“I don’t like no fancy chords. Just the boogie. The drive. The feeling. A lot of people play fancy but they don’t have no style. It’s a deep feeling – you just can’t stop listening to that sad blues sound. My sound.” John Lee Hooker was born today in 1917.
Blues giant John Lee Hooker born, near Clarksdale, Mississippi, USA. Moving to Detroit in search of work, Hooker boosted his salary by playing at neighbourhood pay parties - honing his electrified take on country blues in the process.
His 1948 hit “Boogie Chillen”was a template for much of what was to follow in a near-50 year recording career - rasping vocals and accompanied by his own minimalist guitar work and foot stomping. The following decade saw John Lee graduate to playing and recording with a band, enjoying further success with trademark tunes such as “Boom Boom” and “Dimples”.
Success in Europe followed during the 1960′s, as a new generation of fans “discovered” him and other authentic blues and country blues players, following endorsements and name checks from hip young things such as the Rolling Stones and The Animals and a well-regarded album release with Canned Heat.
Hooker’s greatest worldwide successes came in the final two decades of his life; revisiting “Boom Boom” in 1980 for a memorable street performing cameo in “The Blues Brothers” film. That gave him renewed cult status but did little to increase record sales, a situation eventually resolved in 1989 when producer Roy Rogers recorded Hooker with a clutch of other guitarists including Carlos Santana and Robert Cray.
The resulting album “The Healer” picked up a Grammy, sold well and gave the blues renewed appeal, resulting in several lucrative synchronisation deals for products including spirits and jeans. Inevitably the formula was repeated with a superior second selection of guests including Albert Collins and Van Morrison contributing to 1991′s “Mister Lucky.”
Further album releases saw Hooker re-visit much of his back catalogue, while he played some solo dates and made guest appearances at live shows alongside the likes of Eric Clapton and Rolling Stones – and was rightly feted as their inspiration.
John Lee died in June 2001 at the age of 83, having played a live show less than a week before passing away in his sleep.
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And here’s some footage of John Lee in action: