"Hopkins is the embodiment of the jazz-and-poetry spirit, representing its ancient form in the single creator whose words and music are one act" - Robert "Mack" McCormick

Happy Birthday, Lightnin' Hopkins!

Hopkins

Sam John Hopkins (March 15, 1912 – January 30, 1982), better known for his stage name Lightnin' Hopkins, was an African American country blues singer and songwriter from Texas. Hopkins was listed on Rolling Stone's 100 greatest guitarists of all time list and he recorded up to 1000 songs over the course of his career. He is best known for his records Country Blues (1960), Blues in my Bottle (1961), The Roots of Lightnin' Hopkins (1965) and more.

Hopkins2Sam John Hopkins was born in Centerville, Texas on March 15, 1912. He was entranced by the sound of Blues music throughout his childhood. When Hopkins was eight years old, he met famous singer Blind Lemon Jefferson at a church event in Buffalo, Texas. Young Hopkins was inspired by this legend, who let him play background guitar on his performances at future church events. He was supposedly the only person that Jefferson ever let play with him. Hopkins learned a lot from his time with Blind Lemon. He also had two cousins Alger "Texas" Alexander and Frankie Lee Sims who were blues musicians.

In the 1930s, Hopkins followed his cousin Alexander to try and make it in Houston's music scene. Unfortunately the time wasn't right and Hopkins was back in Centerville within a few years. Hopkins tried again in 1946, determined to succeed at his dream vocation. Hopkins was singing one night at the famous Dowling St. club in Houston's Third Ward. His talent was brought to the attention of a scout from LA based Aladdin Records. They convinced Hopkins to come to Los Angeles.

Baby Please Don't Go

Lonesome Road

In Los Angeles, Hopkins recorded with pianist Wilson Smith. An executive of Aladdin records suggested they name themselves Thunder and Lightnin'. The names stuck. After recording a few more songs with Aladdin, Hopkins returned to Houston and signed with Gold Star Records. Throughout the 1940s and '50s, Hopkins recorded prolifically but rarely left the state for performances. He would perform around Houston and especially at his home base of the club on Dowling St. His music was enjoyed by enthusiasts of jazz and fellow African American musicians.

Hopkins3

Mr Charlie, Your Rollin' Mill is Burnin' Down

Bring Me My Shotgun

In the late 1950s, the country was absorbed by the folk revival. Folklorist Mack McCormick was a fan of Hopkins' music and presented him to audiences across the country, especially in California. Hopkins performed at Carnegie Hall in 1960 alongside Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. Hopkins was then signed by Tradition Records. He recorded Free Form Patterns with psychedelic rock band the 13th Floor Elevators. Hopkins overcame his fear of flying to perform concerts at college campuses, major folk festivals and on international tours.

Hopkins6

Hopkins7

Scenes from documentary Blues Accordin' to Lightnin' Hopkins

Lightnin' Hopkins died in January 30, 1982 in Houston. His life was documented in Les Blank's film The Blues Accordin' to Lightnin' Hopkins (1967) and in three books. A statue of Hopkins was assembled in Crockett, Texas. The New York Times named him "one of the great country blues and perhaps the greatest single influence on rock guitar players."

Hopkins8

Hopkins9

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Saturday, 15 March 2014
Read 2109 times