The Turnaround - John Lee Hooker


This is The Turnaround with Rev. Zach Chandler, where, every week, we’ll be breaking down a different aspect of the blues for a deeper understanding of the music, culture, and people that are the blues. For the next several weeks, we’ll be examining some of the most influential bluesmen of the last century to try to understand where the blues comes from. As an art form centered around expression, the personalities around it are part of what makes this music so special.

Last week, we toasted R.L Burnside.

This week, we’ll boogie with John Lee Hooker.

Here’s what we know: John Lee Hooker was born, most likely, on August 22, 1917 in Tutwiler, Mississippi. He was the youngest of 11 siblings born to William Hooker, a sharecropper and Baptist preacher, and Minnie Ramsey. The Hooker children were homeschooled and only allowed to listen to religious music in the home.

In 1921, William and Minnie separated and, in 1922, Minnie married William Moore, a local blues singer and guitarist. Tony Hollins, another

bluesman dated John’s older sister and helped teach him to play the guitar. As a result, John Lee Hooker’s style took a shape similar to the Hill Country blues of northern Mississippi.

In 1931, John Lee Hooker ran away from home to Memphis, never to see his parents again. He moved around all over the country, working at various factories during World War II, but eventually landed in Detroit when he got a job at a Ford plant. He began playing at blues clubs in Detroit’s east side and grew quickly in popularity. City life took hold on Hooker’s music and it became more driving and electric. In 1948, he recorded with Modern Records and the single, “Boogie Chillen”, became the best-selling race record of 1949. Like many of his contemporaries, Hooker was illiterate and was often exploited by record companies, making very little from sales and taking an up-front fee instead. To get around his contracts, though, he recorded under many different pseudonyms, like John Lee Booker, Texas Slim, Johnny Lee, Delta John, and the Boogie Man.

In 1962, John Lee Hooker went international, touring with the American Folk Blues Festival. His song “Dimples” became a hit in the UK in 1964. Through the ‘60s on, Hooker played and recorded with many popular rock acts including Canned Heat, Steve Miller, Van Morrison, The Blues Brothers, Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Los Lobos, Jimmie Vaughan, among others.

John Lee Hooker was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. In 2000, he was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Hooker died in his sleep on June 21, 2001 in Los Altos, California.

You had better sit down before you start drinking to match John Lee Hooker’s music. One of his most famous songs calls for “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”, so we’ll go with a finger of  Four Roses Small Batch, a dram of Glenfiddich 12-year, and a can of Stroh’s pilsner (bringing it back home to Detroit), and chill out to the Boogie Man himself, John Lee Hooker.


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