John Lee Hooker Jr. brings blues with style

Performer in Blues Fest lineup

Performer in Blues Fest lineup

May 28, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

John Lee Hooker Jr.'s live shows are, like his life, unscripted.

The son of a legendary jazzman, Hooker created his own style and sound.

"I didn't have to go and carve myself out of a shadow, carve the John Lee Hooker style off of me. Everything is natural," Hooker says.

How did he come up with his lively style?

"The same way I was born. I didn't go into a lab and try this potion. It's just me, naturally."

The vocalist and his band, whom he refers to as his "weapons of mass destruction," are one of two headlining acts Saturday at the 11th annual Western Maryland Blues Fest.

"Rather than just be a tribute band to his father, he's found his own distinctive voice," says Carl Disque, Blues Fest founder and event chairman.


Just as many children want to be like their mother or father, Hooker says he wanted to be like his dad.

"I watched him make people smile or clap their hands," says Hooker, now in his 50s and living in Roseville, Calif. "I watched him make them dance. His music made them dance. It was a positive side of something I grew up with. I wanted to do the same thing."

"My dad used to take me to radio stations and show me off and sit me in his lap, and I used to sing in the microphone.

"He would take me to nightclubs as a kid. Either it was his time to baby-sit, or I cried so much and protested so much about him leaving me that he took me with him."

Before becoming a successful musician, Hooker ran a tree service, a masonry service and was a garbageman.

Hooker's musical aspirations got sidetracked for a long while.

All he'll say about that time is "Drugs. That's about it."

"God. God got me out of it," says Hooker, who was born and raised in Detroit. "I couldn't pull it out myself when I asked for help. He pulled me out of it. When you have a determination to succeed, when you're tired of being so low, past the ground, you ask for help. Especially when you can't get up yourself and you have a desire to get up," Hooker says.

His family also helped him.

"People told me - my dad (told me) - 'You got so much talent. Get up. Get up,'" he recalls.

When he did get up, he created "Blues with a Vengeance."

Released in 2004, the album won Hooker a W.C. Handy Blues Award for best new artist debut in 2005 and was nominated that year for a Grammy for best traditional blues album.

His new album, "Cold As Ice," comes out June 27. He'll perform some of those songs at the Blues Fest.

"Going through what I went through. Going through and coming from the valley up the mountain ... God delivered me from that darkness and now that I'm out of it, I'm able to sing about it. I'm able to sing about what I lived, what I experienced," Hooker says.

If you go ...

WHAT: John Lee Hooker Jr. at the 11th annual Western Maryland Blues Fest

WHEN: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Saturday, June 3

WHERE: Bud Light Stage at the City Central Lot off North Potomac Street, downtown Hagerstown.

COST: $20 in advance; $25 at the gate; $7 for ages 6 to 12; free admission for ages 5 and younger. Two-day adult tickets, for Friday and Saturday, $30. There is a $2.50 transaction fee for any advance ticket purchase. For tickets, call the Hagers-town-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 301-791-3246, go to the CVB at 16 Public Square or go online to

MORE: There are several other acts performing Saturday, from noon to 9:30 p.m.

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