Following in father’s footsteps
I have to pinch myself that I’m talking to Zakiya Hooker, daughter of John Lee Hooker — yes, the John Lee Hooker, the American music pioneer who forged a new style of urban electric blues.
So, I try to ask casually, what was it like to grow up with such an influential music giant? Her delightful answer offers a peek into the post-war home of a man who later received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
“My father was a baseball fan so, when baseball wasn’t going, there was music,” she recalled. “Baseball was his passion. He loved the LA Dodgers. Now, back in the day, I didn’t pay any attention to it because I hated baseball because we were forced to watch it. We only had one TV and he was the boss of that TV.”
Zakiya was the third of eight children born to Hooker. She has a brother, John Lee Hooker Jr., who once played the blues professionally but has since turned his attention to being a minister.
Now, Zakiya is the only sibling to follow in her father’s footsteps and she has her husband, Chris James — not her dad — to thank for that.
She met James in Oakland, Cali., in 1987, while on a night out with friends. Zakiya struck a friendship with the musician, who in the 1960s and ‘70s had an R&B group called The Natural Four. James had also played with Curtis Mayfield for seven years and performed with Earth, Wind and Fire, The Temptations and Kool and the Gang, among others.
At the time, Zakiya worked as a jury manager for the Superior Court of California in Oakland, a job she held for 28 years. “I loved it because I loved working with the people,” she remembered, “but after awhile I burned out and I realized it was time to go.”
James’ passion for music inspired her dig deep into her roots and enter the business with her husband full time.
John Lee Hooker didn’t like it one bit. He told her the music scene was a hard place and “not for women. He was kind of scared that his baby girl would be in there but he finally came around when Chris presented it to him.”
Zakiya made her debut performance in 1991 with her dad at the Kaiser Center Theatre in Oakland, the same year she released her first album.
Since then, she has sung with legends like Etta James, Charles Brown, John Hammond and Taj Mahal.
These days, Zakiya has a busy touring life with James. They have played at the world-famous Filmore Auditorium, the San Francisco Blues Festival and the Monterey Jazz & Blues Festival. Her voice can also be heard on ads for Lexus and AIWA and on the Chalk soundtrack.
This summer, the couple toured Croatia, Slovenia, Germany and Austria, and last month, they performed at the Mission Folk Festival and the Dream Cafe in Penticton.
August started with gigs at Big Al’s House of Blues in Edmonton and, on Saturday, the pair will be in Coquitlam to close the Evergreen Cultural Centre’s Music on the Grill summer series.
Zakiya promises an enjoyable show for her Tri-City crowd, tracing the roots of the blues and giving a lesson in American music history.
She will begin with “old acoustics” such as tunes from Lead Belly and play traditional American folk songs like In the Pines, Ain’t It a Shame and See See Rider. James will follow with an R&B set before Zakiya returns to the stage to sing some contemporary blues renditions.
She will be joined by a band that includes two Metro Vancouver musicians plus a guitarist from Buenos Aires.
Still, while she likes being on the road to spread the blues gospel, the great-grandmother said she would prefer to be back in Georgia.
“I don’t like travelling so much because I’m a home body. Put me in the backyard with some flowers and my dogs and I’m fine.”
• Tickets to see Zakiya Hooker and Chris James on Saturday, Aug. 9 are $52 for the BBQ and concert, or $32 for the concert only. Pre-show entertainment will be served up by Vancouver singer/songwriter Jessica Zraly. Call the Evergreen Cultural Centre (1205 Pinetree Way, Coquitlam) at 604-927-6555 or visit online at evergreenculturalcentre.ca.