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John Lee Hooker Profile

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John Lee Hooker

John Lee Hooker photo by Bill Reitzel, 1992

Photo courtesy Pointblank Records

John Lee Hooker profile:

Born: August 22, 1917 in Clarksdale MS

Died: June 21, 2001 in Los Altos CA

John Lee Hooker's career, much like his music, took a different tact than most Delta bluesmen. Living in Detroit rather than Chicago, Hooker's music was rhythmic, hypnotic and downright primitive compared to the more sophisticated Chicago blues sound. Hooker pioneered the style of blues that became known as "boogie," and in doing so, influenced rock music from the Rolling Stones to the White Stripes.

From the Delta to Detroit

Hooker sang in the church as a youth, and was taught guitar by his stepfather Will Moore. His modal single-note sound was influenced by Moore's friends like Charley Patton and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Hooker went to Memphis as a teen but, failing to get anywhere with his music, he landed in Cincinnati where he sang with the Fairfield Four. In 1943, Hooker moved to Detroit, attracted by the availability of work in the auto industry.

Becoming a popular draw on the Motor City blues scene, Hooker began recording in 1948, scoring a hit with his first single, "Boogie Chillen." Signed by Modern Records, Hooker continued a string of hits through the 1950s, songs like "I'm In The Mood." Paid by the song, Hooker would record dozens of sides under a variety of names for a number of labels, making a complete discography near impossible.

Blues-Rock Godfather

Hooker's influence on 1960s British bands like the Yardbirds and the Animals was profound. Although he no longer topped the R&B charts, Hooker toured and recorded prolifically throughout the '60s, his trademark boogie sound picked up by bands like Canned Heat and Foghat, and young guitarists like George Thorogood.

Many of Hooker's recordings in the 1970s and '80s were formulaic throwaways with session players that offered a quick payday but little commercial success. With help from singer Bonnie Raitt, however, Hooker recorded The Healer in 1989 with an all-star cast that included guitarist Robert Cray. The album earned Hooker a Grammy and launched a successful last chapter of the artist's life, cementing his status as a blues giant.

Recommended Albums: The Very Best of John Lee Hooker distills the artist's amazing career down to sixteen great songs while The Legendary Modern Recordings documents Hooker's early years.

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