I'm In The Mood : John Lee Hooker©2008JCMarion


John Lee Hooker was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in August of 1917. As with so many of the blues musicians that came to fame in the late forties-early fifties, the life on a sharecropper farm did not suit young John. And so following the path of many, he headed north. First to Memphis, Cincinnati, and then to Detroit where he looked for work in the defense plants or the automobile industry in the early nineteen forties. On weekend nights "Johnny Lee" would find work in the bars and clubs along Hastings Street (Detroit's version of L.A.'s Central Avenue, or Memphis Beale Street). He played clubs such as The Sensation, Apex, and Henry's Swing Club (named in the lyrics of "Boogie Chillen"). He was performing with pianist James Watkins and drummer Curtis Foster. A man named Elmer Barbee was the first to recognize the unique talent of Hooker and got him to meet with Bernard Besman who owned the local record labels Sensation and Pan American Records. Besman like other record industry owners at the time, would lease masters to bigger independents. The first Hooker masters were leased out to Modern Records in Los Angeles. And so in November of 1948 Modern # 627 featured John Lee Hooker with "Boogie Chillen" and "Sally Mae". In short order "Boogie Chillen" became a local hit and Hooker made the most of his opportunities at the time recording under many different aliases and various labels.

In 1949 John Lee Hooker had a number of record appearances during the year. King Records releases # 4283 as by "Texas Slim" paired "Black Man Blues" with "Stomp Boogie", and # 4329 with "Heart Trouble Blues" and "Slim's Stomp". Regent 1001 lists "Delta John" performing "Helpless Blues" and "Going Mad Blues", Staff #704 offered "Miss Rosie Mae" and "Highway Blues" as by Johnny Williams, and Savoy # 5558 released "Landing Blues" and "Lowdown Midnite Boogie" as by "Birmingham Sam" & His Magic Guitar. In 1949 Modern Records released singles under Hooker's own name such as "Hobo Blues" and "Hoogie Boogie" on # 663, "Whistlin And Moanin Blues" and "Weepin Willow Boogie" on #688, "Drifting From Door To Door" and "Crawlin Kingsnake" on # 714, "Playing The Races" and "I'm A Howlin Wolf" on # 730, and "No Friend Around" and "Wednesday Evening" on # 746. Detroit home town label Sensation released "Miss Sadie Mae" and "Burnin Hell" on #21, "Canal Street Blues" and "Huckle Up Baby" on # 26, and "Let Your Daddy Ride" and "Goin On Highway 51" on #30.

In 1950 the popularity of "Crawlin King Snake" increased the visibility of John Lee Hooker, and the records kept coming. Staff released two more as by Johnny Williams during the year - "Wandering Blues" and "House Rent Boogie" on # 710, and "Prison Bound" and "Bumble Bee Blues" recorded with "Boogie Woogie Red" on piano and Curtis Foster on drums on Staff # 718. Sensation offered "My Baby's Got Something" and "Decoration Day Blues" on # 33 and "Boogie Chillen 2" on # 34. Regal had one record release - "Notoriety Woman" and "Never Satisfied" on # 3304, and Modern continued with "Give Me Your Phone Number" and "Roll 'n Roll" on # 767, and "Let Your Daddy Ride" and "Goin On Highway 51" on # 790 . King had two records released during 1950 as by "Texas Slim" - "Don't You Remember Me?" on # 4366, and "Thinking Blues" on # 4377.

In January of 1951 Staff # 710 is reissued on Gotham #506 - "House Rent Boogie" and "Wandering Blues" as by Johnny Williams. In May "Queen Bee" and "John L's House Rent Boogie" is released on Modern #814. "Leave My Wife Alone" shows good sales in the Midwestern cities of Chicago, Detroit, and especially Milwaukee in August. "How Can You Do It?" and "I'm In The Mood" is recorded with Eddie Kirkland on guitar on Modern # 835. In September "I'm In The Mood" is a big seller on the West Coast. In November the Bihari Brothers of Modern Records report that Hooker's "I'm In The Mood" is the biggest seller for the label in three years. In December the Bihari Brothers of Modern and the Chess brothers of Chess Records square off in a legal battle over John Lee Hooker's recording of "Louise" / "Ground Hog Blues" which appears on both labels. The Modern version ( # 852) is apparently a remake which the Chess people claim is a violation of union contracts. Testifying to the huge success of "I'm In The Mood" is the answer record which has been released on Modern - "I Ain't In The Mood" by Helen Humes on # 851. Meanwhile John Lee's latest on that label is "Turn Over A New Leaf" with "Anybody Seen My Baby?"  on #847. At year's end "Ground Hog Blues" makes the top selling R & B charts in Atlanta. "Moanin Blues" and "Stomp Boogie" as by John Lee Cooker is issued by King Records on # 4504.

In the spring of 1952 "Cold Chills All Over Me" and "Rock Me" on Modern # 862 looks like another winner on the sales front. On another label "Union Station Blues" on Chess # 1505 is selling well in Los Angeles ("High Price Woman" is on the flip side). In June "Sugar Mama" / "Walkin The Boogie" is released on Chess # 1513. By June the record is a top seller in Atlanta and Jacksonville. John Lee took a turn as a radio disc jockey for a time in Detroit. He also toured clubs in the South working often with the band of Muddy Waters. In July Modern # 876 of "I Got Eyes For You" and "It Hurts Me So" as by John Lee Hooker and Little Eddie Kirkland is released. In September Modern keeps the music coming with "Bluebird Blues" and "Key To The Highway" on # 886. At year's end "New Boogie Chillen" and "I Tried" is out on Modern # 893. Early the following year Modern #897 features "It's Been A Long Time Baby" and "Rock House Boogie" recorded with Eddie Kirkland, Boogie Woogie Red (Vernon Harrison), and Jimmy Turner on drums. In the spring of 1953 "Ride Til I Die'" and "It's Stormin And Rainin" is Hooker's newest out on Modern #901. John Lee also joins the Gale Agency a heavy promoter of R & B artists. During the year Philadelphia based Gotham Records releases "Questionnaire Blues" and "Real Gone Gal" on # 509, "Little Boy Blue" and "My Daddy Was A Jockey" on # 513, and "Catfish" and "Mean Old Train" on # 515. Modern # 908 pairs the songs "Love Money Can't Buy" and "Please Take Me Back". In mid October Modern # 916 features John Lee on "Too Much Boogie" and "Need Somebody". In another change of pace Joe Von Battle of Detroit releases a side by Hooker on his JVB label. The songs are "No More Doggin" and "Boogie Rambler" on JVB # 30. "Lovin Guitar Man" and "Blue Monday" are released on DeLuxe # 6004

In January of 1954 "Stuttering Blues" and "Pouring Down Rain" (as by John Lee Booker on all DeLuxe records) is issued on # 6032. Chart Records gets into the act with "Goin South" and "Wobbling Baby" on # 609 and Misbelievin Baby" and another version of "Blue Monday" on Chart # 614. In March Chess # 1562 features "It's My Fault" and "Money And Women". Later that month not to be outdone DeLuxe issues "Real Real Gone" and "My Baby Don't Love Me" by the not so mysterious John Lee "Booker". Modern # 923 features "Down Child" and "Gotta Boogie". In May "I Wonder Little Darlin" and "Jump Me" is released on Modern # 931. In July Modern has another side with "Let's Talk It Over" and "I Tried Hard" on # 935. In August another label change up as Specialty releases "Everybody's Blues" and "I'm Mad" on # 528. In October "Bad Boy" and "Cool Little Car" is the latest from Modern Records on # 942. The last Modern record of the year features Johnny Finch and Otis Hooks on saxes, Bob Thurman on piano, the usual Eddie Kirkland on guitar, and Tom Whitehead on drums. The songs are "Half A Stranger" and "Shake Holler And Run" released on # 948.

to part two . . . . . . . . . .

back to title page . . . . . . .