Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Born in 1917 near Clarksdale, John Lee Hooker had 10 older brothers and sisters. His first instrument was an inner tube nailed to the barn. His first father was not musically inclined. Luckily, his mother then married a man who was. Hooker's step-father, William Moore was a guitar player. William Moore played fish fries and parties, sometimes joining blues legends Charlie Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Blake. William Moore also taught young John Lee how to play the blues.
It was a lesson that lasted a lifetime.
John Lee ran away from his Clarksdale home at either 14 or 15 to play the blues in Memphis. He wound up working as a movie usher, but also working with Robert Nighthawk. Then he moved to Cinncinnati to live with relatives. For the next ten years John Lee sang gospel and worked a variety of manual labor jobs.
But it wasn't enough to hold him, after a stint in the army, he settled in Detroit, working at a receiving hospital and later at Dodge and Comco Steel (possibly also as a janitor at the Chrysler car plant). Through it all, however he paid the rent, John Lee never put down his guitar. He played in clubs, but it took a little luck before John Lee got to really boogie.
Someone with connections to a local record distributor heard him playing at a house party, noticed that he was very good, and in 1948 John Lee Hooker recorded his first hit record, the classic "Boogie Chillen." It was in a style he learned long ago from his step-father back in Clarksdale.
"Blues for Christmas" isn't a boogie tune. it's far from it. "Blues for Christmas" is a laid back drinking blues with a jazzy feel augmented by Bob Thurman on piano, Jimmy Miller on trumpet and Johnny Hooks on tenor saxophone. Hooker wrote and recorded it in Detroit in 1954.
William Moore never got to hear this or any other John Lee Hooker record. He died before his step-son got to Detroit.
(Click to hear John Lee Hooker's Blues for Christmas)
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