4 min readJohn Lee Hooker – Boom Boom (1961)

Boom Boom by John Lee Hooker 1962

 

Prior to recording for Vee-Jay Records, John Lee Hooker was primarily a solo performer or accompanied by a second guitarist, such as early collaborators Eddie Burns or Eddie Kirkland. However, with Vee-Jay, he usually recorded with a small backing band, as heard on the singles “Dimples”, “I Love You Honey”, and “No Shoes”. Detroit pianist Joe Hunter, who had previously worked with Hooker, was again enlisted for the recording session. Hunter brought with him “the cream of the Motown label’s session men, later known as the Funk Brothers”: bassist James Jamerson, drummer Benny Benjamin, plus guitarist Larry Veeder, tenor saxophonist Hank Cosby, and baritone saxophonist Andrew “Mike” Terry. They have been described as “just the right band” for “Boom Boom”. Hooker had a unique sense of timing, which demanded “big-eared sidemen”.

Even playing solo, John Lee shows why this song has become a Blues-Rock standard.

John Lee Hooker: Boom boom

 

Hooker told Bruce Pollock how the song originated:

I used to play at this place called the Apex Bar in Detroit. There was a young lady there named Luilla. She was a bartender there. I would come in there at night and I’d never be on time. Every night the band would beat me there. Sometimes they’d be on the bandstand playing by the time I got there. I’d always be late and whenever I’d come in she’d point at me and say, ‘Boom Boom, you’re late again.’ And she kept saying that. It dawned on me that that was a good name for a song. Then one night she said, ‘Boom boom, I’m gonna shoot you down.’ She gave me a song but she didn’t know it.

I took that thing and I hummed it all the way home from the bar. At night I went to bed and I was still thinking of it. I got up the next day and put one and one together, two and two together, trying to piece it out – taking things out, putting things in. I finally got it down right, got it together, got it down in my head. Then I went and sang it, and everybody went, Wow! Then I didn’t do it no more, not in the bar. I figured somebody would grab it before I got it copyrighted. So I sent it to Washington, D.C., the Library of Congress, and I got it copyrighted. After I got it copyrighted I could do it in the bar. So then if anybody got the idea to do it I had them by the neck, because I had it copyrighted. About two months later I recorded it. I was on Vee-Jay then. And the record shot straight to the top. Then, after I did it, the Animals turned around and did it. That barmaid felt pretty good. She went around telling everybody I got John Lee to write that song. I gave her some bread for it, too, so she was pretty happy.

The song is one of Hooker’s most identifiable and enduring and “among the tunes that every band on the early 1960s UK R&B circuit simply had to play”. Just three years after Hooker released “Boom Boom,” it got swept up in the British Invasion when London rockers the Animals took it on. Their version reached an audience that might never have heard Mississippi-born bluesmen like Hooker, and it helped cement the song’s place as a blues-rock classic.

Boom Boom - The Animals

 

“Boom Boom” was the first studio recording by Eric Clapton, who recorded it as a demo with the Yardbirds in 1963, and which was released as a single in the Netherlands and Germany in 1966.

Boom Boom-Yardbirds (Clapton)

 

When “Boom Boom” was released by Hooker as a single in May 1962, the song became a hit. It entered the Billboard R&B chart on June 16, 1962, where it spent eight weeks and reached number 16. The song also entered the Billboard Hot 100, where it reached number 60, making it one of only two Hooker singles to enter the pop chart. It was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of “The Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”. It was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 2009 in the “Classics of Blues Recording” category. A Detroit Free Press poll in 2016 ranked the song at number 37 in “Detroit’s 100 Greatest Songs”.

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