Blues Then and Now - The History of the Blues (Chapter 3, page 1 of 10)


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Chapter 3

The 1950s brought on an abundance of blues singers from the south to settle in northern cities. With the appearance of Charley Patton. 'Son' House, Muddy Waters, "Howlin" Wolf, Robert Johnson and now John Lee Hooker, it seems that the Delta has claimed more famous artists than any other region in the south.

John Lee Hooker, born on August 22, 1917 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where he remained until the age of 30. In I947, he migrated north to Detroit stopping along the way in Memphis and Cincinnati to work in the factories to earn traveling money before arriving at his final destination in Detroit. While in Detroit, John could often be seen and heard playing his guitar on the corner of Hastings Street and Piquette Avenue where people would put money in a hat he had sitting on the sidewalk.

John Lee was gifted with a pleasant rich voice that was very effective on slow blues as can be heard on his ''Cold Chills All Over Me," on the Modern label. His first record, "Boogie Chiller" for Modern Records was an immediate success, which proved that he could do fast, rhythmic tunes as well as slow ballads. Initially, all of his records were recorded on the 78RPM records. But, in 1959 on the Riverside label he recorded his first LP (long playing) album. "Black Snake" proved to be a true typical session of blues music and was highly accepted by the public.

John Lee 1looker was an illiterate man who had no loyalty to any one record company. His philosophy was, "if they would pay me, I would play." And so it was, he recorded with big and small companies. It made no difference if the owners were black or white. He would also use a different name for each label. For instance, for the Gotham and Staff labels, his name was Johnny Williams. He was Texas Slim for King Records and John Lee Booker for the Chance label. Johnny Lee was for Deluxe and Birmingham Sam on Regent and Savoy Records. John Lee Booker was also used for the Gone label. The Boogie Man for Acorn Records and his own name John Lee Hooker for Chess Records. In his career he had recorded more than four hundred sides that were released to the music buying market.

During the years of his recordings, Hooker had many hits; "I'm In the Mood" was his biggest hit. Others were, "I Love You, Honey," "No Shoes," "Boom Boom," "Hobo Blues" and "Crawling King Snake." Hooker continued to make albums and in 1989 he received an award for "The Healer" on which he featured the talents of Robert Cray, Carlos Santana and Bonnie Raitt. In January 1991, John Lee Hooker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He continued to remain active into the late 1990s. On June 21, 2001 John Lee Hooker, the greatest of all bluesmen, died peacefully in his sleep in his home in the San Francisco Bay area in California.

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