John Lee Hooker, American blues singer, Died at 83

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John Lee Hooker died on June 21, 2001 at the age of 83; he was an American blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He was born in Mississippi, the son of a sharecropper, and rose to prominence performing an electric guitar-style adaptation of Delta blues.

Born on August 22, 1917 Hooker and his siblings were home-schooled. They were permitted to listen only to religious songs, with his earliest exposure being the spirituals sung in church. In 1921, his parents separated.

The next year, his mother married William Moore, a blues singer who provided Hooker with his first introduction to the guitar (and whom John would later credit for his distinctive playing style). John’s stepfather was his first significant blues influence.

William Moore was a local blues guitarist who learned in Shreveport, Louisiana to play a droning, one-chord blues that was strikingly different from the Delta blues of the time. In 1949, Hooker was recorded performing in an informal setting for Detroit jazz enthusiasts.

His repertoire included down-home and spiritual tunes that he would not record commercially. The recorded set has been made available in the album Jack O’Diamonds. This often made it difficult to use backing musicians who were not accustomed to Hooker’s musical vagaries.

As a result, Besman would record Hooker, in addition to playing guitar and singing, stomping along with the music on a wooden pallet. For much of this time period he recorded and toured with Eddie Kirkland, who was still performing until his death in a car accident in 2011.

Later sessions for the VeeJay label in Chicago used studio musicians on most of his recordings, including Eddie Taylor, who could handle his musical idiosyncrasies very well.

As a blues singer and guitarist, John Lee Hooker began his career in Detroit in 1948 with the release of “Boogie Chillun,” the biggest of his several hit records and a staple of both the blues and rock repertoires.

He toured continually, and among “deep blues” artists enjoyed an unusually successful career, appearing in concerts and on recordings with many of the leading figures in rock. He also appeared in the films The Blues Brothers (1980) and The Color Purple (1985).


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