Veteran bluesman John Lee Hooker, whose foot stompin’ and gravelly voice electrified audiences and inspired several generations of musicians, died Thursday at his Los Altos home. He was 83.
He died at in his sleep at his home, said Hooker’s agent Mike Kappus.
Hooker died of natural causes with friends and family near, said his manager Rick Bates.
During a more than six-decade-long music career, the veteran blues singer from the Mississippi Delta estimated he recorded more than 100 albums. Some of his better-known songs include “Boogie Chillen,” “Boom Boom” and “I’m In The Mood.”
Throughout it all, Hooker’s music remained unchanged. His rich and sonorous voice, full of ancient hurt, and his brooding and savage style remained hypnotic but unpredictable. To the strains of his own guitar, he sang of loneliness and confusion. Neither polished nor urbane, his music was raw, primal emotion.
His one-chord boogie compositions and rhythmic guitar work were a distinctive sound that influenced rock ’n’ rollers as well as rhythm and blues musicians.
In 1991, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Last year at the Grammys, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Among those whose music drew heavily on Hooker’s style are Van Morrison, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and ZZ Top. In 1961, the then-unknown Rolling Stones opened for him on a European tour; he also shared a bill that year with Bob Dylan at a club in New York City.
Even in the ’90s, when his fame was sealed and he was widely recognized as one of the grandfathers of pop music, Hooker remained a little in awe of his own success, telling The Times of London, “People say I’m a genius but I don’t know about that.”
Like many postwar bluesmen, Hooker got cheated by one fly-by-night record producer after another, who demanded exclusivity or didn’t pay. Hooker fought back by recording with rival producers under a slew of different names: Texas Slim, John Lee Booker, John Lee Cocker, Delta John, Birmingham Sam and the Boogie Man, among others.
Hooker’s popularity grew steadily as he rode the wave of rock in the ’50s into the folk boom of the ’60s. In 1980, he played a street musician in “The Blues Brothers” movie. In 1985, his songs were used in Steven Spielberg’s film, “The Color Purple.”
Hooker hit it big again in 1990 with his album “The Healer,” featuring duets with Carlos Santana, Raitt and Robert Cray. It sold 1.5 million copies and won him his first Grammy Award, for a duet with Raitt on “I’m in the Mood.”
Several more albums followed, including one recorded to celebrate his 75th birthday, titled “Chill Out.”
In his later years, Hooker laid back and enjoyed his success. He recorded only occasionally; he posed for blue jeans and hard liquor ads.
Born in Clarksdale, Miss., in 1917, Hooker was one of 11 children born to a Baptist minister and sharecropper who discouraged his son’s musical bent.
His stepfather taught him to play guitar. By the time Hooker was a teenager, he was performing at local fish fries, dances and other occasions.
Hooker hit the road to perform by the age of 14. He worked odd jobs by day and played small bars at night in Memphis, then Cincinnati and finally Detroit in 1943.
“I don’t know what a genius is,” he told the London newspaper. “I know there ain’t no one ever sound like me, except maybe my stepfather. You hear all the kids trying to play like B.B. (King), and they ain’t going to because, ooh, he’s such a fine player and a very great man. But you never hear them even try and sound like John Lee Hooker.”
“All these years, I ain’t done nothin’ different,” he added. “I been doing the same things as in my younger days, when I was coming up, and now here I am, an old man, up there in the charts. And I say, well, what happened? Have they just thought up the real John Lee Hooker, is that it? And I think, well, I won’t tell nobody else! I can’t help but wonder what happened.”
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