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Subject: That same day, Bluesman John Lee Hooker died

He was 83
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Date Posted: Friday, June 21, 04:14:37pm
In reply to: The show's glory years were about the first 3 seasons, after that it was pablum. 's message, ""Archie Bunker" was one of those characters who should have faded away after about 7-8 seasons. But 13 seasons, and mutliple retoolings, its endings were forgetable." on Friday, June 21, 03:49:34pm

John Lee Hooker, who has died in San Francisco aged 83, was the senior figure of post-war blues music; unlike his friend and fellow guitarist BB King, he rejected the sophisticating influence of jazz, instead electrifying the downhome country blues of Mississippi in the urban ghettoes.

12:00AM BST 23 Jun 2001

Hooker's music was traditional and personal, free verse chants that carried echoes of the worksong and spoke of the primal emotions of sorrow and joy. He paid little attention to rhyme or melody, keeping time with his right foot and governing his songs with hypnotically rhythmic chords. Miles Davis called him "the funkiest man alive".

Above the groove brooded his voice - dark and old and purposeful. Perched in the chair in which he invariably played, Hooker resembled nothing so much as some dapper Delta alligator. John Lee Hooker was born on a farm near Clarksdale, Mississippi, on 22 August 1917. His father was a sharecropper and Baptist minister who discouraged singing of "the devil's music" (as the blues was known) in the house.

Hooker's first instrument was an inner tube nailed to a barn door. This was soon supplemented by guitar lessons from an itinerant musician, Tony Hollins, and by watching his stepfather, bluesman Will Moore. To the latter he attributed his uniquely rhythmic style of playing; few of Hooker's songs use more than the one-chord riff he learned as a child.

At 14 he ran away to Memphis. By day he worked as a cinema usher, and at night would play at parties with other young talent, including BB King. But Hooker wanted to be a star, which meant moving to the industrial cities of the North. He migrated first to Cincinnati and then in 1943 to Detroit, where he swept the floor of the General Motors car factory.

While never tempted by the intricacies of jazz, Hooker had to adapt his acoustic country style for the faster tastes of a black urban audience. He was given his first electric guitar by T-Bone Walker, one of the progenitors of the modern blues. Unusually for a blues musician, Hooker wrote his own songs, and the combination of his leathery voice and the cathartic spontaneity of his music soon made him a popular draw.

In November 1948 he cut his first recordings for the Modern label. Boogie Chillen was an enormous success, reputedly selling more than a million copies, although the true number was probably closer to a quarter of this. It was quickly followed by other songs that became blues standards, most notably Crawlin' Kingsnake and I'm in the Mood.

Royalties from Modern's owners, the Bihari brothers, were invariably slow to appear. To circumvent his contractual obligations, and to feed his family, Hooker took to recording for dozens of rival blues labels.

His distinctive sound could be heard under numerous aliases, among them Delta John, Little Pork Chops and John Lee Cooker. In four years, from 1949 to 1953, he recorded perhaps 70 albums for 24 different labels, although like most black musicians of the time he saw little of the money he made for the record companies.

As an increasingly politicised black audience turned away from their fathers' music to the more positive sound of soul in the 1960s, Hooker was resilient enough to find a new market in the folk movement.

He performed regularly on the campus circuit and appeared at the Newport Folk Festivals. Hooker was particularly popular in Europe, where the rockier Dimples and Boom, Boom had been hits in the late 1950s, and the new wave of blues-influenced English rock bands were soon queuing to pay homage.

These included The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Who and Led Zeppelin, and in America The Doors and Bob Dylan; Hooker gave Dylan his break by booking him as support for a concert in Greenwich Village. Hooker recorded several albums with rock bands, including in 1971 a highly successful collaboration with the Californian imitators of his boogie style, Canned Heat.

He continued to perform live thereafter but, despite a cameo appearance in the film The Blues Brothers (1980), many critics felt he was a spent force, and in 1974 his recording contract was terminated. His fortunes were revived first by Steven Spielberg, who used his music on the soundtrack to The Color Purple (1985), and then by the release in 1989 of the unexpectedly successful album The Healer.

This collaboration with a generation of young blues musicians who had enjoyed mainstream success, notably Robert Cray and Bonnie Raitt, sold more than two million copies and earned Hooker his first Grammy award for Best Blues recording. Purists charged Hooker with diluting the essence of his art for monetary gain, but he nonchalantly dismissed the accusations. "I'm practically the only blues singer that keeps up with the times," he said. "I goes with the flow of the young people."

The septuagenarian Hooker, suave in a homburg, three-piece suit and sunglasses, became a familiar figure in advertisements, employed to endorse everything from jeans to heart pills. The commercial success of The Healer allowed him to record a series of albums in the 1990s, among them Mr Lucky and Boom, Boom, all of which sold well. In 1991, at 74, he became the oldest person to have a top five album in the British charts.
His new wealth allowed him to retire to San Francisco, where he would spend his afternoons crooning down the telephone to the young waitresses whose numbers he had picked up at breakfast.

Hooker never learned to read or write, trusting to his memory and latterly to a tape recorder to master new material. He considered himself a teacher of the blues. "After me, who's gonna take care of this big heavy blues sound?," he would say. "After me, who's left?"
He was married and divorced four times, and had eight children.

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Subject Author Date
Carroll O'Connor kept getting $$$, which was important since he typecast in that role at the timeJean Stapleton walked away and never looked backSaturday, June 22, 09:49:49am
    I'd think most performers would love to be associated with a character. (NT)Stapleton seemed to think she was better than most others...Saturday, June 22, 10:06:09am

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