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A Family Affair

[whitespace] John Lee Hooker Jr. Across the Generations: John Lee Hooker Jr. honors his father's music but aims to be his own man.



John Lee Jr. joins father's blues train

By Nicky Baxter

JOHN LEE HOOKER is a happy man right about now. His career is skyrocketing with a hit single featuring him growling along with Van Morrison and an album that will more than likely garner gold. In addition, just up the freeway in the East Bay, his daughter, Zakiya, is making noise as a singer in her own right. But the biggest thrill must be seeing his son, John Lee Hooker Jr., join the blues train.

John Junior looks so much like his father it's almost uncanny. What's more remarkable is that John Lee Hooker Jr., in his 40s and currently living in the Bay Area, is the real thing, not some tired attempt to duplicate his daddy. He respects what John Sr. has accomplished and the tradition whence he came. Junior, however, is a stubborn kind of fellow, and he wants to make his own mark. "If I tried to fill my father's shoes, I'd get cramps in my feet just trying to take one step," he says.

Judging by an advance copy of Hooker Jr.'s new single, "There's a Struggle," he is far from a blues purist; in fact it would be wrong to label him "just" a blues singer. In the song "Struggle," Hooker reveals an affinity for jazz and R&B. Against an emphatic backbeat flaunting a cool blue guitar lead, churchy organ and rumbling bass, Hooker's smooth baritone hovers almost delicately, alternately propelling the beat forward with multisyllabic jazzy flurries and slowing the pace with clearly enunciated blues phrasing. Throughout the tune, Hooker is in total control.

Listening to Hooker detail the woes of the working-class world, you can't help but recall the scalding social commentary of Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "Ain't That a Bitch." Watson's sound and substance have had a profound impact on Hooker. So, too, has the music of Big Mama Thornton, Jimmy Reed, Jimi Hendrix and the two Kings, B.B. and Albert. As a youngster growing up in Detroit, Junior had the opportunity to rub shoulders with blues legends from around the country. Nor was there a short supply of British-invasion bands flocking in to pay homage to the greats of the genre.

While still in his teens, Hooker Jr. was touring with his father, soaking up the nightlife and observing how his father worked the stage. Junior can reproduce Hook-like versions of songs dating back to the 1940s, and even today, he sometimes sits at his father's feet and sings those old boogie tunes, his father nodding and smiling along to the big bad beat.


John Lee Hooker Jr. plays Saturday (March 28) at 9pm at JJ's Blues, 3439 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara. Tickets are $8. (408/243-6441)

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From the March 26-April 1, 1998 issue of Metro.

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