TRACK LIST
1. Boogie Chillen
2. Sally May
3. Hoogie Boogie
4. Hobo Blues
5. Weeping Willow Boogie
6. Crawling Kingsnake Blues
7. Howlin’ Wolf
8. Queen Bee
9. I’m In The Mood
10. How Can You Do It
11. Anybody Seen My Baby
12. I Got My Eyes On You
13. It’s Been A Long Time Baby
14. Love Money Can’t Buy
15. I Tried Hard
16. Hug And Squeeze
17. The Syndicator
18. I’m Ready

In 1948, John Lee Hooker gave us The Boogie. His name would be synonymous with the term forever after.

Prior to "Boogie Chillen," Hooker's epochal debut 78 for Modern Records, the phrase often came with a "woogie" attached and was largely the domain of muscular piano pounders such as Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Meade Lux Lewis, who sparked a national craze with their thundering 88s antics a decade earlier. Once a mainstay of house rent parties and gutbucket gin joints, boogie-woogie suddenly became a welcome backdrop for the highest of high society soirees through that triumvirate's groundbreaking efforts.

Hooker played guitar, his trademark rhythmic thrust stripping the boogie down to its most primal common denominator, a relentlessly danceable beat emphasized by his stomping foot. His highly unpredictable chord changes were nearly indecipherable to all but the most accomplished of his accompanists, so he often played solo. John Lee's boogie was like no other, rendering him an all-time blues immortal. He died in peaceful slumber on June 21, 2001 after enjoying a recording renaissance that saw him sharing studios with a slew of adoring blues and rock stars, his latter-day success affording Hooker the unheard-of luxury of semi-retiring from touring.

The Boogie Man's musical career took flight when he emerged as the kingpin of the postwar Detroit blues circuit, but his musical roots harked all the way back to the blues-fertile Mississippi Delta. He was born outside of Clarksdale, Miss. on August 22, 1917, though the year remains open to debate. Even his biographer, Charles Shaar Murray, couldn't pin it down with absolute certainty because no birth certificate was filed in Hooker's behalf. Born into a huge family headed by William Hooker, a part-time pastor who insisted that his offspring sing in church, John Lee grew up on a large farm in Vance, Miss., toiling in the fields and getting by without the benefit of modern conveniences like electricity.

Hooker's first encounter with a blues singer was inadvertently his sister's doing. Tony Hollins dropped by the Hooker homestead to pitch woo at her and ended up giving an eager young John Lee an old Silvertone guitar (Hollins went on to record eight numbers for OKeh in 1941, notably "Crawlin' King Snake," which Hooker would eventually post a hit with, and four more for Decca a decade later, including another rendition of his signature piece).

"My dad was a minister, and he had all this land," said Hooker in 1981. "And I didn't want to do that. I was born with the talent of playing a guitar when I was 12 years old. My family was really Christian, church-going people, and they didn't want me to do that." As he hit his teens, John Lee's parents split up. Fortunately, his mother Minnie hooked up romantically with a locally popular blues guitarist. Over the next year, stepfather Will Moore would become John Lee's greatest musical influence, inexorably shaping the lad's singular approach to the blues.

"My stepfather, he taught me how," explained Hooker in 1995. "Will Moore, that was his style. I play just like him. He said, 'You don't play this way, you ain't playin' the blues.' He said, 'Rear your head back and play that guitar and sing.' That's what I did. Just throw the books away." The encouraging Moore also gave his stepson a used Stella acoustic guitar, a considerable upgrade over Hollins' hand-me-down Silvertone. It was Moore's specific brand of boogie that Hooker went on to popularize around the globe, though John Lee spiffed it up with a brash electrified edge that brought it raging out of the Delta and smack into the urban milieu.

After apprenticing with Moore, Hooker struck out on his own in 1933, only in his mid-teens. "I just commenced to roamin' the highway," said John Lee. He ventured up to Memphis and wide-open Beale Street, snaring a gig as an usher at the New Daisy Theater (still a landmark venue on Beale, incidentally). After a year or so in Memphis, Hooker made tracks again, first for Knoxville and then Cincinnati. He began to play house parties while ensconced in the Queen City, growing more accustomed to playing for small gatherings. In the late 1930s, John Lee was on the move again, hopping a Greyhound bus headed for the Motor City.

"I left home when I was really young," said Hooker. "I didn't want to come to Chicago. There was too much competition there. All the blues singers was there. I went to Detroit where there wasn't nothin'." A brief Army stint didn't pan out, but there were plenty of factory positions to tide him over until he established himself as a bluesman. Much of Detroit's African-American nightlife centered around rough-and-tumble Hastings Street, and gradually, John Lee made inroads on the city's blues circuit, playing at fabled clubs such as the Apex Bar on Monroe Street, Henry's Swing Club on Madison, and Lee's Sensation.

In 1948, record store owner Elmer Barbee caught his act. Barbee assumed Hooker's managerial reins and recorded him in the rear of his shop to no real avail. Then Barbee introduced Hooker to Bernard Besman and Johnny Caplan, who ran Sensation Records out of a Woodward Avenue office, bringing along a worn-out acetate of Hooker singing "Sally May" for Besman's edification. Besman already had pianist Todd Rhodes' popular R&B orchestra under Sensation contract, their sophisticated, jazzy arrangements light years from John Lee's stark, unschooled approach. But Besman decided to take a chance on Hooker, recording his debut sides at the tail end of a Rhodes session at United Sound Systems, probably in late summer of '48.

"They heard me, and they liked what they heard," said Hooker. "They said it was a sound that nobody else had, that they'd never heard before. Said I had such a ringing, good voice-which I thought I did, but everybody else said I did. So they signed me right up, and I come up with some number one hits."

Instead of utilizing the small rhythm section Hooker often fronted for live gigs, Besman cut him solo. Engineer Joe Siracuse soaked John Lee's guitar in echo and rendered a drummer superfluous by liberally miking his stomping foot to create an eerie sound like no one else's on the scene. It was an archaic throwback to the Delta rendered contemporary, flying in the face of the horn-leavened jump blues then dominating the R&B hit parade. Among the fruits of that first seminal session were the brooding B side "Sally May" (that's how Modern's original 78 label had it; it's now generally spelled "Sally Mae"). John Lee's immortal "Boogie Chillen" was recorded at the end of the day when Besman requested a boogie piece of some sort.

As he so often did, Hooker drew upon his own experience for its lyrics, even referencing Henry's Swing Club. "Everybody was talkin' about it, because everybody would go there," explained Hooker. "And I just wrote a song about it." But "Boogie Chillen" would not hit the streets on Besman's Sensation logo. "His label was so little, he put it on a bigger label," said John Lee. Besman struck a deal with the Bihari brothers' Modern Records, based in Los Angeles with a star-studded talent roster encompassing lots of jumping R&B acts as well as a strong rural blues contingent. It didn't take long for Hooker's first slice of Modern shellac to conquer the market. Entering Billboard's R&B charts in January of '49, it sat at number one in mid-February.

The runaway success of "Boogie Chillen" sparked the wildest explosion of simultaneous recording activity by one artist in the history of postwar blues. Hooker waxed two followup hits for Modern at a February 18, 1949 session in Detroit supervised by Besman-the haunting "Hobo Blues" (which went to #5 that spring) and a remake of his former mentor Hollins' serpentine "Crawling King Snake Blues" that vaulted to #6 late that year (the snarling "Howlin' Wolf," its title unrelated to Hooker's future labelmate of the same appellation, also derives from that fruitful date). The opposite side of "Hobo Blues," the stomping "Boogie Chillen" offshoot "Hoogie Boogie" (Hooker calls it "Rhythm No. 2" midway through the song), apparently hailed from a separate session and also became a hit, stopping at #9. "On and on, just hit after hit," noted John Lee. "I was in." These triumphs were the tip of the iceberg; quick cash could be made by cutting for competing labels under a slew of aliases despite his contract with Besman.

"The record company wasn't paying me that much," said Hooker, "the Bihari brothers. I was kinda hot then. Every little label wanted to do something. If they'd pay me good, I'd go out and change my name and do it." Between Elmer Barbee and Hastings Street record shop operator Joe Von Battle, an avalanche of opportunities rolled in. As Texas Slim (geographical accuracy was apparently of little concern) and later John Lee Cooker, he recorded for King. When Regent and Savoy issued John Lee's masters, he masqueraded as Delta John or the marvelously whimsical Birmingham Sam & His Magic Guitar. Hooker was The Boogie Man for Acorn and Johnny Williams for Gotham, while Chance, DeLuxe, and Rockin' exhibited less imagination by tweaking his name to John Lee Booker. "If they had the money," said Hooker, "I had the time."

Besman hung onto some of The Hook's voluminous output for his Sensation imprint, reaping the rewards of a #15 hit in early 1950 on "Huckle Up, Baby" that mercifully graced the shelves under Hooker's own name. The storming "Weeping Willow Boogie" (Besman may have added the clattering percussive effect himself) and the throbbing "Queen Bee" ended up on Modern, retaining the stripped-down setting that made Hooker such an amazing anomaly.

One of Besman's studio brainstorms led to Hooker's second R&B chart-topper in November of 1951. By overdubbing John Lee's voice a second time onto the finished master of "I'm In The Mood" during a mid-August session (the second guitar wasn't an overdub; frequent Hooker cohort "Little" Eddie Kirkland handled that duty), Besman and Siracuse devised a gimmick that set the relentless moaner so far apart from the onslaught of Hooker 78s flooding the market that it actually made a highly unlikely appearance on the pop charts.

Besman produced the driving boogie "How Can You Do It" and "Anybody Seen My Baby," both with Kirkland on second guitar, before health problems forced him to relocate out West, ending the pair's professional relationship. Kirkland slipped snazzy ninth chords and crisp fills into "Anybody Seen My Baby" that were apropos considering Hooker's vocal allusions to mellow L.A. pianist Charles Brown on the downbeat number. The still-musically active Kirkland, a longtime Motor City blues staple who was born in Jamaica and raised in Alabama before settling in Detroit in 1943, was Hooker's sympathetic partner on the rollicking "I Got Eyes For You," probably waxed May 22, 1952 at John Lee's last Besman-helmed date, and recorded for Modern's RPM imprint himself that same year with Hooker on the other guitar.

John Lee signed directly to Modern after that, continuing to record for the company in Detroit at United Sound. His backing cast expanded radically for the luxuriant "It's Been A Long Time Baby" and "I Tried Hard," cut December 3, 1952 with saxist Johnny Hooks, pianist Boogie Woogie Red, and drummer Jimmy Turner giving John Lee a much more R&B-oriented sound. Hooks, not Hooker, copped the solos, and John Lee once again double-tracked his vocals.

Kirkland and Red were joined by drummer Tom Whitehead for a June 26, 1953 session that elicited the crashing "Love Money Can't Buy," The Boogie Man's rowdy trio grinding out an uncompromising backdrop. Hooker laid down the joyous "Hug And Squeeze" and a sinister "The Syndicator" as opposite sides of a '55 Modern single with R&B-slanted backing by his band, The Boogie Ramblers; Whitehead's socking backbeat and splashing cymbals drove the proceedings as pianist Bob Thurman tinkled on top and tenor saxist Otis Finch inserted jabbing fills. "I'm Ready," another '55 release unrelated to Muddy Waters' seminal Willie-Dixon-penned ode of the same name, rocks like crazy, blasts of distorted electric axe slicing the studio air and Finch wailing hard on his horn. For just a fleeting moment, John Lee threatened to make the quantum leap into rock and roll, the session also including a torrid "Shake Holler And Run," Hooker's jumping response to Big Joe Turner's '54 smash "Shake, Rattle And Roll."

As rock and roll altered the rhythm and blues landscape forevermore, John Lee was on the move anew when it came to recording, cutting an May '54 session in Detroit with his usual cohorts for Art Rupe's L.A.-based Specialty label that only resulted in one single before landing at Chicago's Vee-Jay Records in the autumn of 1955. One of his new labelmates, laconic harpist Jimmy Reed, performed in a sideman role at Hooker's first Vee-Jay date, though the Hook only required a rhythm section to cook up the frolicking "Dimples" the following year.

Vee-Jay usually employed a staunch mix of Detroit stalwarts (often including Whitehead) and Windy City blues aces to back John Lee. Chicago rhythm guitarist Eddie Taylor solidified Hooker's eccentric sense of timing, just as he did for Reed. "Eddie Taylor, he was really a good guitar man," noted John Lee, who stuck around Vee-Jay for nearly a decade, though he did squeeze in a few scattered album projects for other companies during his folk-blues phase.

After more than seven years off the R&B charts, John Lee returned to the hit parade at the end of 1958 on Vee-Jay with "I Love You Honey." Two years later he scored again with "No Shoes." But the most enduring hit The Boogie Man handed Vee-Jay was his houserocking 1962 smash "Boom Boom," its inspiration stemming as usual from The Hook's everyday life.

"I walked in a bar one night," he said. "I was playing there, the Apex Bar. I was never on time. This bartender, this woman, whose name was Willa. I walked in the door and she said, 'Boom boom, you're late again!' Like she was shootin' a gun, put up fingers: 'Boom boom, you're late again!' And I picked up on that." Its musical impact was exponentially increased by the presence of Motown's vaunted house band, The Funk Brothers, who journeyed from Detroit to Chicago to engage in a little moonlighting. Even stellar studio musicians like bassist James Jamerson, drummer Benny Benjamin, tenor saxist Hank Cosby, and longtime Hooker pianist Joe Hunter had to stay on their toes behind The Boogie Man.

"Joe Hunter, he's one of those guys that's always into something. He'd hooked up with John Lee Hooker. John Lee Hooker needed to take a band to Chicago, and so he brought me these two songs," said the late Cosby in 2001. "So I said, 'Well, where's the music?' He said, 'There ain't no music! You have to watch Johnny Lee Hooker's hands!' In other words, every time he moved his fingers to a different position, that was a different chord. So I sat and watched him, and I wrote the chords out. That was the only way we could make it!"

The early '60s folk-blues revival found Hooker reverting to his acoustic roots to court the collegiate crowd, and in 1970-the same year he abandoned Detroit for the West Coast--he joined forces with the boogie-fired Canned Heat for the acclaimed Hooker 'N' Heat. An onslaught of endless boogie vinyl aimed at the hippie rock demographic ground Hooker's prolific tendencies down to the nub during the '70s, but he arose like an impeccably attired phoenix in 1989 with The Healer. He shared the studio with the luminous likes of Carlos Santana, Van Morrison, and Bonnie Raitt during his last celebrated decade on the planet, racking up several Grammys.

Those venerated superstars knew that when they traded licks and lyrics with John Lee Hooker, they stood face-to-face with the almighty source of The Boogie. His singular groove, like these primordial platters for Modern Records, will live forever.