Lightnin' Hopkins

From the 1920s until the 1980s, the country blues of Lightnin’ Hopkins remained relatively unchanged amid a dynamic landscape that used his genre’s music as creative inspiration. Born in Texas in 1912, Hopkins met Blind Lemon Jefferson at age eight, learned guitar from his singing cousin Alger “Texas” Alexander, and subsequently played public functions with Jefferson, the only other blues guitarist to do so. In the 1930s Hopkins entered the Houston County Prison Farm. He was eventually released and went to Houston, where he failed to break into the music business. He worked as a farmhand until 1946, when he returned to Houston and was discovered by Aladdin Records’ Lola Anne Cullum while singing in the city’s Third Ward neighborhood. Through the end of the 1950s, Hopkins recorded for Aladdin and Gold Star Records, performed mostly in Texas save recording sessions and rare appearances in the Midwest and East, and garnered an audience of mostly African Americans with regional hit songs. In 1959, as part of a growing, folk-influenced interest in blues music, Hopkins was contacted by researcher Mack MacCormick, who brought the bluesman to California and then New York for a Carnegie Hall debut in 1960. Though he had recorded a self-titled album with Sam Charters for Folkways in 1959, through the 1960s (with Tradition, Bluesville, Vee-Jay, Verve, and others) Hopkins released a staggering twenty-five records. While Hopkins’s country blues style did not lend itself to accompaniment, in 1968 he recorded Free-Form Patterns with members of the 13th Floor Elevators, a rare attempt to incorporate his sound within the modern psychedelic rock scene. When Hopkins died in 1982 he had served as Houston’s poet-in-residence for thirty-five years and become a blues archetype for the folk revival generation of musicians and fans.