• Home

“In Their Own Words” A Weekend With The Hook

South Florida Concert Memories


We reached out to dozens of South Florida music personalities and industry veterans for their favorite South Florida concert memory. Stay tuned each month for many exciting stories! Want to share yours? E-Mail us at info@SFLMusic.com


I had always tried to catch John Lee Hooker wherever he showed up in South Florida during the 1980s.

When word got out that The Hook was coming to Musicians Exchange in Fort Lauderdale for four shows over the span of two nights on March 21st and 22nd in 1986, my buddy Hank and I immediately snatched tickets for the first show on the first night.

To say we were stoked would be understating things. Hank’s a Mississippi boy who loved the blues and John Lee every bit as much as I did. The Exchange was a magical music mecca located a few minutes away from our apartment off Dixie Highway; our favorite place to catch a show in the cozy confines of an atmosphere where you could absorb the music close enough to the stage to actually touch the performers.

And it was our guy, The Hook – with a special guest we had never heard of, a slide guitarist by the name of Roy Rogers.

John Lee’s band fronted by this slide player we had never heard of opened the show: a driving shuffle with lightning bolts sizzling from a guitar that was the size of an overgrown ukelele.

This new Roy Rogers erased all those cowboy television shows of my youth by launching himself into a moment in time that to this day remains one of the greatest performances on a guitar I have ever seen. Until last summer in Indianapolis when I sat front and center watching Derek Trucks cement his rightful place as the GOAT over and over, Roy Rogers was the absolute most astonishing guitar performance I had ever witnessed.

John Lee walked right past our table on his way to the stage, assisted by a beautiful young woman with long jet-black hair. Watching this 60-something blues shaman take his seat center stage escorted by a stunning vision who could stop traffic in Time Square was the epitome of walking magnificence.

The second he sat down John Lee owned the room. From the first note, John Lee shuffled, boogied and scorched all of us to the bone. If a voice were moaning, steamy, raw sex, The Hook had us all knocked up.

“I ‘preciates y’all,” I remember him growling. “’Cause of y’all, I gets to drive a Mercedes Benz.”

Then, just when I was ready to exit and head out to the Everglades to find a crossroads of my own, Hank said, “Let’s hang here and see if anybody kicks us out.”

No one did.

The second show was every bit as Roy Rogers-electrified, every bit as John Lee Hooker-possessed, and about 45 minutes longer. At the end of the night, his beautiful assistant spotted us and invited us to the back of the room where John Lee was seated. We talked to him for a bit, mostly us listening while he spoke in that deep, soulful growl letting us know how much he really did appreciate his fans. I still have that autographed photo to this day.

Afterwards, I ran into Musicians Exchange owner Don Cohen and told him how much we enjoyed the show, particularly Roy Rogers. Don said to come back the next night and he’d cut us a deal on tickets for the first show only. The second show, he noted, was sold out.

We had planned to see Los Lobos at a spring break show the next night, but it was an offer we couldn’t refuse. Don not only cut us a break on tickets – “Buy food and beverages and take care of the staff,” were his words – he also put us at a table at the foot of the stage directly in front of John Lee’s chair and microphone.

The Saturday night show was a repeat religious experience that ended way too soon. As the audience filed out to make way for the sold-out crowd, Hank, again, said, “Let’s hang, never know.”

This time, though, Don saw us. “I need this table,” he said. But just when I figured our luck had run its course, fate intervened in the form of a young guy and his girlfriend who had taken their seats at the table.

“You want to stay for the second show?” the stranger asked.

“I’m out of money.”

“I’ll pick up your tickets. You can sit with us.”

By the grace of the most generous act of random kindness I’ve ever experienced, we witnessed a finale to John Lee Hooker’s Musicians Exchange weekend that exploded into the outer stratosphere of epic proportions.

At the stroke of midnight, the Exchange’s front door flew open and in walked Los Lobos just in time to take the stage with John Lee’s band for an encore that blew the Pearly Gates off the musical heavens for more than an hour. One song. One jam. One final sonic John Lee Hooker blast of “Boogie Chillen.”

I couldn’t thank the stranger enough. “You, sir, are my friend for life.”

And that’s how I met Tom Craig. Now, 37 years later, I can’t think of John Lee Hooker without appreciating the brotherly friendship forged with the greatest concert photographer I’ll ever know.

Jeffrey G. Harrell’s award-winning newspaper career began in Fort Lauderdale, where he served as XS Magazine’s music columnist from 1991 to 1997, and includes 10 years as an investigative journalist covering police, crime and courts for the Staten Island Advance. Jeff also worked the drums for South Florida blues legend Junior Drinkwater & The Thirst Quenchers, and he is a songwriter and record producer with four CDS to his credit, including his self-produced “Inipi.” Jeff is the author of two book titles: “Rockne of Ages” and “As God’s Witness: The Death of Knute Rockne,” both available through Amazon. Visit his website, spiritofknute.com, and the Jeff Harrell YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCB0gQzYAmzzqU624ZceLy3Q

Share It!