SAN FRANCISCO -- For six decades, John Lee Hooker's rich sonorous voice coupled with a brooding rhythmic guitar inspired countless musicians and electrified audiences with songs like "Boom Boom" and "Boogie Chillen."
The legendary bluesman from the Mississippi Delta sang of loneliness and confusion. Neither polished nor urbane, his music was raw, primal emotion -- and remained hypnotic and unchanged throughout his career.
"There are no superlatives to describe the profound impact John Lee left in our hearts," musician Carlos Santana said Thursday after learning of Hooker's death. "When I was a child he was the first circus I wanted to run away with."
Hooker, who had estimated he recorded more than 100 albums, died of natural causes at his Los Altos home, said his agent Mike Kappus. He was 83.
Even in the '90s, when his fame was sealed and he was widely recognized as one of the grandfathers of pop music, Hooker remained a little in awe of his own success, telling The Times of London, "People say I'm a genius but I don't know about that."
"John Lee's power and influence in the world of rock, R&B, jazz and blues are a legacy that will never die," artist Bonnie Raitt said. "Getting to know and work with him these last 30 years has truly been one of the great joys of my life."
Among those whose music drew heavily on Hooker's style are Raitt, Van Morrison, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen and ZZ Top. In 1961, the then-unknown Rolling Stones opened for him on a European tour; he also shared a bill that year with Bob Dylan at a club in New York City.
Like many postwar bluesmen, Hooker got cheated by one fly-by-night record producer after another, who demanded exclusivity or didn't pay. Hooker fought back by recording with rival producers under a slew of different names: Texas Slim, John Lee Booker, John Lee Cocker, Delta John, Birmingham Sam and the Boogie Man, among others.
Hooker's popularity grew steadily as he rode the wave of rock in the '50s into the folk boom of the '60s. He hit it big again in 1990 with his album "The Healer," featuring duets with Santana, Raitt and Robert Cray. It sold 1.5 million copies and won him his first Grammy Award, for a duet with Raitt on "I'm in the Mood."
In 1991, Hooker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Last year at the Grammys, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award.
In his later years, Hooker lay back and enjoyed his success. He recorded only occasionally; he posed for blue jeans and hard liquor ads. He played benefits occasionally, but mostly performed in small clubs, dropping in unannounced.
Hooker is survived by eight children, 19 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren.
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