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Lightnin' Hopkins

Discussion in 'Bad Dog Cafe' started by rand z, Jan 14, 2019.

  1. rand z

    rand z Friend of Leo's

    Feb 19, 2004
    trumansburg, ny
    I'm not sure that I've seen a lot on Lightnin' here, so I'll throw some stuff against the wall...

    First, he had a unique style that became one of the principal foundation's of Texas Blues.

    That thumb-index finger stuff out of (mostly) the open E position was his mainstay and has been used by many, especially the Vaughan Brother's and Tony Joe White.

    That sound has a definite vibe and, to me , sound's cool as S**T. Not unlike J L Hooker's hypnotic Boogie groove.

    Raw and Funky.

    His vocal was not really singing, but very conversational and personal... he was telling you a story. Usually a funny story... but, when it was a sad story you could feel it.

    He was a good entertainer, and there was no one really quite like him, then or now.

    Apparently he was quite the character, too.

    I heard a story that he was living in Texas and needed some $$$. So, he wrote 10 song's or so, jumped on a bus to LA and went around to a few studio/label's where he was known, selling those same 10 song's to each of them. Jumped back on the bus and headed home with a pocketful of money.

    (The man knew how to get around in the music biz!!)

    Someone was also quoted say that Lightnin' was never really drunk... but, never really sober, either.

    (He walked a fine line.)

    Any other stories or thought's?
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  2. nojazzhere

    nojazzhere Poster Extraordinaire

    Feb 3, 2017
    Foat Wuth, Texas
    My only real exposure to him was on a PBS show in the sixties, I think called Boboquivari, or something like that. For my teenaged mind, it was quite different from the British Invasion stuff I liked.
  3. L.A. Mike

    L.A. Mike Tele-Meister

    Mar 1, 2014
    East coast of USA
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2019
  4. TheGoodTexan

    TheGoodTexan Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Apr 28, 2003
    Nashville, TN
    I think you nailed it. The take-away from Lightnin' should be the raw emotion and intensity of his story telling. You can cop licks from Lightnin' here and there, but it's difficult to play like him these days, because he didn't always follow a strict structure on his changes. You can hear the backing musicians here and there when they try to make a change that feels correct to their ear, but Lightnin' is not listening to their changes... he's listening to his own soul... at whatever point on that "line" that he might have been at the time.
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  5. teletimetx

    teletimetx Poster Extraordinaire

    Jul 25, 2011
    Houston, TX
    I see a few references here on TDPRI from time to time - of course I've not been here as long as other folks, but having lived in Houston for some time, I guess it's a slightly different perspective.

    sometimes, it's kind of a mixed blessing; there's still people who will cover his songs and some folks really do a great job evoking the raw unique groove and other attributes already mentioned. And sometimes, I guess I'm just thankful that his memory is being carried forward, even if the performance might be lacking. As our esteemed colleague @TheGoodTexan mentions, Lightnin' didn't always follow a fixed structure; 2 or 3 or 4 bars for a turnaround? Well, just hang on, we'll try 'em all in one song; or just a one note punch on the 5. His proto-rockin' blues songs are a thing to behold.

    but TBH, I don't claim to have a special connection with his unique style just because I live in Houston. It's just that, if you've been/lived/worked in the fifth ward, you kind of having a different view. Maybe.

    his grave is here in Houston. I went one time to visit it, with friends - it's in a cemetery just off the gulf freeway. I have a retired friend who is an acoustic/electrical/recording engineer and he and I have been talking lately about taking another field trip to go pay our respects.

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  6. 4 Cat Slim

    4 Cat Slim Friend of Leo's

    Oct 17, 2012
    Nelson City TX
    Thanks for the insight, teletimetx. I feel much the same way. I lived in Houston in the 1970s, I was
    fortunate to see him play in a number of settings, and I'm glad to have had that opportunity.
    I don't claim to know anything in particular about his style, I just enjoyed his music.
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  7. nvilletele

    nvilletele Friend of Leo's

    Jul 4, 2008
    At one time I was working on a complete Lightning Hopkins discography. Never finished it but have all the resource material I collected.

    I also tried to collect every recording available. Had to find and then digitize some songs only out on LP.

    I think I have close to every recording currently available, other than bootlegs (of which I have a number).

    The Blues According to Lightning Hopkins is an interesting short film.

    There’s a dvd guitar lesson out there too teaching how to play like lightning. Got it around somewhere.
  8. kingofdogs1950

    kingofdogs1950 Tele-Meister

    Sep 10, 2006
    Franklin, Texas
    I saw Hopkins play many times in the early 70s when I was a student at the University of Houston. Coffee house solo and full band at frat parties and such.
    He was a splendid musician and never failed to entertain, particularly solo. I got the impression that the bands were not his regular band but just some guys that he knew around the neighborhood.
    He did like to partake of "musician's lubricant." When playing at the UH coffee house, he would take a break outside with his favorite beverage. Big fun for a bunch of teenage college students to talk with a famous blues player. We would have been enjoying something to smoke... (Drinking wasn't legal for those under 21.)
    I remember sitting on the floor not more than 3-4 feet from him when he was playing.
    J-50 through a small Fender amp. (Can't remember what amp.)
    An older friend used to hire Hopkins back in the 60s to play rent parties. $25 plus a bottle of whiskey was the fee.
    Whatever can be said about Hopkins' timing and such, he was just a great entertainer. I can think of only one musician I've seen I've liked as well: Ry Cooder. Good company.

  9. Fiesta Red

    Fiesta Red Friend of Leo's

    Nov 15, 2010
    Sam Hopkins should be held in the same esteem as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and the half-dozen other Blues Heroes that are held as progenitors of the craft. It’s a sin that he ain’t.

    He was one of a kind.
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  10. Chester Burnett

    Chester Burnett Tele-Meister Ad Free Member

    Aug 14, 2015
    Minneapolis, MN
    He was a big influence on my playing. I saw him play a few months before he passed away and it remains one of my best musical experiences.
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  11. TigerG

    TigerG Tele-Holic

    Aug 14, 2015
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  12. rand z

    rand z Friend of Leo's

    Feb 19, 2004
    trumansburg, ny
    I tend to think that Lightnin' is held in pretty high esteem.

    But, more in the same vein as John Lee Hooker, who really wasn't a "Chicago Blues" kinda guy... like Muddy, Wolf, Buddy, Little Walter, Magic Sam, Otis etc.

    Lightnin' was "Texas Blues." And Hooker, imo, was walkin' down the same groovy street. They tapped into that hypnotic thing (especially Hooker). They definitely weren't Chicago dudes. Elmore James and Sonny Boy (Rice Miller), Tampa Red, Bill Broonzy weren't, either.

    They preceded Chicago Blues by a few year's.

    I mentioned the Vaughan Bros. You can really hear Lightnin' in Jimmie Vaughan style... Stevie too. He just revved it up 20 notches, or so.

    I can also hear Lightnin' in James Burton's "Susie Q." And, of course, in Tony Joe White's style (RIP). I mean just about everything Tony Joe did was a take on Lightnin's blues.

    So, I think he still survives. It's not impossible to play like him.

    Chord changes aside, it's just a few of his signature lick's... and a lot of that special Lightnin' Feelin'.
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2019
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  13. Mjark

    Mjark Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Feb 14, 2011
    Annapolis, MD
    He's my favorite solo Blues artist.
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  14. bigbean

    bigbean Tele-Afflicted Silver Supporter

    Feb 6, 2013
    Hartville OH
    My favorite is "Get off My Toe!"
  15. rand z

    rand z Friend of Leo's

    Feb 19, 2004
    trumansburg, ny
    I like "You Is One Black Rat."
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  16. DaphneBlue

    DaphneBlue Tele-Meister

    Jul 22, 2017
    I discovered lightning hopkins when I was 19-20, so 10-11 years ago. I picked an album just by the cover. I was a student in a small Swiss town. I can tell you that I was really the only one listening to him but I preached hard and listened to his music with musicians I knew at that time.

    It's been 10-11 years now and I can proudly say that now there are 2 blues bands in my hometown and even though my band is folkier, I always think about "how would lightning hopkins say that?" When I write a song.
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  17. Blue Bill

    Blue Bill Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

    Feb 15, 2014
    I like "Mr.Charlie"

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  18. stxrus

    stxrus Friend of Leo's

    May 25, 2007
    St. Croix, USVI
    Got to see him once at Mother Blues in Dallas. I knew a little of his music but never really listened to a lot until after that night. Totally unique
  19. Mike Simpson

    Mike Simpson Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Mar 19, 2006
    Gilbert, AZ (PHX)
  20. rand z

    rand z Friend of Leo's

    Feb 19, 2004
    trumansburg, ny
    When I REALLY think of the blues, in it's various wonderful and unique form's...

    I think of Robert, Muddy, Wolf, Hooker, Ray, Sonny Boy II, Son House, Elmore, BB, Janis, Koko, Little Walter, Bonnie, Jimi, Eric, Roosevelt, Rory and many, many more.

    And, I think of...

    Lightnin' Hopkins.
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