Here’s a clip of Texas blues legend Lightnin’ Hopkins with a 1962 performance of his hit put out two years previous, “Mojo Hand”.
Sam “Lightnin'”Hopkins was a part of the early 60s folk-boom, although unlike many of his fellows working in the same musical idiom, he was not an artist rescued from obscurity. Lightnin’ had been a working musician from the 1920s when still a child, recording on a number of labels through the decades before recording this song and the album of the same name, Mojo Hand, on the Fire records label by the early 1960s.
Hopkins had a storied career, and a unique education in the blues, acting initially as a guide to Blind Lemon Jefferson, and subsequently as a partner to his cousin “Texas” Alexander. After a stretch in Houston County Prison Farm, Hopkins struck out on his own, gaining the nickname “Lightnin'” after being discovered in the 1940s by a scout from Aladdin Records. He was teamed with another artist, Wilson Smith who had been nicknamed “thunder” to match. After the duo parted ways, the “Lightnin'” stuck.
Much like the approach of many country blues players, Lightnin’ had a self-contained approach to the guitar, playing lead, bass, rhythm, and even percussion lines slapped out on the body of his guitar. A common drawback was that his sidemen were often confounded by his internal sense of timing, which was not exactly intuitive to an accompanying musician. And a song was never played the same way twice. Record producers often suffered from this phenomenon as well.
Yet, Lightnin’ remained to be a singular and respected voice through the 60s folk-boom and afterward, with his influence on rock guitarists and contemporary blues guitarists including Jimi Hendrix (who also had a self-contained guitar style) and fellow Texan Stevie Ray Vaughn, who’s song “Rude Mood” was based on Lightnin’s “Sky Hop”, a track which would show that Lightnin’ was just as at home with an electric guitar as he was an acoustic.
In 1959, Lightnin’ Hopkins was contacted by a folklorist, a contact which later allowed him to tap into the burgeoning folk scene and find a wider audience. His ability to play in a traditional style, while often improvising lyrics to suit his situation or current states of affairs made him a hit with the folk crowd as much as it had with the Texas club circuits where he’d honed his craft.
Although he’d seen the evolution of the blues through the years, Hopkins managed to hold onto a singular style, characterized by his dexterous playing and his craggy, storyteller’s voice. He is easily one of my favourite bluesmen.
Lightnin’s career stretched six decades by the end of his life. He died in 1982.
For more music, check out the Lightnin’ Hopkins MySpace Page.