Interviews

Interview: John Lee Hooker, October 1977, at the Main Point, Bryn Mawr, PA.

October 1977, at the Main Point, Bryn Mawr, PA.

 

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John Lee Hooker was one of my all-time favorite blues singers. This interview was done between shows in the basement of the Main Point, a legendary music club in the Philly suburbs. This was my first time seeing Hooker, and luckily he was playing solo, which as far as I’m concerned was the way to see Hooker. Hooker plays with his own sense of time, and most bands would seemingly box him into a standard blues rhythm and that wasn’t what he was about. He was about stretching out if he felt like it or cutting back. He could do more with one chord than any guitarist I’ve heard and albums such as Don’t Turn Me From Your Doorare as spooky and scary as it gets. I’d spent a fair amount of time trying to play along with that record and getting my guitar to sound like that. After the interview I went back into the club and ran into George Thorogood. I told him I asked Hooker how he gets that guitar sound. George laughed and said, “He doesn’t know.” He was right. I think Hooker could’ve picked up any guitar, plugged it into any amp and gotten that sound. I think it was probably more in his fingers than anything else and only he could do it.

Years later I’d see him with bands, and while those shows had moments it was never the same as seeing him alone. He had it down, he’d go out and say “Boogie Chillun” and “How how how” and audiences would go crazy. Later on he put out those albums with all the rock stars and stuff. They probably allowed him to be a lot more comfortable than most blues singers in his old age, though from what I remember of those albums the only people who knew how to play with him were John Hammond, Van Morrison and Bonnie Raitt.

We didn’t have much time for this interview, but Hooker was a genuinely sweet guy.

PSB: On the liner notes to one of your albums, it says that when you were a child, Blind Lemon, Blind Blake and Charlie Patton came to your step-father’s house and you saw them play. What was that like?

John Lee Hooker: Well, they did come to my step-father’s house. I never did see them.

Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your guitar style and your singing style?

Will Moore.

It’s a rather stark….

My style is like nobody else’s style I think.

You did a lot of records that you did alone on electric guitar, like Don’t Turn Me From Your Door on Atlantic, and did you ever intend to put any more like that out?

I just cut an album for a new company called Tomato.

How do you get the sounds on your electric guitar? Do you use any settings on your amp or maybe it’s a secret you don’t wanna give away.

I use different settings. I get that funky sound, that funky settings. It’s my style, nobody else got. There’s a lot of different things if you hear, if you listen to it, you can hear my beat in it. Now you take the boogie. I’m the man that started it all.

You’ve had a huge influence on a lot of other performers, both white and black, Van Morrison for one.

Oh. Me and him have known each other for years. He’s an idol of mine, he used to idolize me. Me and him been doin’ some playin’ together.

What was it like to record with Canned Heat?

I wanted to because they were really good because Alan’s so good, and their influences are good and it was such a treat.

When I was watching you up there, all of a sudden it hit me that you were at Gerdes when Dylan opened for you and that was his first big appearance. Could you feel that he was gonna make it?

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I heard he was gonna make it and I knowed he was gonna make it. I was the first man to put him on stage. And he used to hang around with me every night and every day. I was livin’ at the Broadway Somer Hotel right there on 4th Avenue and he would stay right there with me and I had this big suite every night, him and his gal, the one he called Suze, Susan. He would stay right there and we’d have this party every night and we’d play. He was so unusual. He had an unusual voice, and he could write a helluva lyrics.

Is there any particular period of your music you were happiest with?

I like playin’ the blues and nothin’ else. You gotta change with the times. I do a lot of boogie blues, but I like it better just sittin’ down and playin’ the funky blues. I like ’em both, but I see the young kids and they like to dance so you gotta boogie. I enjoy seein’ the kids and they’re havin’ a lot of fun while we’re doing it, but I sit there and play a slow, slow blues to get ’em all in a trance and then all of a sudden I hit ’em and they really move.”

About the author

Peter Stone Brown

Peter Stone Brown is a Songwriter and Journalist.

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