Keith Richards, on heavy metal (2010):
“If you want heavy metal, listen to John Lee Hooker, listen to that motherfucker play. That’s heavy metal. That’s armour!”
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From Mississippi Blues Trail:
John Lee Hooker (c. 1917-2001), one of the most famous and successful of all blues singers, had his musical roots here in the Delta, where he learned to play guitar in the style of his stepfather, Will Moore. Hooker spent many of his early years with his family in the cottonfields around Vance and Lambert before he moved to Detroit in the 1940s. He became an international celebrity after recording hits such as “Boogie Chillen,” “I’m in the Mood,” and “Boom Boom.”
John Lee Hooker was at once one of the most influential yet inimitable artists in blues history. His distinctive “boogie” style harked back to the early days of blues, but his mixture of down-home sounds and urban sensibilities resounded with many southerners who, like him, migrated north seeking work and a better life. Hooker, one of eleven children, often gave vague and contradictory details about his early life, later professing little desire to return to Mississippi. He often cited August 22, 1917, as his birth date, although census records, showing the family near Tutwiler in 1920 and 1930, indicate he was several years older. He said he born between Clarksdale and Vance; Social Security files list his birthplace as Glendora.
His father, William Hooker, at one time a sharecropper on the Fewell plantation near Vance, was a preacher who frowned upon the blues. John Lee preferred living with his stepfather, blues guitarist Will Moore, and claimed that his idiosyncratic style was “identical” to Moore’s. Hooker was also influenced by his sister Alice’s boyfriend, Tony Hollins (1910-c.1959), who gave Hooker his first guitar. Hooker’s song “When My First Wife Left Me” was based on a 1941 Hollins recording. Hollins once lived north of Vance in Longstreet (so named for its long street of stores, houses, and dance halls).
Following stays in Memphis and Cincinnati and returns to the Vance/Lambert area, Hooker settled in Detroit, where he made his first recordings in 1948. In 1949 his single “Boogie Chillen” reached No. 1 on the R&B charts; “I’m in the Mood” achieved the same feat in 1951. Hooker, famed for his ability to improvise new songs in the studio, recorded prolifically for many different labels, often under pseudonyms to avoid contractual problems. He later crossed over to rock ‘n’ roll and folk audiences, and enjoyed a remarkable resurgence beginning in 1989 with the release of The Healer, one of several Hooker albums that featured collaborations with leading rock artists.
Hooker received four Grammy Awards, a Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Award, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (as well as the one in Clarksdale). He was inducted into both the Rock and Roll and Blues Halls of Fame. Hooker moved to California in the late 1960s and later owned a club, the Boom Boom Room, in San Francisco. He died at his home in Los Altos on June 21, 2001.
Hooker’s cousin Earl Hooker (1929-1970), who also hailed from the Vance area, was widely regarded by his peers as the best guitarist in the blues. A versatile and innovative performer, Hooker was especially celebrated for his slide guitar skills. As a teenager Hooker performed on the King Biscuit Time radio show in Helena, and later played and recorded with Ike Turner, Junior Wells, and many others, including his own Chicago-based group, the Roadmasters.
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