History

Legendary Texas Blues: The Story of Lightnin’ Hopkins

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Sam Hopkins, better known as Lightnin’ Hopkins, was a Texas bluesman with a career that was equally long and prolific. Over six decades he performed live and recorded for more than 30 years, building up a music catalog which was bigger than most of his counterparts. He was also recognized as a great blues storyteller and although his guitar method was considered unconventional, he will be remembered for his unbeatable authenticity.

Born in 1912, his dad was a musician who died when Sam was a child. He grew up in Centerville, Texas, and in 1920, at a picnic in Buffalo, Texas, he watched Blind Lemon Jefferson, an experience which encouraged him to make his own “cigar box guitar” and play the blues. His older brother taught him how to play that homemade guitar before his mom inspired him to play the organ at her home church services. But, he always leaned toward the music his older brothers would play, eventually dropping out of school to work on a plantation and play the blues at dances and picnics on local farms as well as juke joints, Friday and Saturday nights.

Texas Country Blues Legend: The Story of Lightnin’ Hopkins
Photo: Facebook/Desperate Rock ‘N’ Roll

He formed a partnership with his cousin, Texas Alexander, by the end of the 1920s, which went on into the next decade but had to stop for a brief prison farm stint that Hopkins was sentenced to. Upon his release, the pair picked up again and would travel the state of Texas, often by bus, which drivers would let them ride for free if he played for passengers. They got the opportunity to record with Aladdin Records in 1946, for which Hopkins followed up, making the trip out Los Angeles. On November 4 of that year, he recorded “Katie Mae Blues,” with accompaniment by pianist Wilson “Thunder” Smith. Billed as Thunder and Lightnin’, the song was a hit throughout the American southwest, so the label got Lightnin’ Hopkins back in the studio in 1947 when he recorded “Short Haired Women.” The recording sold roughly 40,000 copies, which he followed up with “Baby Please Don’t Go” in 1948, selling more than twice that many. Almost all sales for this latter recording came from the Houston area and his home state of Texas.

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