Was it really John Lee Hooker’s joint?

John Lee Hooker's red leather booth at the Boom Boom Room is still reserved only for him.

So did swashbuckling blues guitarist John Lee Hooker really own the Boom Boom Room as a side gig? If you believe the sign above the door, he did. And if you listen to the current owner, Alexander Andreas, he did.

But don’t bet your booty on it.

Fillmore jazz genealogists Elizabeth Pepin and Lewis Watts, authors of  Harlem of the West, say the bar opened in 1933 as Jack’s Tavern and was originally located at 1931 Sutter Street. It was one of the first nightclubs in the neighborhood to cater to African Americans. It was also called Jack’s of Sutter and the New Jack’s Lounge in days gone by.

In 1988, Jack’s Tavern moved to its current spot at 1601 Fillmore, hard by the Geary bridge. A year later, Alexander Andreas — born and raised just off Fillmore and a wannabe filmmaker — landed a bartending job there.

A Marquette University grad, he used to trek during college from Milwaukee to Chicago to hang out at the city’s blues bars and jazz clubs. But his bartending gig at Jack’s quickly proved he would rather be an owner than sling pints and shots. “I was also doing production coordination for TV commercials,” he says, “but if I asked my boss at Jack’s for a day off, he’d give me a permanent vacation.”

Andreas met the legendary John Lee Hooker in 1990.

“It was just after he cut a single with Bonnie Raitt and he walked in the front door with his small entourage — a couple young girls and his driver. John Lee was enjoying himself and I told the doorman to make sure no one bothered him,” he says.

The Jackie Ivory Quartet — which had opened for Junior Walker and the All-Stars — was Jack’s Tavern’s house band. Hooker and his ladies came in every weekend to watch them perform. Andreas saw that the group got the best seats and strong drinks quickly served. “He always dressed in sharkskin suits and wore a Homburg hat,” Andreas recalls.

An unabashed fan who was quickly becoming a groupie, Andreas went to Foster City to catch a Hooker show and the guitarist spotted him.

“You want to come to my shows?” Hooker asked. “Fine, you can carry my guitar.”

He did, carrying the case to every Hooker performance at many venues in the Bay Area. “It was cool. I was part of his entourage,” Andreas says now.

Meantime, Andreas says, the owner of Jack’s Tavern was gutting the club, getting rid of the dance floor, extending the bar. “He was trying to make it a beer bar with 50 taps and an Irish balladeer standing on a soap box. It was just gaudy and tacky, with lots of neon signs from Budweiser and Coors,” he says. “Plus, he was kicking out all the old-timers like Mashed Potato George, Big Earl and Trumpet.”

Disgusted, Andreas quit and looked around for a place of his own. After 18 months of searching the city, he heard Jack’s Tavern’s owner owed back rent and couldn’t get his lease renewed.

Andreas rustled up the money, went around his old boss to the landlord and won the lease. But Jack’s Tavern was by then a tired and tainted name. The new proprietor remembered that Hooker had recorded a song called “Boom, Boom.” Suddenly, Andreas had a name — the Boom Boom Room.

But he needed a partner, preferably one with visibility. “I went to John Lee and said, ‘Wouldn’t you like to have your own club?’ And his answer was, ‘Hell, yes, I would.’ But his business manager shot me down, saying, ‘Suppose someone slips, falls and sues. Hooker would be liable and it could besmirch his name.’ ”

Andreas, whose father is a lawyer, came up with a canny solution. They would use John Lee Hooker’s name and likeness, but he wouldn’t actually invest a dime.

The celebrated guitarist was thrilled. He had his own club with all the perks of ownership — a private booth, fine bourbons — but none of the perils and problems of running a club. Andreas in turn netted plenty of promotional capital that’s still paying dividends today, nearly a decade after John Lee Hooker died.

— Chris Barnett

Photographs by Susie Biehler