John Lee Hooker

John Lee Hooker's first instrument was a set of "strings" made from strips of inner tube nailed to a barn wall. From there he soon graduated to a guitar, but the rawness--and the ingenuity--of that first instrument remained a part of this bluesman's music all his life. Hooker, who died last Thursday at 83, was a blues star for more than half a century. He had his first million-selling single, "Boogie Chillen," in 1948, and he was winning Grammys well into his 70s. But his success as a performer was equaled if not outshone by his influence as an artist, especially on younger rock musicians. Echoes of his gritty, syncopated singing and playing can be heard in younger musicians as diverse as ZZ Top, Bonnie Raitt and Los Lobos. But none of them could ever quite match his singular sound. Easy to copy, the Hooker style was all but impossible to duplicate.

One of 11 children, Hooker grew up in a sharecropping family on a cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta. By the time he turned 14 he was playing guitar in Memphis, Tenn. From there he moved to Cincinnati and sang with gospel quartets before moving to Detroit in 1943. There he resumed his career as a blues musician. Intensely prolific, he recorded more than 100 albums, many of them under pseudonyms like Birmingham Sam and His Magic Guitar and the Boogie Man. But whatever the name, the sound was pure Hooker. He could captivate you with a one-chord song, and his unadorned yet subtly rhythmic music was the perfect match for his austere, often heartbreaking lyrics. "No matter what anybody says, it all comes down to the same thing," he said once. "A man and woman, a broken heart and a broken home." But when he picked up a guitar and opened his mouth, nobody ever made feeling bad sound so good.

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