Sam Lightnin’Hopkins was bornon March 15, 1912in Centerville,Texas. His brotherJoel, who was alsoa blues musician,taught him how toplay guitar.
Lightnin’ Sam Hopkins was one of Texas’s mostinfluential blues guitarists. Hopkins usually performedsolo, country style blues, as this picture shows.
Lightnin’ Style Lightnin’ Hopkins’ music had a distinctive finger picking style in which he would alternate single- note leads with rhythm and bass guitar. He also added more depth to his songs by using tapping his guitar body to make beats.
Musical QualitiesHopkins was known for his diverselyrics that featured themes such as lifein the South, sex, and troubledromance. Hopkins also incorporated comedyinto his lyrics, which I particularlyenjoyed. Lightnin’ Hopkins’ music featured atalking blues style, and his soulfulvoice added a unique energy to hismusic.
Hopkins was able to improvise lyrics for nearly anysituation that he was in, which made his musicparticularly unique. Chris Strachwitz discusses this in aninterview about Lightnin Hopkins.Here is the link to the interview video on YouTube:http://youtu.be/VW401FcAAnc
Lightnin’ Hopkins playedboth acoustic and electricguitar. He was anincredible guitarist, capableof making intricate riffsseem easy.
In 1920Hopkins metBlind LemonJefferson, alegendary bluesmusician, andwas able toplay with him.A few yearslater Hopkinsserved asJefferson’sguide andapprentice.
Lightnin’ Hopkins beganplaying with his cousinTexas Alexander while hewas a teenager, and theyperformed across EasternTexas playing at smallvenues.In the mid 1930s, Hopkinswas arrested for anunknown reason and spenttime in Houston CountyPrison Farm. When he wasfreed, he began playingwith his cousin again.
In 1946 Hopkins wasdiscovered by a talentscout for AladdinRecords in Houston,Texas, and he traveledto Los Angeles,California to record hismusic. During this timehe got his nickname“Lightnin’”.He recorded with pianistWilson Smith whobecame known as“Thunder”.
During his first recording session,Lightnin’ Hopkins recorded “Katie MaeBlues” which became his first regional hit,along with other titles. Hopkins continuedto record for the rest of his musical career,recording nearly 1,000 songs for 20labels. Because of this, Hopkins waspossibly the most recorded blues
Hopkins would generallydemand the full paymentbefore he would recordany of his songs, andwould only record onetake of the song.Because of hispopularity, however, thisdidn’t stop producersfrom recording him.
Lightnin’ in ActionThe following slides contain videos of the musicof Lightnin’ Hopkins, with a discussion of themusic as well.
“Katie Mae”Here is the link to the YouTube video of “KatieMae”: http://youtu.be/KAe11J6Y5wIThis song was Hopkins’ first hit, and it is obviouswhy. The song is catchy and enjoyable to listento, with Lightnin’s unique guitar style and hisauthentic blues voice. This song resemblesHopkins’ solo acoustic style, although there arequiet drums in the background.
“Mojo Hand”Here is the link to the YouTube video of “MojoHand”: http://youtu.be/W4IS0TDcYEs“Mojo Hand” sounds similar to mainstream blues,and it sounds like there are three instrumentsbeing played: guitar, drums, and bass. However,it was only Hopkins and a drummer performing.Lightnin’s deep, intricate guitar playing made allof his songs unique and fascinating to listen to.
“Lonesome Road”Here is the link to the YouTube video of“Lonesome Road”: http://youtu.be/NVF-0JKLnd4This video of “Lonesome Road” is a greatexample of Lightnin’s solo acoustic blues style.His vocals exhibit the talking blues quality, andhis intricate guitar playing is quite impressive.
“Baby Please Don’t Go”Here is the link to the YouTube video of Lightnin’performing “Baby Please Don’t Go”:http://youtu.be/d49m6G9vOrIAlthough Lightnin’ Hopkins didn’t write this song,it is still a great example of Lightnin’s style andtalent. The original version of "Baby Please DontGo" was recorded by Big Joe Williams in 1935.
“Goin Down Slow”Here is the link to the YouTube video of “GoinDown Slow”: http://youtu.be/XQQ4YTL1P1AIn “Goin Down Slow”, Hopkins talks about lifeand death, saying that “I’ve had my fun if I don’tget well no more”. This video really showsLightnin’s playing style: his thumb plays the bassnotes and his other fingers play the rest.
“Cotton”Here is the link to “Cotton”:http://youtu.be/cFN9lebEvF0“Cotton” related particularly to Hopkins’ lifebecause he grew up on a cotton farm. Referringto himself as “Ol’ Lightnin’”, and “Po’ Lightnin’” hesings about the hardships he endured pickingcotton. The electric guitar in this song wasmellow and catchy, and the simple drums in thebackground added to the effect.
“Bring Me My Shotgun”Here is the link to “Bring Me My Shotgun”:http://youtu.be/KCqEOboRctYIn this song Hopkins tells about his unfaithfulwoman, saying that “she fools around with toomany men”. The song takes on a dark tone, asLightnin’ talks about killing his unfaithful womanand throwing her in the well, but then at the endof the song decides not to. This song directlyexhibited the theme of troubled romance which ispresent in many of Lightnin’s songs.
“Shake That Thing”Here is the link to “Shake That Thing”:http://youtu.be/j2s4qfhX3RwIn this song, Lightnin’ uses comedy to talk abouta woman, saying “Whoa baby, I don’t know yourname, but I do believe (oh yeah) you can shakethat thing!” The guitar and drums then start upquickly, and this upbeat song becomes reallycatchy. Once again, it is hard to believe thatHopkins is playing guitar without a bassist: thesong sounds incredibly full with just his guitar.
"Where Lightnin Strikes"This video does a great job at showing theimpact that Lightnin’ Hopkins had on the Blues. Itis the trailer for the documentary "WhereLightnin Strikes," about the life and times ofLightnin’ Hopkins. In the video Jimmie Vaughanand B.B. King share their impressions ofHopkins.Here is the link to the video:http://youtu.be/KCqEOboRctY
Recognitions/AwardsHopkins was inducted into the Blues Hall ofFame in 1980.He is considered one of the top 100 guitarists ofall time, listed as #71 on Rolling Stones list ofthe "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time."
Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins died of cancer on January 30,1982 in Houston, Texas. Over 4,000 people attendedhis funeral.
Works CitedDahl, Bill. "Lightnin Hopkins." AllMusic. RoviCorporation. Web. 01 Nov. 2011.<http://www.allmusic.com/artist/lightnin-hopkins-p87808/biography>.Gordon, Keith A. "Sam Lightnin Hopkins - Profileof Texas Blues Legend Sam Lightnin Hopkins."About.com Blues - Blues Music News, Reviewsand History by Guide Rev. Keith A. Gordon.About.com. Web. 01 Nov. 2011.<http://blues.about.com/od/artistprofile1/p/LightninHopkins.htm>.
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