John Lee Hooker Jr. to heat up the Bessie Smith Strut

John Lee Hooker Jr. to heat up the Bessie Smith Strut

June 13th, 2011 by Barry Courter in Riverbend2011

Given his famous name, it might seem John Lee Hooker Jr. was born to play the blues. Being the son of a legend can open some doors, and it can bring with it some demons as well.

The younger Hooker has fought those demons - drugs, alcohol, divorce, even prison - and today he appears to be past that and is spending his days making music.

"It keeps me busy," he said in a telephone interview.

"I'm always thinking and trying to innovate and be creative. I always try to put messages into my music. My music keeps me happy, and I want to share that."

Touring comes with another benefit he appreciates.

"It keeps me in shape," he said. "I like to look nice for the people, so I'm always in the gym. You have to be in shape."

Hooker will play tonight on the Bessie Smith Heritage Hall Stage at 7:30.

Born in 1956, Hooker traveled with his father as a young boy and early teenager. He actually performed with him on occasion, but temptations diverted his musical career. Friends and family stuck by him, however, and in 2004, he released "Blues With a Vengeance." It earned him a Grammy nomination for Traditional Blues Album and a nomination for a W.C. Handy Award for Best New Artist Debut.

It also earned him the opportunity to tour with the likes of ZZ Top, Taj Mahal, Koko Taylor, Etta James and Bo Diddley.

Hooker is working on his next album, which he described as "raw, down-to-earth blues that is current and modern."

"I'm talking about a lot of current events," he said. "It's going to be good with some jazz stuff mixed in."

He said some of the songs he has written are based on mistakes - his own and others who should know better, like politicians.

"It has a teaching element in it as well," he said of the album. "There are always two roads. There is the path of destruction, and there is following the law."