John Lee Hooker

(1917 – 2001)

One of the most distinctive and enduring of Blues icons, John Lee Hooker created a stark, brooding signature style rooted in his primitive, hypnotic guitar grooves, along with a highly original songwriting sensibility. His trademark sound and imposing presence helped to make "the Hook" one of the most popular Blues performers of the post-World War II era, and an influence on many Rock and Roll musicians.

Although a native of Mississippi, Hooker came to prominence after relocating to Detroit in 1943, following unproductive stints in Memphis and Cincinnati. He began recording in 1948 and experienced immediate success with the now-classic "Boogie Chillen," which topped the R&B charts and began a string of hits that included "Hobo Blues," "Crawling King Snake Blues" and the early multi-tracking experiment "I'm in the Mood." Hooker’s idiosyncratic approach to rhythm and tempo made it difficult for other musicians to keep up with him in the studio, so his recordings often consisted only of the artist's voice, guitar and stomping foot. Hooker's contract with Modern Records didn't stop him from moonlighting for a dizzying assortment of other labels, for which he recorded under various aliases without making much of an effort to hide his trademark sound. 

By the time he signed with Vee-Jay in the mid-50s, Hooker was recognized as the leader of the Motor City's growing Blues scene, and his spare approach gave way to a harder full-band sound on such hits as "Baby Lee," "Dimples” and "Boom Boom." The latter track, released in 1962, would be covered by a number of white bands, beginning with Blues-obsessed British Invasion stars the Animals. Hooker's cachet with white Rock acts remained high throughout the 60s, most prominently on the successful 1970 album Hooker 'n' Heat, a collaboration with the California Blues-Rock band Canned Heat.

Hooker remained active in the 70s and 80s, but his recordings from those years, often cut with heavy-handed Rock players, added little to his reputation. It took the star-studded, Grammy-winning 1989 comeback album The Healer to bring Hooker back to mainstream consciousness. That album's commercial success, combined with a general resurgence of interest in the Blues, led to a series of new, high-profile Hooker albums, and he remained in the spotlight up until his death at the age of 83 in 2001.