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John Lee Hooker

On 22/08/1917: John Lee Hooker was born, probably. There is some debate over his date of birth, but mostly over the year rather than the day. 1912, 1915, 1917, 1920, 1923 have all been quoted, with 1917 the most frequently cited. Most sources cite his birthplace as Tutwiler, Tallahatchie County, Mississippi (a few cite Clarksdale, Coahoma County). He was the youngest of eleven children. John and his siblings were homeschooled. They were only allowed to listen to religious songs, so the church was where he would first hear music. His parents separated and his mother married blues singer William Moore. Moore would introduce him to the guitar and would be a significant influence on his music. At the age of 14, Hooker ran away, never seeing his mother of stepfather again.
In the mid-1930s, Hooker lived in Memphis, Tennessee, where he worked at the New Daisy Theatre on Beale Street and would perform at house parties. In World War II he worked in various factories, in different cities. In 1943 he started working for Ford Motor Company in Detroit. There he would visit the various blues clubs and bars on Hastings Street and his popularity grew. He made the switch to electric guitar, to have a louder instrument.
In 1948 Modern Records released a demo he had recorded for Bernie Besman in Detroit. The song "Boogie Chillen" became a hit and would be the biggest selling race record in 1949.
Hooker was illiterate, but he was still a prolific lyricist and would adapt traditional blues lyrics as well as writing originals.
Hooker would often record variations of his songs at different studios for an upfront fee using different pseudonyms. He used John Lee Booker, for Chess Records and Chance Records in 1951 to 1952; Johnny Lee for De Luxe Records in 1953 to 54; John Lee, John Lee Cooker, Texas Slim, Delta John, Birmingham Sam and his Magic Guitar, Johnny Williams, and the Boogie Man.
Bernie Besman would record his early songs. Hooker was notoriously difficult to play along with as he didn't use a standard beat. He would change the tempo as he played. Besman would record Hooker stomping on a wooden pallet for percussion.
Hooker would tour with Eddie Kirkland. When he recorded for Vee-Jay Records they used studio musicians for his recordings, including Eddie Taylor who could handle the tempo changes. "Boom Boom" and "Dimples" were two songs released whilst he was with Vee-Jay.
In 1980 he appeared in the film "The Blues Brothers". Also that year he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
In 1989 he recorded the album "The Healer" featuring guest musicians such as Carlos Santana and Bonnie Raitt.
Hooker would record and several songs with Van Morrison including "Never Get Out of These Blues Alive", "The Healing Game", and "I Cover the Waterfront". The two of them would also appear live together several times.
In 1989 Hooker performed with the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton as part of the Rolling Stones Steel Wheels tour.
In 1991 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
He would move to Long Beach, California during his later years. In 1997 he opened the nightclub John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom Room in San Francisco.
In 2000 he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
On June 21 2001, Hooker died in his sleep after falling ill before a tour of Europe.
Hooker has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. "Boogie Chillen" is included as one of the Songs of the Century.

The Music History Calendar is written by the Blues Rock artist Marshland Pete
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