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Friday, 22 June, 2001, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
Boom Boom beat goes on
Staff member Wendy and regular
Wendy and "Fly" feel Hooker's loss
From John Lee Hooker's famous Boom Boom Room club in San Francisco, Maggie Shiels reports on the reaction to the death of the legendary bluesman.

The endless boogie of John Lee Hooker has come to a quiet close after the legendary bluesman died in his sleep at his Los Altos home in Northern California.

At John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom Room, his world famous club in San Francisco, staff and locals remained in shock at his sudden passing.

"We are playing nothing but John Lee Hooker in the Boom Boom as a mark of respect," said barmaid Wendy Castillo.


He's gonna be missed and hearing his music is the best

Bar regular "Fly"

For regulars like Samuel James "Fly", the gravely voice and the sounds of his guitar echoing from the jukebox seemed to act like a salve.

"I was shocked. We all have to go sometime but this shocked me. He's gonna be missed and hearing his music is the best."

Indeed, John Lee Hooker himself sang in his 1989 classic The Healer: "The blues is a healer, all over the world." And the singer himself declared: "It healed me, it can heal you. The blues can heal you."

'Harlem'

For those looking for some healing in the wake of the singer's death, the Boom Boom Room was the place to be.

The Boom Boom Room i
The Boom Boom Room is named after a Hooker hit

"Fly" describes it as a place anyone would want to be at both the best of times and, like this, the worst.

"It's the atmosphere, that flavour that brings people out together. There's a lot of people dancing and having fun and happiness. I love it here. This is not just a club. This is a family."

Named after one of John Lee Hooker's most popular hits, the Boom Boom Room was also where he used to hang out before he bought the place.

Situated in the Filmore district of San Francisco, the club harks back to a time that has all but been erased from the collective memory of the area.

Filmore was one of the pre-eminent places where jazz and blues ruled. With over 50 clubs in the district, it was once known as the Harlem of the West Coast.

Today the Boom Boom Room stands as a pale reminder of that rich past.

Manager Alex will try to buoy spirits
Manager Alex will try to buoy spirits

"John wanted to save this place because it was going the way of many other places into a sports bar," explains club manager Alex Andreas.

"He really wanted to have something he could call his own, entertain his friends and get up on the stage if the spirit moved him."

At the end of the bar, the musician had his own private booth that was kept reserved at all times should the great man come in.

'Reserved'

Despite his death, barmaid Wendy Castillo went about her usual ritual of preparing this private space as she always did.

Boom Boom staff member Wendy
Wendy lights a candle to Hooker

"I'm pretty sad I will never see him here in his booth. I keep it garnished everyday with fresh flowers, a candle and a 'Reserved' sign just for him.

"It's a sad day for all of us. I think he will be sorely missed. He represents an icon of music, so to see him gone is devastating."

John Lee Hooker's links with San Francisco and the Bay area are deep rooted, buying his first house in 1970 in Gilroy, the garlic capital of the world.

But it was to San Francisco he would go to for his music fix. "He loved this city so much," explains Alex Andreas.

"And he actually did a version of I Left My Heart In San Francisco as his tribute to San Francisco and of course he did leave his heart here and we still love him."

But before the tears have a chance to flow, Alex says a party will be held at the Boom Boom Room in honour of John.

"People used to ask John Lee Hooker: 'What do you want when you die, John?'.

"And he said, in that booming voice, 'I'd like you to throw a big old party'. So that's what we're going to do. It's too early to have a memorial."

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