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Check Out Elwood’s Interview with John Lee Hooker

July 21, 1993

ELWOOD: How you doing?

JLH: Oh pretty good to be getting older every day and every year. Soon have a birthday. See, well I’m looking forward to it. I am never looking forward to it, but it’s always coming. It’s something you can’t do nothing about. Happy to be, to be living to see these birthdays, you know. And the people who loves me and all over the country and the world, they, they know I got one coming. That’s really proud, I’m really proud of that. So I’m doing pretty good.

ELWOOD: Well that’s good.

JLH: For—the main thing about this, this life or this field, to me, I love people. And it shows when I play into my music. I love people and I’m a pretty humble person when it comes to that. I don’t look at how much money I got or how much success I got. I look at the people of the world who made it possible for me to be where I’m at today, you understand? And the success that they, that they give me.

I’m just always low key and loving people. I get out there. I like small honky-tonk places, the small bars, go in there and get up on the stand and sing a song or two and get myself a lite beer and get out. So I don’t, I don’t want to get in the home and hide out from people. Maybe I should, but I don’t. I want to sit there with them, you know. A lot of them be shocked and surprised to see me in these places. Oh, what is John Lee Hooker doing here? Well I mean, just like you to have some fun and some down-home blues. So that’s my life.

ELWOOD: It must be tough, too, because probably your manager or your agents, they want you to play Madison Square Garden or the Cow Palace.

JLH: Yes, it is tough, very tough. But, yes, for the money, it’s nice. But I think about the small places that I, that I come up in, you know, who brought me up in these small nightclubs and what I love so well. And the people they, and like you said, you said it right, but agents and the managers, they like you to play the big Madison Square Garden and the big money, yes, that’s true. I love it, but not as, not as much as I do the small club.

ELWOOD: So what were some of the clubs like when you were first starting, what were some of the clubs?

JLH: Well, like with the club in Detroit called Apex Bar. Wasn’t too much, about three times bigger than this room. And I loved it, and there, it’s a lot of, it’s the Apex Bar and place in Detroit there called the Black and Tan, had a lot of fun, small club. Stuff like that. And then when I got to be real famous and real big, I don’t play in clubs anymore, but my heart’s still there. And I be glad to get a chance, when I ain’t working, you know, get in my car and go to funky places. I will sit and have myself a beer and get the feeling and jump up on the bandstand, grab the mike and start singing, you know. Everybody gather around, aaaahhh. I like that.

ELWOOD: Yes. It’s real honest music, too. There’s no, you know, there’s no nonsense.

JLH: Oh, it’s real honest music. I go down to see so many blues singers in so many places. They ain’t making much money but they’re having fun. And, and I want to have fun with them, you know. Anyway I can reach out and get them by the hand, I’ll do it, you know. If I can give them a hand, I give them a helping hand, help them up to here like where I’m at, I’ll do it. I’ll be glad to do it. And I enjoy doing benefits, when it’s for the right thing, you know.

So many of them going on now you never know which is the right thing or not. You don’t know what they’re doing with the money. There’s so many of them going on. But I still like to reach out and get people, you know, that really need.

ELWOOD: Who are some of the people who helped you along the way?

JLH: Well the first person that really helped me, which don’t get any credit, but the best one gets all the credit but he shouldn’t get it. A guy in Detroit called Elmer Barber, 609 East Lafayette Street in Detroit. He’s the one that discovered me. He had a little old record shop there, down Lafayette and Senewa in Detroit. But anyway, I used to go to his shop at night. At day, every night I had a little job working, you know. And he had this little record shop. He would record records and stuff, blanks downstairs. They didn’t have tapes. They had these blanks, you know.

And I would go down, he’d take me there. He heard me, said, Oh kid, you got a voice. And he would take me there and record me and we sit down there, would eat and drink wine till about two or three o’clock in the morning. But every night, and I would sleep during the day whenever I wasn’t working, something like that. And sometime I had to work, too. And he is the one that really discovered me.

Then he brought me to Bunny Bessman on Woodward Avenue. They had a big, big record store, they did. Kind of like Tower Records, you know? And he had a little label called Sensation label. I walked in there, he came in there and they heard me, you know. They said, Oh kid. Said hey brother, where you find him and brought me. Oh, this is my talent. And he turned me over to Bunny.

And, and all these songs that I wrote, he had this little label put on his label, Sensation label, and he would tell people that he wrote the song, but you know, he never wrote a song. And he, you look on all of his, the records, you may see his name on a lot of them. I, you know, we won’t go there. But he did not discover me, but he made the way for me after Barber, Barber, you know, got me going. He’s the one that got me on Modern Record, the big label. Made me known after he got, after Barber, turned him over to me after Barber discovered me and turned me over to him. So he’s the one put the hype to me, to the big labels and like Modern Records and stuff like that. His label couldn’t handle Boogie Chillen. You might, you may, you heard of Boogie Chillen. It was a big one.

So I recorded it on Sensation label. And he released me out to Modern Records. But he had a small label and Modern had this big, big label. So that’s, then he, he claimed he wrote that, he didn’t. But he, that’s how I started out working for little plants in Detroit, little bars and going to what I grew up with, and loved so much which I do now.

I raised my family in Detroit and when I first come to Detroit I wasn’t married, come at a very young age. Then got married then, all my children was born in Detroit, grew up there. And I see the hard times and the good times that all are right there, and I come up the hard way. And I know what the hard way is. I know what it’s like to scuffle, coming through the hard times and getting into the big times and a big star. I know how to cope with it and I know what it’s like being, coming up in it the hard way. And I don’t forget that. And I don’t leave it behind. That’s always in the back of my mind, what you have to come through, most of them. It wasn’t handed to me on a silver platter. I got it through the hard times.

Now I have learned to appreciate that and to live with that. I won’t forget my roots, I don’t care who tried to get me to leave my roots behind and go be a superstar which they say I am, I don’t know. Or that’s fine, but I’m not going to leave that behind. I’m going to always stick to my roots, which I love the blues so much. Every day, every night when I lay down in my bed, I’m, I’m sometime I’ll be humming it in my sleep, tune that comes to me and people who I love.

I reach out and get people and I let them, just take them in and just, I give away so much to the people, I mean money-wise here, trying to help, you know, which are the poor people that who really needs it. You look at the people in the streets, sleeping in the streets, hard time. I wonder why these people have to do that. There were more people like me, we could get out and reach out there and get those people, I don’t think it would be, it would be a better world.

But I can’t save the world, but I can, I say I can be John Lee Hooker, not forget about the people, the poor people and the people that go out there and buy my records that work five days a week they work in the plants and the fields from buying John Lee Hooker’s records. And they is part of me, just as much as me. Wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here. And that’s the reason I love people to death. Ain’t nobody going to change me from not doing that.