Lightnin' Hopkins Biography

Sam Hopkins, 15 March 1912, Centreville, Texas, USA, d. 30 January 1982, Houston, Texas, USA. One of the last great country blues singers, Hopkins’ lengthy career began in the Texas bars and juke joints of the 20s. Towards the end of the decade he formed a duo with a cousin, Texas Alexander, while his Lightnin’ epithet was derived from a subsequent partnership with barrelhouse pianist Thunder Smith, with whom he made his first recordings. Hopkins’ early work unveiled a masterly performer. His work first came to prominence when, after being discovered by Sam Charters at the age of 47, The Roots Of Lightnin’ Hopkins was released in 1959 and numerous sessions followed. His sparse acoustic guitar and narrated prose quickly made him an important discovery, appealing to the audience of the American folk boom of the early 60s. His harsh, emotive voice and compulsive, if irregular, guitar playing, conveyed an intensity enhanced by the often personal nature of his lyrics. Hopkins became one of post-war blues most prolific talents, completing hundreds of sessions for scores of major and independent labels. This inevitably diluted his initial power, but although Hopkins’ popularity slumped in the face of Chicago’s electric combos, by the early 60s he was re-established as a major force on the college and concert-hall circuit.

In 1967 Hopkins was the subject of an autobiographical film, The Blues Of Lightnin’ Hopkins, which subsequently won the Gold Hugo award at the Chicago Film Festival. Like many other bluesmen finding great success in the 60s (for example, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker), he too recorded a ‘progressive’ electric album: The Great Electric Show And Dance. During the 70s he toured the USA, Canada and, in 1977, Europe, until ill health forced him to reduce such commitments. Hopkins was a true folk poet, embracing social comments with pure blues. He died in 1982, his status as one of the major voices of the blues assured.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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