Hooker, John Lee2018-04-14T14:56:41+00:00

John Lee Hooker

(1917–2001) Blues Musician

John Lee Hooker was born on 22 August 1917 in Vance, Mississippi, near Clarksdale, to William Hooker, a Baptist preacher and sharecropper, and Minnie Ramsey Hooker. His mother later left her husband for Will Moore, a minor blues player who had a major influence on John Lee Hooker’s early blues training by teaching him the boogie. Exposed to the early blues tradition of Son House, Robert Johnson, and Charley Patton, Hooker left Mississippi for Memphis while still in his teens, with no formal education and unable to read or write. Though he learned much in Memphis, he could not break into the Memphis scene. He spent seven years in Cincinnati before heading to Detroit in 1943.

Hooker worked odd jobs and became a minor part of the Detroit blues scene. In 1948–49 his recording, “Boogie Chillun” (or “Boogie Chillen”), became a hit and brought him to the attention of recording studios. Hooker followed up with an even bigger hit, “I’m in the Mood” (1951), as well as with other releases under his own name and under pseudonyms. During the 1960s Hooker was part of the British blues movement, traveling to Europe to play alongside such artists as B. B. King, Albert King, Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters. Hooker’s shuffling blues style influenced the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, the eclectic folk-ballad sound of Van Morrison, the disciplined blues articulation of Eric Clapton, and the tribal island rhythms of Carlos Santana, all of whom later collaborated with Hooker on such albums as The Healer (1989), Mr. Lucky (1991), and Chill Out (1995). Hooker’s 1962 hit “Boom-Boom,” which returned to the rhythm of “Boogie Chillun,” became the cornerstone for a later album, while his “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” became a centerpiece for hard blues artist George Thorogood. Hooker’s career reignited following a collaboration with the band Canned Heat, Hooker ’n Heat (1971), and he appeared in John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd’s 1980 film, The Blues Brothers.

The Healer included a Grammy-winning remake of “I’m in the Mood” with blues diva Bonnie Raitt. Hooker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. His final studio album, Don’t Look Back (1997), won the Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album, while the title duet with Van Morrison earned the Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.

Unlike most blues artists, Hooker did not return to his native South but brought his South to the world. As Hooker said in “Boogie Chillun,” the blues is “in ’im and it’s gotta come out.” After receiving the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000, Hooker died at his California home on 21 June 2001.

Further Reading

  • Bill Dahl, AllMusic.com website, www.allmusic.com
  • Phillip Gallo, Variety (July 2001)
  • John Lee Hooker website, www.johnleehooker.com
  • Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune (6 July 1997)
  • Charles S. Murray, Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century (2000)
  • Tony Russell, The Guardian (June 2001)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title John Lee Hooker
  • Coverage 1917–2001
  • Author
  • Website Name Mississippi Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date December 14, 2018
  • Publisher Center for Study of Southern Culture
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 14, 2018