Blues musician Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins was born in Centerville, Texas on this day, March 15, in 1912.
Two of my favorite stories about Lightnin’ come from an article written by Jas Obrecht and published in a book edited by Mr. Obrecht called: “Rollin’ and Tumblin’ – The Postwar Blues Guitarists.”
One story was told to Mr. Obrecht by Billy Gibbons, guitarist and singer for the Texas-born Blues-Rock band ZZ Top. Mr. Gibbons recalled an experience the band had once while accompanying Lightnin’ Hopkins.
“We were playing a traditional blues and we all went to the second change, but Lightnin’ was still in the first change. He stopped and looked at us. Our bass player said, ‘Well, Lightnin’, that’s where the second change is supposed to be, isn’t it?’ Lightnin’ looked back and said, ‘Lightnin’ change when Lightnin’ want to change.'”
The other story was told by record producer Chris Strachwitz and explains Lightnin’ Hopkins’ prolific recording career in Houston, Texas from the late 1940’s through the early 1950’s.
“Lightnin’ liked to make records,” said Mr. Strachwitz, “and no wonder, when he could sit down a few minutes, make up a number, and collect $100 in cash. And local recording producer Bill Quinn had Lightnin’ doing just that. Whenever Lightnin’ needed some money he would go over to Telegraph Road and walk into the Gold Star studios to ‘make’ some numbers. And he had a fantastic talent to come up with an endless supply of these ‘numbers.’ Many were based on traditional tunes he had heard in the past, but all of the songs received his personal treatment and they came out as very personal poetry.”
These “numbers” were collected and released by Arhoolie Records in 1991 on two CDs: Lightning Hopkins – The Gold Star Sessions – Vol. 1 & Vol. 2. The producer of these excellent CDs was Chris Strachwitz.
Last year, when I wrote my two-days-belated post in honor of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ birthday – “The Day Before Yesterday In Music History: Lightnin’ Hopkins” – I didn’t know how to embed video with my text.
But now that I do, here’s a clip of Lighnin’ Hopkins that was filmed in 1969 and released on the Vestapol Video: Lightnin’ Hopkins – Rare Performances/1960-1979.
“When I play a guitar,” Lightnin’ once said, “I play from my heart and soul and I play my own, own music.”
He also used to say: “I had the one thing you need to be a blues singer. I was born with the blues.”
Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins passed away on January 30, 1982 in Houston, Texas.