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The Sonet Blues Story

Lightnin' Hopkins

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Album Review

Lightnin' Hopkins recorded so often and for so many labels that it's easy to get lost in it all, and there is virtually no such thing as the perfect Hopkins album. He did his thing each time out, whether acoustic or electric, solo or with a band, half improvising his lyrics over a small assortment of different blues shuffles, shifting chords and gears seemingly at whim (which made him frequently difficult to accompany, even for the sharpest session player). His tough, Texas take on the country blues, though, and his penchant for off the wall themes and lyrics, made Hopkins an utterly unique bluesman, and if he seems to be pulling the same rabbit out of the same hat time and time again, he somehow managed to make it seem like a new trick each time. This extremely loose set was recorded in Houston in 1974 and was originally released as part of Samuel Charters' Legacy of the Blues series that same year. It features Hopkins playing an acoustic guitar with an electric pick up backed by a valiant three-piece band that consisted of Ira James on harmonica, Larry "Bones" McCall on drums, and Rusty Myers and Ozell Roberts splitting time on bass. These guys try to make sense of Hopkins' personalized sense of rhythm as best they can, and together with Hopkins' skewed, half improvised lyrics, they manage to make a few things work here, including the conversational "The Hearse Backed Up to the Door," the metaphor-filled "I Been Burning Bad Gasoline," and the brisk instrumental, "Doin' My Boogie," one of two bonus tracks included in this reissue. Most of these songs, though, feel like the kinds of things a band plays before actually recording a take, when little things like tempo and rhythm are still being worked on, and the end result seems even more ragged and random than the typical ragged and random Lightnin' Hopkins session.

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Lightnin' Hopkins (March 15, 1912 – January 30, 1982) was a country blues guitar legend, from Houston, Texas. Born in Centerville, Texas,(East Texas) he learned the blues when young in Buffalo, Texas from Blind Lemon Jefferson and his older cousin, country-blues singer Alger 'Texas' Alexander. When Hopkins and Alexander were playing in Houston in 1946, he was discovered by Lola Anne Cullum of Los Angeles' Aladdin Records (although Alexander would not make it out to LA). Hopkins' fast finger style is very distinct. He settled in Houston in 1952 and gained much attention. Solid recordings followed including his masterpiece song Mojo Hand in 1960. He was an influence on Jimmie Vaughan's work, and, more significantly, on the vocals and blues style of Pigpen, the keyboardist of the Grateful Dead until 1972. He was also an important influence on Townes Van Zandt, the legendary Texas folk/blues songwriter and performer, who often performed Hopkins numbers in his live performances. In 1968 he recorded an album backed by psychedelic rock band, the 13th Floor Elevators. A song named after him was recorded by R.E.M. on their album "Document".

Biography

Born: March 15, 1912 in Centerville, TX

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Sam Hopkins was a Texas country bluesman of the highest caliber whose career began in the 1920s and stretched all the way into the 1980s. Along the way, Hopkins watched the genre change remarkably, but he never appreciably altered his mournful Lone Star sound, which translated onto both acoustic and electric guitar. Hopkins' nimble dexterity made intricate boogie riffs seem easy,...
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