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They Call Me Mr. Lucky
Not all Boogie Men are bad. Me, John Lee, and the power of good luck.
Some people are born under a bad sign. Some people are born for good luck. Some people don’t have no luck at all1
No luck at all. That’s exactly how I felt as I took the first swallow of my last beer. I’d been sitting on the same stool, staring dead-eyed into the mirror behind the bar, bending my elbow for almost three hours. My luck had already run out, and now my wallet was empty, too. Was I jinxed or cursed? Which is worse? Damned if I know. Whichever it is, I was it.
Last call. Last sip. Time to go. I was leaving when a man appeared and dropped himself on the stool beside me. That was odd. There were at least three empty seats to my left and right. He took off his sunglasses and laid them on the bar. He ordered himself two shots, one bourbon, and one scotch. He asked the bartender to pour me a beer.
He pulled a gold coin out of his pocket, propped it on its edge, and gave it a spin. It rotated in place for a while until it slowed to a stop and rested flat on the bar. He sat in silence while repeatedly tapping his foot on the brass rail at the foot of the bar. It was apparent something was on his mind. I shot him a glance and hung there to see what he’d do. He turned his head, looked at me, touched the brim of his hat, and nodded. Then he spoke.
The man introduced himself as Mr. Lucky. He said that he had been watching me for some time. I wasn’t sure what to say. I was intrigued but suspicious of his motive. Mr. Lucky kept talking. He said he knew I was feeling lowdown like the universe had it in for me. He called bullshit.
He said he was in the luck business, and he knew it intimately. He told me I had it all wrong. He said luck could not be relied upon or controlled, but rather it is a force that ebbed and flowed like the tides. He said that if I wanted luck to be a positive force in my life, he could help me. But I had to give in and hand over the reigns.
So I did.
John Lee Booker, Texas Slim, Birmingham Sam & His Magic Guitar, Delta John, Johnny Lee, John Lee Booker T., Johnny Williams, and John Lee Cooker. The Boogie Man. The King of the Boogie. The Hook.
It wasn’t uncommon in the early days of the recording industry for blues musicians to use pseudonyms when recording for different record labels. This was often done to avoid contractual obligations or to avoid having competing records released under the same name. You have a hit on one label, take it to another, re-record it, and use a different name. Rinse, repeat.
No matter what name he recorded under, you always knew it was John Lee. No mistaking his guitar sound. No mistaking his growl. No mistaking the signature statement of his right foot slapping a plank of wood and sounding like steady canon fire, keeping time to countless boogie riffs and one-note guitar vamps.
There was no mistaking his character, either. John Lee was well thought of by his peers and the musicians he influenced. He was known for his humility and down-to-earth personality. He was a fiercely independent artist who didn't conform to the expectations of record labels or other industry standards. He was revered for his kindness and generosity toward other musicians.
John Lee also knew what it was to be fortunate and never took it for granted. His hardscrabble life in Mississippi became too much, and he ran away from home at age 14. He traveled from city to city, working in factories and steel mills until finally landing in Detroit in 1943. Five years later, he decided to record a demo of the first song he ever wrote, “Boogie Chillen.” It sold over a million copies and catapulted him into blue lore. Apparently, luck was on his side.
Luck has always been friend, foe, and fodder to blues musicians. From deep in the Delta and Texas up to Chicago and Detroit, luck has either been a hell-hound on people’s trails or a mojo hand used to summon good fortune.
Like misery, bad luck likes company. Bad luck songs reflect the struggles and hardships people faced when they experienced a run of bad luck or if they were “born with it.” People feeling pain find solace and community in such songs.
The blues can be hard-times music. The singer connects with the audience, letting them know he feels their pain. Most often, he’s telling stories about not having any money, that his woman has done him wrong, or the devil has it in for him. These songs tend to convey a sense of resignation or acceptance of one's fate.
And while there are blues songs about good luck, there aren’t as many about good as bad, and they aren’t as widely known or covered. Those with a good luck vibe show another side of the blues - a side I like a lot. Despite life’s headwinds, good luck songs showcase the emotional power and resilience of the blues, like John Lee Hooker’s “Mr. Lucky.”
🎵 They call me Mr. Lucky
Bad luck don't follow me
They call me Mr. Lucky
Bad luck don't follow me
Everything I touches turn to gold
That mean I can't do no wrong🎵
These good luck songs acknowledge luck's role in life and highlight the power of good fortune to change one's fate. These good luck songs provide a sense of hope and possibility under challenging circumstances. They encourage perseverance, hard work, and personal agency in achieving “a way out” of a bad scene and making a better life for one's self.
🎵 I woke early one mornin'
Mr. Lucky, standin' by my bed
I woke early one mornin'
Mr. Lucky, standin' by my bed
I listened to him real closely
This is what he said 🎵
“Mr. Lucky” isn’t one of John Lee’s most famous songs but is one of my favorites. In this song, Luck is a force of good. It’s innate in John Lee. He was born to go forth and conquer. Bad luck be damned. He woke up one morning, and someone named Mr. Lucky stood over him, ready to confirm that John Lee was destined to be lucky, too.
🎵You was born for good luck, Johnny.
Bad luck can't do you no harm.
You was born for good luck.
Bad luck can't do you no harm.
Keep your black cat bone and a mojo hand.
I guarantee you'll never go wrong 🎵
Confession time. Whenever I hear that verse, in my mind, I substitute “Juddy” for “Johnny.” Silly? Yes. Empowering? Hell yes. I feel ten feet tall when I listen to it that way. I’ve always identified with this song because of John Lee’s cocksure message. And to be honest, I believe I was born for good luck. Good luck has been a part of my life for as long as I can recall. I’ll save the stories for future entries, but there are many.
The story of how I met my wife because of a Tom Petty concert.
The time I went to work one day to quit, and before I could, I got laid off. And because of how I was laid off, it triggered a substantial financial windfall.
And then there was when I lived in London and went to a Ronnie Wood gig by myself. Somehow, I ended up at the after-party talking with him for twenty-five minutes about obscure music artists.
The list goes on and on.
I tend to be in the right place at the right time. Some people seem to have all the luck in the world, while others struggle to catch a break. Does luck even exist? I don’t know. I like to think so. They say you make your own luck. If that’s the case, I’m a master craftsman.
Mr. Lucky took me under his wing and taught me the ancient lessons of luck and resilience. I learned how to recognize opportunities when they presented themselves and how to take calculated risks to achieve my goals.
I spent years learning from him. I practiced his teaching. I studied the tides. Over time, my luck began to change for the better. I always remembered what he taught me. I remained humble and grateful, constantly aware that luck could turn at any moment if I weren’t careful.
When our time ended, Mr. Lucky disappeared as abruptly as he entered my life. Before he left, he had a few last lessons left to share.
He said that some people believe in the power of luck, while others view it as nothing more than wives’ tales. That’s what makes it unique - the duality of it. It is a force that can elevate and devastate individuals, creating moments of triumph and tragedy that define a person's life.
Mr. Lucky said it was important to remember that we can shape our lives through our choices, decisions, actions, and attitudes. We can control these things, and we should accept accountability for them. But when we dare to embrace luck’s wild and unpredictable nature and take risks worth taking, we allow ourselves to be receptive to new experiences, people, and ideas that can enrich our lives in ways we never imagined.
He said always be open to luck. Why? When we believe that luck is on our side, we approach new challenges with optimism and resilience. We take risks, try new things, and are open to change, knowing that luck is riding shotgun. And when bad luck rears its head, positive energy is its worst enemy.
The last thing he said may have been his most meaningful lesson. Being open to luck can also help us cultivate a sense of gratitude and humility. When we acknowledge that luck plays a role in our lives, we accept that our successes are not entirely of our own making. This realization can help us appreciate the people and circumstances that have helped us along the way and inspire us to give back and help others, leading to a more purposeful and meaningful life.
And with that, our time together had come to an end. He said it was time for him to go away. Permanently.
He took a step closer to me and reached into his pocket. He pulled out his gold coin, flipped it into the air between us, stood motionless, arms by his side, and looked me in the eyes.
I snatched the coin out of the air as it descended. Mr. Lucky told me a story.
“One day, I awoke to find a man standing over me. He told me it was my turn. He said the world’s luck doesn’t run out because there are custodians of luck who continue to spread it and share it with those who deserve it. Some folks get the good; some folks get the bad. And some are born for it. They’re born for good luck, and bad luck can’t do them no harm. I was one of them, and you are too. And now I must give you the mantle. It’s your turn now.”
When he finished, Mr. Lucky exhaled. It was a deep and satisfying exhale. He looked happy. I had a feeling I knew what would happen next. Mr. Lucky took another step closer, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “Judd, it’s your turn now.”
I didn’t pull away. I stood there looking at Mr. Lucky, smiling. I wanted this. I wanted the responsibility of being a positive force in people’s lives, to give them the gifts of optimism and possibility. I wanted to encourage people to dig deeper to understand who they are, take risks, and challenge themselves. I wanted to reward them with the occasional and serendipitous glimmer of good fortune when they needed it most. I wanted to bring them luck.
I asked my friend, “Will I ever see you again?”
“No. It is time for me to leave. But you won’t forget me because you will carry my name. It comes with the gig.”
A feeling of calm came over me. I understood why, and I didn’t refute him. I nodded in agreement and put out my hand as he raised his to meet mine. As we shook, I asked him, “Well then, what do I call you now?”
“You can call me John.”
With that, he gave me a wink, turned, and walked away.
A few years later…
I was sitting in the same bar where I used to drown my sorrows. A man was sitting next to me, doing his best to drown what was troubling him. He seemed broken. I’d seen this many times before. He was obviously down on his luck.
We traded glances. I nodded and said hello. I reached into the breast pocket of my denim shirt and pulled out my gold coin. I propped it up on its side and gave it a spin. He watched the coin spin until it came to rest on the bar. He looked up from his beer and introduced himself.
“Nice to meet you,” I replied.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
I looked at him and grinned.
“They call me Mr. Lucky.”
Thanks for being part of my writing experiment. I haven’t written fables or fiction before. Not sure if that worked, but what the hell. If it didn’t… better luck next time.
When I created the playlist that spurred Their Music is My Life, “Mr. Lucky” was one of the first songs I included. The playlist used to be called Mr. Lucky’s Greatest Hits.
John Lee is my favorite bluesman and one of my top five fave rave artists of all time. I’ve been listening to John Lee since I went deep on the blues as a young kid. He always stood out as an iconoclast of the blues to me. He had a style all his own. It was primal, rhythm-heavy, and sparse but not lacking depth in any way whatsoever. He could sound moody, and he could sound rowdy. He always sounded badass, a stone-cold mother fucking badass.
A lot of legendary bluesmen seemed to be part of a lineage. Muddy learned from Son House. Wolf learned from Charley Patton. John Lee didn’t sound like anyone else. His sound was his own invention. Damn, it’s too hard to put into words. That’s not a copout. That’s a compliment.
Don’t listen to me. Listen to the man himself. Check out the differences in each of these signature tunes and notice how distinct yet similarly powerful they all are.
In the backend of substack I can see how many times people click on the links I included in each entry. I’m watching. You better click on this shit. Carve out some time, pour a drink, and lean back. You won’t be sorry if you do.
“I don't play a lot of fancy guitar. I don't want to play it. The kind of guitar I want to play is mean, mean licks.” - John Lee Hooker
This song has three instruments: John Lee’s growl, guitar, and right foot. At 1:57, he plays this one-note guitar solo better than any fast-fingered Clapton disciple (or even Clapton himself) could ever hope to play. It’s my second favorite guitar solo of all time.
“You can’t go no deeper than me and my guitar. I open my mouth, and it’s there. I get so deep the teardrops come into my eyes. That’s why I wear my dark glasses – so you won’t see the teardrops” - John Lee Hooker
In a totally different way, he’s just as jarring, but this time, he is menacing with his told-you-so lyrics, hypnotizing rhythm, and emotive guitar work. I love this damn song - a slow, smoldering burn.
“I don't like no fancy chords. Just the boogie. The drive. The feeling. A lot of people play fancy, but they don't have no style. It's a deep feeling–you just can't stop listening to that sad blues sound.” -John Lee Hooker
A father and his sons. In 1989 the Stones ended their tour with a star-studded finale in Atlantic City, NJ. I wanted you to see this, to experience it. Check it out. You have The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton backing up John Lee Hooker playing one of his most famous songs, one of the blues’ most famous songs, “Boogie Chillen.”
This is happening in front of tens of thousands of people. Watch John Lee at 2:37. He struts. He is playing his signature sound - so simple, so resonant - with Clapton, Keith, and Ronnie Wood in the background backing him up. They love it! John Lee fucking owns the entire stadium and every musician on stage with him.