Sun 16 May 2010
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Katie Mae Blues||All The Classics 1946-1951|
|Interview Pt. 1.||Introduction|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Short Haired Woman||All The Classics 1946-1951|
|Interview Pt. 2.||Early Years|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Policy Blues||Lightnin' Special Vol. 2|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Automobile||All The Classics 1946-1951|
|Interview Pt. 3.||More Early Years|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Needed Time||Jake Head Boogie|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||I'm Wild About You Baby||Lightnin' Special Vol. 2|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Goin' Back And Talk To Mama||All The Classics 1946-1951|
|Interview Pt. 4.||Prison & Hard Times|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||That Gambling Life||Autobiography in Blues|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||They Wonder Who I Am||All The Classics 1946-1951|
|Interview Pt. 5.||Blind Lemon Jefferson|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Black Cat||Complete Candid Otis Spann/Lightin' Hopkins Sessions|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Mojo Hand||Mojo Hand Anthology|
|Interview Pt. 6.||Houston|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||The War Is Over||Lightnin' Special Vol. 2|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Highway Blues||Lightnin' Special Vol. 2|
|Interview Pt. 7||Early Recordings|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||No Education||Mojo Hand Anthology|
|Interview Pt. 8||1950's Recordings|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||I'm Going To Build Me A Heaven...||Complete Prestige/Bluesville Recordings|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Burnin' In L.A.||Po' Lightnin'|
|Interview Pt. 9||Rediscovery|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Mr. Charlie (Part 1 & 2)||Mojo Hand Anthology|
|Interview Pt. 10||Blues Revival|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Goin' To Dallas||Everest Records Collection Vol. 1|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Bud Russell Blues||Texas Blues|
|Interview Pt. 11||1960's Recordings|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Twister||Live At Swarthmore College|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Walkin' The Streets||Lightnin' Special Vol. 2|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Coffee Blues||All The Classics 1946-1951|
|Interview Pt. 12||More 1960's|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Black And Evil||Texas Blues|
|Interview Pt. 13||Legacy|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Meet You At The Chicken Shack||Texas Blues|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Bad Luck And Trouble||Jake Head Boogie|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Henny Penny Blues||All The Classics 1946-1951|
|Interview Pt. 14||Last Decade/Closing|
|Lightnin' Hopkins||Moving On Out Boogie||Lightnin' Special Vol. 2|
|Lightnin' Hopkins, Berkley, CA, mid-1960's. Photo by Chris Strachwitz|
Today's program is our second devoted to Lightnin' Hopkins. The first, Lightnin' Hopkins & Pals, featured mainly singles Hopkins waxed for black audiences between 1946 and 1954 plus cuts by many of his musical buddies. Today the spotlight is on Hopkins alone as we spin records by him from the 40's up through the 60's, when he was cutting a staggering number of albums, mostly geared to the folk and blues revival audience. We also celebrate the release of the first Hopkins' biography, Lightnin' Hopkins: His Life and Blues, by noted writer Alan Govenar who I've interviewed for today's show. Govenar's book is a superb portrait of a true blues giant, from his early years running with Blind Lemon Jefferson and Texas Alexander to his brilliant singles in the 40's and 50's for a slew of small labels to worldwide acclaim in the 60's and 70's. Hopkins was one of the most recorded bluesmen of all time so assembling a show devoted to him is always a daunting task. On today's program I've pulled together a wide range of well known and lesser known gems from the 40's through the 60's that will hopefully give a good portrait of Hopkins' talent and his tremendous appeal with both white and black audiences. Today's notes are primarily drawn from the new book including the following from the introduction.
"Sam Lightnin Hopkins, at the time of his death in 1982,may have been the most frequently recorded blues artist in history. He was a singular voice in the history of Texas blues, exemplifying its country roots but at the same time reflecting its urban directions in the years after world War II. His music epitomized the hardships and aspirations of his own generation of African Americans, but it was also emblematic of the folk revival and its profound impact on a white audience.
|Lightnin' Hopkins, Gold Star Publicity Photo|
What distinguished Lightnin Hopkins was his virtuosity as a performer. He soaked up what was around him and put it all into his blues. He rambled on about anything that came to his mind: chuckholes in the road, gossip on the street, his rheumatism, his women, and the good times and bad men he met along the way. In his songs he could be irascible, but in the next verse he might be self-effacing. He prided himself on his individuality, even if it meant he was full of inconsistencies. He often poured out his feeling in his songs with a heart wrenching pathos, but it could be hard to tell if he was truly sincere. He peppered his lyrics with few actual details of his own life, but he was at once raw, mocking, extroverted, sarcastic and deadly serious. Most of the time, Lightnin' appeared to trust no one, yet he knew how to endear himself to the audience. While he voiced the hardships, yearnings, and foibles of African Americans in the gritty bump and grind of the juke joints of Third Ward Houston, he could be cocky and brash in his performances for white crowds at the Matrix in San Francisco, or at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, or at a concert hall in Europe, where he was in complete control and adored. …At its best, his blues were a seamless dialogue between words and guitar, a largely improvised conversation not only between him and his instrument, but also between him and those who were listening."
Hopkins 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. During this period Hopkins cut close to 200. Hopkins’ stopped recording for a five year stint in the late 50’s although singles by him were still being released. Fortunately, folklorist Sam Charters and Mack McCormick rediscovered the guitarist, who they 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.
|Lightnin' Hopkins at Sierra Sound, Berkley, CA, 1961.
Photo by William Carter
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. During the 70's his recording activity slowed, cutting just a handful of sessions for verve and Sonet with several live collections issued. He was still touring widely and made trips to Mexico, Japan and Germany. After a final gig at Tramps in New York in November 1981 he returned to Houston where his health declined rapidly. He passed January 30, 1982.
As Govenar sums up: "In the end, regardless of the myths, and the inevitable mix of fact and fiction, Lightnin' was happy that his music had reached such a wide audience." And as Lightnin' close friend David Benson related: "I don't think that in his younger days he even imagined that there would be so many young people, so many white people, who would have such a genuine appreciation of his sound. He thought it was naive, but it was genuine. …he knew that the people who bought his records and came to hear him play genuinely cared." And as Govenar concludes: "When asked once about what made him different than anyone else, Lightnin' replied, 'A bluesman is just different from any other man that walks the earth. The blues is something that is hard to get acquainted with. Just like death. The blues dwell with you everyday and everywhere.'"
-Listen to the Alan Govenar interview (edited, MP3, 29 min.)
-Lightnin' Hopkins Obituary (New Musical Express, Alan Balfour, 1982)