1950’s Blues


Show Notes:

West Coast blues (California blues specifically) has never gotten anywhere near the attention of Chicago blues or say Delta blues, but has been home to many leading blues performers. While the West Coast still has a thriving blues scene the scene was in it's heyday in the 1940's and 50's with most of the activity centering around the Los Angeles, Richmond, Oakland and San Francisco Bay areas. There's not much of a prewar Californian blues tradition, which is likely due to the fact that the African-American communities weren't very large in the beginning of the 20th century. The Black population swelled in the 1940s, due to large manpower needs to work in the U.S. defense industry during World War II. These new arrivals needed entertainment, of course, and the local jazz and blues club scene heated up quickly. There was a host of labels recording blues and R&B in Los Angeles in the 1940s including Specialty, Imperial, Aladdin, and the umbrella of labels run by the Bihari brothers RPM/Modern/Kent/Flair/Crown were the most notable. Bob Geddins was a key player who operated numerous small labels like Down Town, Big Town, Irma, and others. May of these sides were leased to larger outfits like Chess, Specialty, Modern and others.

The towering figure of West Coast blues was Texas born guitarist T-Bone Walker. Walker was a key figure in the electrification and urbanization of the blues, probably doing more to popularize the use of electric guitar in the form than anyone else. Much of his material had a distinct jazzy jump blues feel, an influence that would characterize much of the blues to emerge from California in the 1940s and 1950s. Among those who were influenced by Walker were B.B. King, Gatemouth Brown, Johnny "Guitar" Watson and West Coast guitar hero Lafayette Thomas who we profiled last year. Add that list Louisiana born Pete "Guitar" Lewis, Oklahoma born Jimmy Nolen, Chuck Norris, Pee Wee Crayton, Ulysses James and Goree Carter.

Pee Wee Crayton PosterAmong T-Bone's legion of disciples was Houston's Goree Carter, whose big break came when he signed to Houston's Freedom Records circa 1949. For his gis first couple of side he was billed as "Little T-Bone." Freedom issued plenty of Carter records over the next few years, and he later recorded for Imperial/Bayou, Sittin' in With, Coral, Jade, and Modern without denting the national charts. Eventually, he left music behind altogether. Technically Carter isn't a West Coast artist but I decided to lump him in as he's certainly a T-Bone disciple and I was looking for an excuse to feature his music.

Although he was certainly influenced by T-Bone Walker , Pee Wee Crayton brought enough innovation to his playing to avoid being labeled as a mere T-Bone imitator. Crayton's recorded output for Modern, Imperial, and Vee-Jay contains plenty of dazzling guitar work, especially on stunning instrumentals such as "Texas Hop," "Pee Wee's Boogie," and "Poppa Stoppa," all far more aggressive performances than Walker usually indulged in. Crayton was from Texas but relocated to Los Angeles in 1935. He signed with the L.A.-based Modern label in 1948, quickly hitting with "Blues After Hours" which topped the R&B charts in late 1948. He also hit with "Texas Hop" shortly thereafter, followed the next year by "I Love You So." After recording prolifically at Modern to no further commercial avail, Crayton moved on to Aladdin and, in 1954, Imperial. After Imperial Crayton tried to regain his momentum at Vee-Jay in Chicago. After one-off 45s for Jamie, Guyden, and Smash during the early '60s, Crayton largely faded from view until Vanguard unleashed his LP, “Things I Used to Do”, in 1971. After that, Pee Wee Crayton's profile was raised somewhat; he toured and made a few more albums prior to his passing in 1985.

Jimmy Nolen
Jimmy Nolen

Jimmy Nolen took up guitar after hearing T-Bone Walker on the radio at the age of 14 in 1948. He was soon proficient enough on his instrument to get his first electric guitar and join J.D. Nicholson & His Jivin' Five, receiving his first exposure to a recording studio in 1952. In 1955, Jimmy Wilson heard Jimmy playing at a club in Tulsa and hired him to go on the road with him and his band. When Wilson's band broke up in Los Angeles and Nolen decided to stay. He played a short time with trumpeter Monte Easter's band recording with him for Aladdin and singing on "Blues In The Evening." Possibly on recommendation from Easter or Wilson, Nolen began recording for J.R. Fullbright's Elko label in 1954 providing support for Ray Agee, J.D. Nicholson and Jimmy Wilson. In 1954 he joined Chuck Higgins band and was featured prominently on several recordings for the Dootone label. It was during this time that he contracted with Federal Records, a subsidiary of the King label and recorded his first sides under his own name. using a number of Higgins band members and other LA session men. In addition to his fine guitar work he proved himself an able singer on terrific sides such as "Wipe Your Tears", "How Fine Can You Be" an intense version of Tampa Red's "It Hurts Me Too" and instrumentals like "After Hours" and "Strollin' With Nolen." Jimmy replaced the ailing Pete "Guitar" Lewis in the Johnny Otis Band around 1957 and became very busy as a recording session guitarist, resulting in Otis's big hit, "Willie And The Hand Jive" How Fine Can You Beand other Capitol successes such as "Ma, He's Making Eyes At Me" and "In The Dark." Striking out on his own in 1960, he formed his own band and was sought after by many of the major blues stars that came into L.A. for backing when they were without their own bands. B.B. King and T-Bone Walker would always use Jimmy and his band when they were in town without their sidemen. Jimmy played throughout California and Arizona working steadily until he decided to accept James Brown's offer to join his band in 1965. His patented funky chicken scratch style can be heard on hits like "Papa' Got A Brand New Bag" and many more hits between 1965 to 1983, except for the two years he left the band to go with Brown sidemen, Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley as "All the Kings Men". He was with the band in Atlanta, GA when he suffered a fatal heart attack on December 16, 1983 at the age of 48.

One of the hottest guitarists working on the coast during the 40s and 50s was Carl Pete Lewis. He was discovered by Johnny Otis in 1948 who signed him on the spot after he won a talent contest at his Barrelhouse Club at the Thursday Night Talent Hour. Otis quickly spotlighted his new discovery on the guitar workout "Midnight In The Barrelhouse" issued on Excelsior in 1948 selling well enough to be picked up by Savoy and cut a similarly themed "Thursday Night Blues" for Modern. Lewis went on to be a permanent member of Otis' band and is featured on most of Otis' sides for Modern, Savoy, Mercury, Peacock and Aladdin. Lewis also cut a batch of fine solo sides for Federal and Peacock which also showcased his considerable singing and harmonica abilities. Among the notable numbers from this period includeRaggedy Blues "Louisiana Hop", "Raggedy Blues", "Goofy Dust Blues" and "Chocolate Pork Chop Man." For Peacock he backed Johnny Ace (most notably "Pledging My Love"), Big Mama Thornton (most notably "Hound Dog") plus others. Lewis stuck with Otis throughout the 50's cutting some sides for Otis' Dig label during this period. He was eventually replaced by Jimmy Nolen in 1957. Lewis went on to play with George "Harmonica" Smith with whom he recorded for Sotoplay. He died of alcohol related problems in the early 60's.

Chuck Norris worked in Chicago until the mid-'40s, when he moved out to the West Coast. He soon became one of the most-called musicians in Hollywood. He did sessions on his own between 1947-1953, including singles for Coast, Imperial, Mercury, Aladdin, Selective and Atlantic. Some of the guitarist's best playing was on records by artists such as Percy Mayfield, Roy Hawkins and Floyd Dixon. Norris had a live record released in 1980 on the European Route 66 label.

Not only was Roy Hawkins dogged by bad luck during his career (at the height of his popularity, the pianist lost the use of an arm in a car wreck), he couldn't even cash in after the fact. When B.B. King hit the charts in 1970 with Roy Hawkins's classic "The Thrill Is Gone," the tune was mistakenly credited to the wrong composers on early pressings. Little is known of Hawkins's early days. Producer Bob Geddins discovered Hawkins playing in an Oakland, CA nightspot and supervised his first 78s for Cavatone and Downtown in 1948. Modern Records picked up the rights to several Downtown masters before signing Hawkins to a contract in 1949. Two major R&B hits resulted: 1950's "Why Do Things Happen to Me" and "The Thrill Is Gone" the following year. Hawkins recorded for the Modern and RPM imprints into 1954. After that, a handful of 45s for Rhythm and Kent were all that was heard of the Bay Area pianist. He employed some of the best West Coast guitarist of the period; Oscar Moore, Ulysses James, Chuck Norris, Lafayette Thomas all appeared on his records. He's rumored to have died in 1973.

Pete Guitar Lewis
Pete "Guitar" Lewis
Blues Legacy 1 Blues Legacy 2 Blues Legacy 3

The thought of "lost" blues recordings always gets me worked up even though I usually get disappointed with the final result. Such is the case with Chris Barber's The Blues Legacy Series: Lost & Found, a three volume series touting unreleased live recordings of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Jimmy Witherspoon, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Champion Jack Dupree and Louis Jordan. According to the liner notes: "The formation of the 'Lost & Found' Series came into being; when the Jazz & Blues legend Chris Barber came across some old 1/4 inch magnetic tape. On these, he discovered the unique sounds of Sonny Boy Williamson in concert, recorded many decades ago, in England. Chris set about investigating his archives further, only to find more of these tapes…"

The bulk of the recordings were made between 1957-1964 at the very beginning of the blues boom that swept across Europe. I was always under the impression that interest in blues really took off in Europe with the inception of the American Folk Blues Festival in 1962. I'm not sure what kind of blues audience there was in England in the late 1950's; I don't think labels like Chess were easy to come by back then and it wasn't until 1960 that Paul Oliver published his pioneering Blues Fell This Morning. Certainly the audiences on these recordings are enthusiastic but I would certainly be interested in more information regarding the British blues scene of the period.

Firstly, just to make clear, the 1958 Muddy Waters recordings from the Manchester Free Trade Hall have been previously issued. These are Muddy's earliest live recordings and his first tour of England. Vocally Muddy is in magnificent form, his vocals miked right up front, unfortunately his guitar is submerged in the mix. It's also too bad that Muddy's band didn't make it over with him although thankfully Otis Spann did and his piano playing, although low in the mix, is a thing of beauty. Most of the program features just Muddy, Spann and Barber's drummer Graham Burbridge which is just fine. More problematic is "Walking Thru The Park" featuring Barber's band wailing along behind Muddy with their brand of traditional jazz, a jarring contrast that simply doesn't work. Unfortunately this is emblematic of many of the recordings.

Like Muddy, Sister Rosetta Tharpe is in terrific vocal form and like Muddy she suffers from a guitar that's virtually inaudible which is a real shame. Again Barber's band and Tharpe's vocals make for an incongruous mix on numbers like "Every Time I Feel The Spirit", "Up Above My Head I Hear Music In The Air", "Old Time Religion" where they virtually drown poor Rosetta out. Where's Lucky Millinder when you need him? The latter number plus "When The Saints Go Marching in feature white vocalist Ottilie Patterson who, to be fair, is not a bad vocalist but comes across as a bit staid. Fortunately most of the Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee sides from their 1958 date at the Manchester Free Trade Hall feature just the duo who are in reliably fine form. Several other sides from the same year are from a BBC broadcast which liberally feature Barber's band as well as Ottilie Patterson. To be honest the duo's sides have never excited me all that much although in small doses they're quite enjoyable. Similar issues plague the Sonny Boy Williamson performance from 1964. The band is present on just about all the tracks much to the detriment of Sonny Boy's subtle, nuanced blues. I believe some of these sides have been issued before but I'm not sure if it was a legitimate release. Much better are his AFBF performances of the same year backed by Sunnyland Slim, Hubert Sumlin and Willie Dixon.

The Jimmy Witherspoon and Howlin' Wolf sides fare much better. Witherspoon is in superb voice, delivering an aching, world weary version of "Have You Ever Loved A Woman" and his classic "Times Are Getting Tougher Than Tough" from a 1964 date that get fairly sympathetic backing. A 1980 set for Dutch Radio finds him in still superb form just prior to the cancer that would ravage his voice in his later years. Howlin' Wolf alongside trusty guitarist Hubert Sumlin are simply electrifying on a torrid "Dust My Broom" and a dramatic, powerhouse version of "May I Have A Talk With You." I have to admit that the riffing horns on "Howling For My Baby" are quite effective as Wolf storms through this one.

From a historical standpoint these are fascinating recordings but a mixed bag musically. Overall there's enough good performances to recommend these, at least the second and third volumes, although all the artists involved have better live recordings on the market. One must also give Barber his due for taking a chance on these artists at a time when the blues was anything but a sure bet.

Muddy Waters – Blow Wind Blow (MP3)

Howlin' Wolf – May I Have A Talk With You (MP3)

Jimmy Witherspoon – Have You Ever Loved A Woman (MP3)


Leroy Foster

Between 1948 and 1952 Baby Face Leroy Foster waxed a handful absolutely terrific sides under his own name for a number fledgling Chicago labels aided by some of the windy city's best blues musicians. In addition his vocals, drumming, and guitar playing can be found backing some of the greatest Chicago blues records of the era. His death in 1958, at the age of 38, robbed the blues world of a singular, memorable talent and likely did much to hasten his unwarranted obscurity. Mike Rowe summarized his appeal in Chicago Breakdown, his classic survey of the Chicago blues scene: "He was a fine singer with a warm insinuating voice which, like the late Sonny Boy [Williamson], 'got to people'. Baby face had a curious style; high pitched, it was a mixture of Sonny Boy's and some of the eccentricities of Doctor Clayton, and between verses he kept up a constant barrage of shouts and encouragements, admonitions and asides. Baby Face's natural exuberance never trivialized his performance, and he sings movingly on bouncy up-tempo songs and slow blues alike. …He played unfussy drums in the tight, Chicago manner and guitar, not too well, in the sparse city style. But his main talents were drinking, singing and clowning and he was very popular."

Foster was first cousin to Little Johnny Jones and Little Willie Foster and came up to Chicago in 1945 in the company of Jones and Little Walter. He worked for tips on Maxwell Street before graduating to the clubs playing with the likes of Sunnyland Slim, Sonny Boy Williamson and Lee Brown. Around 1947 he became one of the founding members of the fabled "Headhunters", a group who included Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers and got their name for cutting the heads of any musicians foolish enough to cross their path. Foster first appeared on record in 1945 playing guitar on Lee Brown's "My Little Girl Blues" b/w "Bobbie Town Boogie" on the Chicago label. He pops up again with Lee Brown on a 1946 date for the Queen label, backs James (Beale Street Clark) the same year, Little Johnny Jones in 1949 ("Big Town Playboy" b/w "Shelby County Blues"), J.B. Lenoir in 1950, Little Walter in 1948 and 1950, Floyd Jones in 1948 (he plays drums on "Hard Times"), Muddy Waters in 1948 and 1949 (notably "You're Gonna Miss Me (When I'm Dead and Gone)," "Mean Red Spider," and "Screamin' and Cryin'"), Snooky Pryor in 1949, Mildred Richards in 1950 (only two copies of this rare record are known to exist) and Sunnyland Slim in 1948 and 1950.

Foster made his debut for Aristocrat at the end of 1948 with "Locked Out Boogie" b/w "Shady Grove Blues" with the record billed as Leroy Foster and Muddy Waters. Propelled by Ernest "Big" Crawford's thumping bass, "Locked Out Boogie" is an infectious, rough and tumble shuffle with Foster's engaging, lively delivery. The song is essentially a vocal version of "Muddy Jumps One" cut at the same session with the same group. The mellow "Shady Grove Blues" is sung in what would be Foster's trademark intimate, laconic style featuring Muddy's down-home guitar that was so popular with audiences and propelled him to stardom.

Rollin' and Tumblin' Part 1 Foster's next entry was a lone outing in 1949 record for J.O.B., "My Head Can't Rest Anymore" b/w "Take A Little Walk With Me" backed by Snooky Pryor on harmonica and Alfred Elkins on bass. This was a magnificent coupling again with Foster's reflective, dreamy singing backed superbly by Pryor's calm, masterful harmonica blowing as Foster encourages him on with Pryor doing the same.

In 1950 Foster cut eight remarkable sides for the small Parkway label. According to the Red Saunders Research Foundation: "Parkway is one of those small Chicago postwar blues labels that developed a legendary reputation based on a handful of recorded sides. In all, the label was in business for little more than 4 months and produced only 23 recordings, of which 14 were released at the time—four by the Baby Face Leroy Trio, four by the Little Walter Trio, two by Memphis Minnie, two by Sunnyland Slim, and two by harmonica-blowing Robert Jenkins. Just four singles are known to have come out on Parkway. …The Baby Face Leroy Trio (featuring vocals by Leroy Foster) and Little Walter sides were recorded in one 8-tune session… Most outstanding of the four Baby Face sides was the two-part "Rollin’ and Tumblin’," which ranks as one of the most exhilarating products of the Chicago postwar bar-band blues explosion (Muddy Waters and Little Walter were both in the band). The notable Little Walter Trio release featured blues harpist Little Walter on "Just Keep Lovin’ You" and "Moonshine Blues." Two other Little Walter sides were sold to Regal and not released on Parkway. …Foster played guitar on some of the sides while operating the bass drum and high-hat with pedals." "

Red Headed Woman" and "Boll Weevil" were paired for release on Parkway 104 featuring Little Walter,Red Headed Woman Muddy Waters and possibly Jimmy Rogers. "Boll Weevil" is in the best southern blues meets Chicago tradition as Foster relates a well worn theme that has been covered by Ma Rainey and Charlie Patton among others. "Red Headed Woman" is a chugging, wailer that crackles with energy, boasting stupendous blowing from Walter.

Perhaps the most outstanding record was"Rollin' And Tumblin' – Part 1 & 2" issued as Parkway 501. The record was as primal and raw as anything waxed up North resembling more of a southern field recording than a commercial Chicago blues record. Part 1 was a wordless moaning and humming by all participants while Foster sings the verses on the second. According to the Red Saunders website: "Waters had been playing in clubs with this lineup in the previous months, and was frustrated by Leonard Chess’s lack of interest in recording it. The session, reportedly, did not take place in a regular studio. Muddy Waters' biographer, Robert Gordon, declared that it took place in a 'warehouse.'" This bit of moonlighting on Muddy's part got him into trouble as Mike Rowe relates from a story told to him by Jimmy Rogers: "Leonard [Chess] didn't want Muddy to use that slide on any other label-but here's Muddy slipped off and cut this thing and Leonard heard it y'know. Then Muddy had to record this same number by himself on Chess." Foster also plays drums on four Little Walter numbers for Parkway: "Bad Actin' Woman", "I Just Keep Loving Her", "Muskadine Blues" and "Moonshine Blues."

Again according to the Red Saunders website: "…Leroy Foster returned to JOB after Parkway failed in the middle of 1950 (he had quit Muddy Waters' band after recording for Parkway, in the mistaken belief that his Parkway releases would establish him as a bandleader). Backed by Sunnyland Slim and Robert Jr. Lockwood, Foster cut "Pet Rabbit" b/w "Louella" in 1951 and "Late Hours At Midnight" b/w "Blues Is Killin' Me" in 1952. All four songs are built in the same slow, deep blues mold and once again Foster's laid back, conversational singing casts a compelling, powerful spell over the listener nicely counterpointed by Sunnyland's rumbling piano.

All of Leroy Foster's sides under his own name, plus the four Little Walter Parkway sides, can be found on Leroy Foster 1948-1952 on the Classics label. Stayed tuned in the next month or two as we spotlight Foster's music on an upcoming radio program.

My Head Can't Rest Anymore (MP3)

Boll Weevil (MP3)

Red Headed Woman (MP3)

Rollin' And Tumblin' – Part 1 (MP3)


Lightnin’ HopkinsAbileneAll The Classic Sides 1946-1951
Lightnin’ HopkinsFast Mail RamblerAll The Classic Sides 1946-1951
Lightnin’ HopkinsI've Been A Bad ManAll The Classic Sides 1946-1951
L.C. WilliamsYou'll Never Miss the WaterLightnin' Special
L.C. WilliamsYou Can't Take It with You BabyLightnin' Special
L.C. WilliamsBoogie All the TimeLightnin' Special
Lightnin’ HopkinsLife I Used to LiveLightnin' Special
Lightnin’ HopkinsI'm Wild About You BabyLightnin' Special
Lightnin’ HopkinsDon't Need No JobLightnin' Special
Lightnin’ HopkinsTraveler's BluesAll The Classic Sides 1946-1951
Frankie Lee SimsI’m So GladLucy Mae Blues
Frankie Lee SimsBoogie 'Cross the CountryLucy Mae Blues
Frankie Lee SimsSend My Soul To The DevilWalkin’ With Frankie
Frankie Lee SimsLucy Mae BluesLucy Mae Blues
Frankie Lee SimsWalkin’ With FrankieAce Story, Vol. 4
Lightnin’ HopkinsMussy Haired WomanLightnin' Special
Lightnin’ HopkinsMy Little Kewpie DollLightnin' Special
Lightnin’ HopkinsPolicy GameLightnin' Special
Thunder SmithL.A. BluesComplete Aladdin Recordings
Thunder SmithWest Coast BluesLightnin' Special
Thunder SmithCruel Hearted WomanLightnin' Special
Thunder SmithCan't Do Like You Used ToLightnin' Special
Thunder SmithSanta Fe BluesLightnin' Special
Lightnin’ HopkinsThe War is OverLightnin' Special
Lightnin’ HopkinsThat's AlrightLightnin' Special
Lightnin’ HopkinsThey Wonder Who I AmLightnin' Special
J.D. EdwardsCryin'Lightnin' Special
J.D. EdwardsHoboLightnin' Special
Lightnin’ HopkinsBaby!Country Blues
Long Gone MilesI Don't Need No ArmyJuke Joint Blues
Long Gone MilesLet Me Play With Your PoodleJuke Joint Blues
Long Gone MilesLong GoneCountry Born
Lightnin’ HopkinsNothin' But the BluesLightnin' Special
Lightnin’ HopkinsMoving On Out BoogieLightnin' Special

Show Notes:

(Left to right) unknown, Long Gone Miles, Lightning Hopkins, and Chris Strachwitz, Houston, Texas, 1959, Courtesy Chris Strachwitz
Luke Miles, Lightnin' Hopkins and Chris Strachwitz

Today’s show spotlights the music of Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins. Outside of one 1959 side, our focus is roughly on Hopkins' first decade of recording (1946-1956), a prolific period which found him cutting close to 200 sides geared for the black market on a variety of different labels. After his "rediscovery" by folklorist Mack McCormick in 1959 Hopkins became an international star. In addition we also play a number of Hopkins’ buddies, those that Hopkins worked with or had a connection to like Frankie Lee Sims, Luke Miles, L.C. Williams, Thunder Smith and others.

Sam Hopkins was a Texas country bluesman of the highest caliber whose career began in the 1920's and stretched all the way into the 1980's. His earliest blues influence was the legendary Blind Lemon Jefferson who he met around 1920, of whom Hopkins recalled "When I was just a little boy I went to hanging around Buffalo, Texas Blind Lemon he'd come and I'd just get alongside and start playing ". Throughout the '20s and '30s he traveled around Texas, usually in the company of recording star Texas Alexander. The pair was playing in Houston's Third Ward in 1946 when talent scout Lola Anne Cullum came across them. She cut Alexander out of the deal and paired Hopkins with pianist Wilson "Thunder" Smith, getting the duo a recording contract for the Los Angles based Aladdin label. They recorded as "Thunder and Lightnin'", a nickname Sam was to use for the rest of his life. A load of other labels recorded Hopkins after Aladdin, both in a solo context and with a small rhythm section: Modern/RPM (his ”Tim Moore's Farm" was an R&B hit in 1949); Gold Star (where he hit with "T-Model Blues" that same year); Sittin' in With ("Give Me Central 209" and "Coffee Blues" were national chart hits in 1952) and its Jax subsidiary; the major labels Mercury and Decca; and, in 1954, some of his finest sides for the New York based Herald label. Hopkins' dropped out of sight for a three year stint in the late 50's. Fortunately, folklorist Mack McCormick rediscovered the guitarist, who he presented as a folk-blues artist. Pioneering musicologist Sam Charters produced Hopkins in a solo context for Folkways Records in 1959, cutting an entire LP in Hopkins' tiny apartment (on a borrowed guitar). The results helped introduced his music to an entirely new audience. By the early 1960’s Hopkins went from gigging at back-alley gin joints to starring at collegiate coffeehouses, appearing on TV programs, and touring Europe. He was recording more prolifically then ever, laying down albums for World Pacific, Vee-Jay, Bluesville, Bobby Robinson's Fire label, Candid, Arhoolie, Verve and, in 1965, the first of several LP's for Stan Lewis' Shreveport-based Jewel logo.

L.C. Williams was a singer/tap dancer who also occasionally drummed behind Hopkins. He arrived in Houston in 1945 and was one of the many characters who hung around in Lightning’s orbit sitting on stoops drinking beer and wine, shooting the breeze with passers-by. He made his first record in 1947 with Hopkins on piano and guitar. Hopkins plays guitar on a four-song session for Gold Star in 1948 wih Williams making some final sides for Eddie’s and Freedom between 1948-1950. He died in Houston of TB in 1960.Lightnin' Hopkins

Frankie Lee Sims claimed to be a cousin of Lightnin' Hopkins. Sims cut his first 78s for Blue Bonnet Records in 1948 in Dallas, but didn't taste anything resembling regional success until 1953, when his "Lucy Mae Blues" did well down south. Sims recorded fairly prolifically for Los Angeles-based Specialty into 1954, then switched to the Ace label in 1957 to cut great rockers like "Walking with Frankie" and "She Likes to Boogie Real Low." He recorded for Bobby Robinson in late 1960 but these sides were unreleased and didn't surface until decades later when they were released on the British Krazy Kat label. Robinson ran the NYC based labels Fire, Fury and Enjoy. Sims died at age 53 in Dallas of pneumonia.

Thunder Smith plays piano behind Hopkins on his first two sessions for Aladdin in 1946 and 1947, never achieving the success that Hopkins did. Hopkins backed Smith on a four song session for Aladdin in 1946 with Smith cutting one session apiece in 1947 for Gold Star and in 1948 for Down Town. He reportedly died in Houston in 1965.

Luke "Long Gone" Miles was born in Louisiana in 1925 and moved to Houston in 1952. In the liner notes to his only full length LP ) "Country Born" (World Pacific, 1965) he said: “I went to Houston for one reason. I went to see Lightnin’ Hopkins. That’s what I went for and that’s what I did. Lightnin’ Hopkins taught me just about everything about blues singing. The first time I ever sang in front of an audience was in 1952 with Lightnin’. The first day I met Lightnin’ he named me “Long Gone” …and I’ve been Long Gone Miles ever since.” By 1961 Miles was in Los Angles were he cut some 45’s for Smash. After the World Pacific LP he cut singles for Two Kings in 1965, Kent in 1969 before supposedly leaving L.A. in 1970 where he wasn’t heard from again.

The bulk of the Lightnin' Hopkins sides played todaycome from two JSP box sets: Lightning Hopkins: All The Classics 1946-1951 and Lightning Special: Volume 2 of the Collected Works. In addition the latter box sets also collects a number of sides by L.C. Williams, Frankie Lee Sims and Thunder Smith.


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