Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Flashback: Lightnin' Hopkins

Sam John "Lightnin'" Hopkins
(March 15, 1912 – January 30, 1982)

Originally hailing from Centerville, Texas and gaining a deep appreciation for Blues music and musician Blind Lemon Jefferson at a young age. Eventually, after learning how to play guitar from his cousin, Hopkins would accompany Jefferson at church functions. Jefferson supposedly never let anyone play with him except for young Hopkins, who learned much from and was influenced greatly by Blind Lemon Jefferson. Several years later Hopkins came to Houston in hopes of breaking into the music scene. During his second attempt, while singing on Dowling St. in Houston's Third Ward, he was discovered by Lola Anne Cullum from the Los Angeles based record label, Aladdin Records. She convinced Hopkins to travel to Los Angeles where he accompanied pianist Wilson Smith. The duo recorded twelve tracks in their first sessions in 1946. An Aladdin Records executive decided the pair needed more dynamism in their names and dubbed Hopkins "Lightnin'" and Wilson "Thunder".

Hopkins recorded more sides for Aladdin in 1947. He returned to Houston and began recording for the Gold Star Records label. He performed regularly at clubs in and around Houston, particularly on Dowling St. where he had first been discovered. He recorded his hits "T-Model Blues" and "Tim Moore's Farm" at Sugar Hill Recording Studios in Houston. By the mid to late 1950s his prodigious output of quality recordings had gained him a following among African Americans and blues music aficionados. It has been estimated that he recorded between 800 and 1000 songs during his career. Houston's poet-in-residence for 35 years, Hopkins recorded more albums than any other bluesman. His distinctive fingerstyle playing often included playing, in effect, bass, rhythm, lead, percussion, and vocals, all at the same time. He played both "alternating" and "monotonic" bass styles incorporating imaginative, often chromatic turnarounds and single note lead lines. Tapping or slapping the body of his guitar added rhythmic accompaniment.

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