King Snake

Boogie monarch John Lee Hooker is still in the mood for the blues

This was soon followed by an even bigger hit with "I'm in the Mood" and other classic recordings, including "Crawling Kingsnake" and "Hobo Blues." During the '50s and '60s, Hooker released more than 100 songs on Vee Jay Records.

The '60s British blues boom saw seminal American artists like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf elevated to a new mainstream prominence. Hooker seemed to be a particular favorite of the young British blues enthusiasts. Hooker achieved superstar status in England when the Animals, John Mayall, and the Yardbirds, to name a few, modeled their sound after his. In 1970, Hooker was introduced to young American audiences by Van Morrison--who still works closely with Hooker today--and Canned Heat. Hooker's popularity in England has proven to be so enduring that, with The Healer, he became the oldest artist ever to crack the Top Three on the British album charts.

The Healer seemed to tap into an ongoing public rediscovery of Hooker's mastery. On his 1988 arena tour, Bruce Springsteen had taken to covering Hooker's "Boom Boom." The following year, Pete Townshend employed Hooker's vocal services for The Iron Man album, literally begging the reluctant boogie king to participate with avowals that Hooker had been his lifelong idol.

This decade has seen the award floodgates open up for Hooker, as he's won the four Grammys, has been given a star on Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame, was enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Blues Foundation.

Hooker says his favorite musicians are late guitar icons Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan. One of his favorite songs is "Red House" by Jimi Hendrix.

"I like the way he sings it," says Hooker. "I never did know the man, but I liked his style of guitar and his style of singing."

Hooker was featured on a 1990 recording of Variations on a Theme: Red House, and Jimi Hendrix is done proud on Don't Look Back. Hooker promised Hendrix's father and sister he would include it on this album.

With all of this fame and fortune, John Lee Hooker is still a regular guy. The blues legend pauses for the Boys of Summer. "Baseball season is my favorite time of the year," says Hooker. "I'm just a baseball person. I love baseball."

Though he admits some fondness for his neighboring San Francisco Giants, Hooker's strongest allegiance is to the Dodgers. But even though he's the reigning blues monarch, Hooker hasn't always been true Dodger blue.

"When I lived back East, I was a Cleveland [Indians] diehard," Hooker says. "Lou Boudreau, I liked him. Larry Doby, oh, yeah," Hooker says with his voice rising. "He was just elected to the Hall of Fame, I'm so proud of him."

In the '80s, Hooker bought his cars from Broderick Motors in San Carlos, California. Hooker, who says he still drives, remembers buying a late-model Buick. Sean Broderick, whose father ran the shop, says Hooker was known as "Johnnie."

"He would just shuffle in, alone, and hang out in the lounge," Broderick recalls. He remembers Hooker's deep, booming voice, and he confirms the impression that comes through whenever Hooker speaks: that this legend never let success swell his head.

"My dad and Johnnie talked about music and cars," says Broderick. "Even though he [Hooker] did a lot of great things, he was laid back, kind of a common person. Hooker did not expect to be treated differently from other customers."

John Lee Hooker and The Coast are scheduled to perform on Saturday, March 21, at Celebrity Theatre, with The James Harman Band, and Big Pete Pearson and the Blues Sevilles. Showtime is 8 p.m.

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