Lightnin' Hopkins / March 15, 1912 - Jan 30, 1982

Here's a birthday shout-out to Sam "Lightnin" Hopkins, the influential blues great from Texas. He played both electric and acoustic guitars, but his first instrument was a home-made cigar-box "guitar" with chicken wire for strings. He was boogieing from the '20s (although didn't record until '46) until the '80s, mostly in Texas until 1960 when he played at Carnegie Hall for an integrated audience for the first time. (Pete Seeger and Joan Baez were also on the bill). In the period between he worked with his cousin Texas Alexander and even played with Blind Lemon Jefferson on at least one occasion.

He found himself incarcerated for a while in the '30s, before his career really got going. He then went to Los Angeles and cut his first sides in '46 and had some chart hits in the early '50s but rarely played outside of Texas, where he was quite prolific and immensely popular in the gin-joints. Folkways recorded him in his apartment for a solo album, released in '59, right around the time when the folk revival brought new interest. From there on he found himself playing universities and folk coffeehouses and touring nationally and internationally.

He cut some widely regarded albums in the '60s (Mojo Hand, Blues In My Bottle, etc) for labels like World Pacific, Prestige, Candid, Arhoolie, Imperial and others. He cut Free Form Patterns in '68 with the members of the 13th Floor Elevators as his backing band. He opened some shows for the Grateful Dead and was the subject of a 1970 documentary by Les Blank. A car accident that year limited his touring schedule for awhile but his reputation as an influential bluesman was already cemented, and he did tour Japan in the late '70s.

He was an entertaining singer and his guitar playing inspired many rockers. He usually played either solo or with a rhythm section but was most affecting unaccompanied as he played like a one-man-band. Cancer took him in '82.

From The Blues Accordin' To Lightnin' Hopkins, a film by Les Blank:

From 1962's Mojo Hand:

And here's Lightnin's Folkways album from '59:

Older Post Newer Post

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published