroborative evidence concerning John Lee Hooker's origins.
  9. ^ Oliver, Paul. Conversation with the Blues. p. 188. See also Bennett, Joe; Curwen, Trevor; Douse, Cliff. Guitar Facts. p. 76.
  10. ^ Murray, Charles Shaar (2011). Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century. Canongate Books.]
  11. ^ Boogie Man p. 43.
  12. ^ Wogan, Terry (1984). Shoes Off the Record. New York: Da Capo Press. pp. 116–18. ISBN 0-306-80321-6. 
  13. ^ Liner notes to Alternative Boogie: Early Studio Recordings, 1948-1952.
  14. ^ Leadbitter, M. and Slaven, N. (1987). Blues Records 1943-1970: A Selective Discography. London: Record Information Services, pp. 579-95.
  15. ^ Boogie Man, p. 121.
  16. ^ a b c Discovering the Blues of John Lee Hooker, adapted from: Blues For Dummies (August 1998); ISBN 0-7645-5080-2.
  17. ^ "John Lee Hooker profile". Retrieved September 20, 2016. 
  18. ^ Pareles, Jon (2001-06-22). "John Lee Hooker, Bluesman, Is Dead at 83". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-01-25. 
  19. ^ Blues Foundation (1980). "1980 Hall of Fame Inductees: John Lee Hooker". The Blues Foundation. Retrieved July 13, 2016. 
  20. ^ "Songs of the Century". March 7, 2001. Retrieved May 3, 2016. 
  21. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (1988). Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Record Research. p. 194. ISBN 0-89820-068-7. 
  22. ^ "John Lee Hooker – Singles". Official Charts. Retrieved June 20, 2016. 
  23. ^ "Gloria" recorded with Van Morrison
  24. ^ "Baby Lee" recorded with Robert Cray
  25. ^ "Cuttin' Out" recorded with Canned Heat
  26. ^ a b "John Lee Hooker: Awards – Billboard Albums". AllMusic. Retrieved June 20, 2016. 
  27. ^ "John Lee Hooker – Albums". Official Charts. Retrieved June 20, 2016. 
  28. ^ Endless Boogie appeared in the R&B Albums chart


External links[edit]