79. John Lee Hooker

John Lee Hooker is a blues singer and guitarist from Coahoma County, Mississippi. The son of a sharecropper and Baptist preacher, as a young child Hooker was home-schooled and only allowed to listen to religious music. His parents separated and his mother remarried William Moore, a local guitarist who played a droning, one-chord blues style that differed from the classic Delta blues style. At the age of fourteen, Hooker ran away from home and never saw his mother or stepfather again.

He worked and performed in Memphis for several years, most notably with fellow bluesman Robert Nighthawk, before moving north with the Second Great Migration for higher paid factory work, eventually moving to Detroit, Michigan in 1943. In 1948, while working for the Ford Motor Company, his musical ability came to the attention of the Bihari brothers, who recorded John Lee for the Modern Records label. The Biharis released the hypnotic “Boogie Chillen'” in late 1948, and it became a surprise hit, the highest selling “race” record of 1949. Its success enabled Hooker to quit his full-time job and concentrate on his music career.

John Lee Hooker 7

John Lee Hooker’s life is a cautionary tale of the music business, and the difficulties that Delta blues musicians faced in the mid-20th century.

John Lee Hooker (1917-2001), guitar, singer, songwriter

Official John Lee Hooker Website
John Lee Hooker Vinyl Discography, by Scot Pell

Primitive, idiosyncratic, visceral — John Lee Hooker’s unusual rhythmic approach to storytelling was not necessarily constrained by a strict time signature. The guitar and beat follow the story. In addition, Hooker’s songs gradually increase tempo as the song progresses (accelerando). Most of Hooker’s best recordings are solo efforts; because some songs are irregular, he’s not always easy to accompany. Though he first gained popularity in the forties and fifties, Hooker’s profile rose when his music was covered by white British rock musicians in the sixties. In later life he became good friends with Van Morrison, and recorded several songs with him in the nineties. It has been reported they shared a common interest in talking about women.

“When you walk that walk, and you talk that talk, you knock me out.”

“Big legs, tight skirt, about to drive me out of my mind.”

“I like the way you switch, you my babe, I got my eyes on you.”

— John Lee Hooker

Simple suggestive lyrics like these knock me out. Many of Hooker’s songs relate to women and desire, though there are notable exceptions like “Tupelo” and “Hobo Blues”. His music is a worthy addition to any comprehensive 20th century collection. John Lee Hooker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1991, and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.

John Lee Hooker Song Notes:

1. John Lee Hooker’s discography is complicated. It is difficult to find the best version of each song. He recorded under several pseudonyms for different record labels. One should look for recordings from Modern Records, Vee-Jay Records and Chess Records, in that order.

2. “Boom Boom”, “Baby Lee” and “Dimples” are available on iTunes, but not on the suggested The Vee-Jay Singles Collection.

3. “How Hooker found his boogie: a rhythmic analysis of a classic groove”, by Fernando Benadon and Ted Gioia, Cambridge University Press, 2009

John Lee Hooker Songs:

The Legendary Modern Recordings 1948-1954

Boogie Chillen’, John Lee Hooker ✭✭✭✭
Sally Mae, John Lee Hooker ✭✭
Turn Over A New Leaf, John Lee Hooker
Crawlin’ King Snake, John Lee Hooker ✭✭✭
I’m In the Mood, John Lee Hooker

20th Century Masters – The Millenium Collection

I’m Bad Like Jesse James (Live), John Lee Hooker ✭✭
Sugar Mama, John Lee Hooker
It Serves You Right To Suffer, John Lee Hooker ✭✭
One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer, John Lee Hooker ✭✭
Think Twice Before You Go, John Lee Hooker

The Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues

I’m In the Mood (Alt), John Lee Hooker

The Vee-Jay Singles Collection

Boom Boom, John Lee Hooker ✭✭✭
Baby Lee, John Lee Hooker
Dimples, John Lee Hooker ✭✭

The Folk Lore Of John Lee Hooker

I’m Goin’ Upstairs, John Lee Hooker ✭✭
Tupelo (Live), John Lee Hooker ✭✭✭
Hobo Blues (Live), John Lee Hooker ✭✭✭

The Early Years, Vol. 1

Big Legs, Tight Skirts, John Lee Hooker ✭✭
My Grinding Mill, John Lee Hooker ✭✭

The Tomato Delta Blues Package

No Shoes, John Lee Hooker ✭✭

Sings Blues

Don’t Go Baby, John Lee Hooker

(recorded in 1949 as “Texas Slim” for King Records)

Chill Out

Tupelo, John Lee Hooker ✭✭✭

Hooker ‘N Heat

Burning Hell, John Lee Hooker & Canned Heat

Related Songs:

Dimples, The Animals ✭✭

Boom Boom, The Animals ✭✭
Boom Boom, The Yardbirds

You Gonna Wreck My Life, Howlin’ Wolf ✭✭✭✭

Baby Please Don’t Go, Them ✭✭✭✭
Baby Please Don’t Go, The Amboy Dukes
Baby Please Don’t Go (Live), Lightnin’ Hopkins ✭✭✭

Burning Hell, Tom Jones ✭✭

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