Bluesman John Lee Hooker, believed to be 83, died of natural causes yesterday (June 21) at his home in Los Altos, Calif. For six decades, Hooker's rich sonorous voice coupled with a brooding rhythmic

Bluesman John Lee Hooker, believed to be 83, died of natural causes yesterday (June 21) at his home in Los Altos, Calif. For six decades, Hooker's rich sonorous voice coupled with a brooding rhythmic guitar style inspired countless musicians and electrified audiences with songs like "Boogie Chillen," the song with which he began his career in 1949. That Modern Records single became a No. 1 R&B hit.

The legendary bluesman from the Mississippi Delta sang of loneliness and confusion. Neither polished nor urbane, his music was raw, primal emotion -- and remained hypnotic and unchanged throughout his career.

"There are no superlatives to describe the profound impact John Lee left in our hearts," musician Carlos Santana said after learning of Hooker's death. "When I was a child he was the first circus I wanted to run away with."

Hooker estimated he had recorded more than 100 albums. 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."

"John Lee's power and influence in the world of rock, R&B, jazz, and blues are a legacy that will never die," artist Bonnie Raitt said. "Getting to know and work with him these last 30 years has truly been one of the great joys of my life."

Among those whose music drew heavily on Hooker's style are Raitt, Van Morrison, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, 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 in New York.

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. He hit it big again in 1990 with his album "The Healer," featuring duets with 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."

In 1991, Hooker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Last year at the Grammys, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award. In his later years, Hooker laid back and enjoyed his success. He recorded only occasionally; he posed for blue jeans and liquor ads. He played benefits occasionally, but mostly performed in small clubs, dropping in unannounced.

At the John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom Room club in San Francisco, about a dozen people sipped drinks to dim candlelight as Hooker's signature blues sound growled through the speakers last night. "I've been a big fan of his music for a long time," said Morgan Shortell, 25, who bought a dozen roses and placed them on Hooker's favorite table in the corner. "He was such a powerful force. You can hear it in his voice."

Boom Boom Room manager Alex Andreas said when Hooker took the stage at the club, a hush would fall over the audience. "All you need to hear from John Lee Hooker is a growl. One `Hey! Hey!' One raspy, gritty growl from John Lee Hooker, and it's enough to turn a crowd inside out," Andreas said.

During his later performances, Hooker would stay seated for most of his set, rising from his stool near the end and shaking an upturned palm to the rhythm of his band and moaning the blues to a frenzied audience. He didn't use a guitar pick, preferring rather to strum the strings directly with large, cheek-soft fingers. Mostly, though, he hung out with friends and family at his homes in Los Altos and Long Beach, watching baseball and enjoying a fleet of expensive cars.

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 teen-ager, 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, where he was discovered and recorded "Boogie Chillen" in 1948.

Hooker created several other blues standards, including "Boom Boom," "Crawlin' King Snake," and "I'm in the Mood," for Sensation, Vee-Jay, Chess, and other labels. He had a crossover hit in 1970 with the album "Hooker 'n' Heat," a collaboration with Canned Heat.

Hooker is survived by eight children, 19 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren.


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