John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” has everything that makes his music so compelling. To quote from another of his classics “Boogie Chillun”:
One night I was layin’ down /
I heard mama and papa talkin’ /
I heard papa tell mama let that boy boogie-woogie /
It’s in him and it got to come out
Listen to “Boom Boom” and there’s no doubt that it was in him.
The song follows a familiar 12-bar blues pattern, with a traditional blues structure:
First couplet, four bars on the 1 chord
Second couplet: two bars on the 4 chord and back to 2 bars of 1
Third (resolving) couplet: two bars on the 5 (dominant) chord to point us home, and two final bars on the tonic, 1.
Boom / boom / boom / boom
1 2 3 4 1 (riff) 2 3 4
Notice the call-and-response between Hooker’s guitar in the intro and the rest of the band. When he begins to sing, he joins the band in playing the “answer” to his vocal, entering on the second beat of a full-bar pickup.
The song has been recorded many times, usually in the key of E. But Hooker’s 1961 original is in the key of F, giving us access to some cool blues licks that best of all can be easily moved into any other key. The notes come straight from the F minor pentatonic scale:
Check out the opening lick below. One of the key stylistic details is the use of quick slides to set up a note: notice the opening slide from fret 3 to fret 5 of the G string, best played with the third finger. The 3rd fret note has no time value; we treat it as a grace note, a starting point that we only hear as the beginning of the quick glide to the C at the 5th fret. Start on the “and” of 1, slide into the 5th fret, then grab the 4th fret Eb on the B string with the middle finger. When the ring finger comes back to the G string, we use the 5th fret C as the grace note this time to slide down to the third fret. Once again, the starting note has no time value. You can practice these grace note slides between any two notes of the same string; stay finger balanced on the fingertip and let the thumb glide smoothly along behind the neck. The pressure should come from your balanced fingertip, not your thumb.
The second lick uses a grace note bend: after the opening F-Ab, land the third finger of fret 3 of the G string, push it up quickly as you pluck, then release the bent string without striking it again. This is a grace note move as well, and you want to hear the note smoothly dropping back to the unbent pitch. Back up the fret hand ring finger with index and middle on the same string to add power, and move the string by turning the wrist inward, pushing the string up, and releasing back.
These two licks make up most of the part, with small variations. Lick 1 is repeated after lick 2, but ends on the 1st fret of the A string to match the move to the 4 chord Bb. Lick 2 is then repeated on the return to the 1 chord. On the 5 chord in bar eight, lick 1 is modified to match the harmony:
The final lick of the intro uses quarter-tone bends on the 1st fret Ab on the G string. You should approach this as a light pull down on the string; pulling towards the floor will raise the pitch just lick pushing it up. You don’t want to hear the pitch change much at all, just a hint of movement is enough. A small rotation of the hand inward will do the trick.
This lesson is focused on the intro; there is of course more to dig into, especially the way the intro licks are modified to join the band responses to Hooker’s vocal. But these four licks are the basis of everything you hear played. Watch the video below to see the examples played live. Have fun!