Music History

Music History Biographies

Music History Of The Week

Music History Calendar

Lightnin Hopkins

On 15/03/1911: Lightnin' Hopkins was born in Centerville, Texas. His full birth name was Sam John Hopkins. During his childhood, he would hear blues music. At the age of 8, Hopkins met Blind Lemon Jefferson at a church picnic in Buffalo, Texas. The meeting inspired him to follow blues music. He learnt from his older (distant) cousin Alga "Texas" Alexander. Hopkins would accompany Blind Lemon Jefferson at informal church gatherings. Jefferson would not let anyone play with him except Hopkins. Hopkins learnt a lot from Jefferson at the gatherings.
In the mid-1930s, Hopkins was sent to Houston County Prison Farm for an offence which has since become unknown.
In the late 1930s, Hopkins moved to Houston with Alexander.
In the early 1940s, Hopkins returned to Centerville after failing to break into the Houston music scene and was working as a farm hand.
In 1946, Hopkins moved to Houston again. Whilst singing on Dowling Street, he was discovered by Lola Anne Cullum from the Los Angeles label Aladdin Records. She convinced Hopkins to go to Los Angeles to accompany pianist Wilson Smith. The two of them recorded 23 tracks in their first sessions. An executive at Aladdin Records decided to give them stage names and named Hopkins as "Lightnin" and Wilson as "Thunder".
In 1947, Hopkins recorded more sides for Aladdin Records. He would then return to Houston and began recording for Gold Star Records.
In 1949, Hopkins would record with another of his cousins, blues guitarist Frankie Lee Sims.
In the late 1940s and 1950s, Hopkins rarely performed outside of Texas. He would occasionally travel to the Midwest and East for recording sessions and concert appearances.
It is estimated that Hopkins recorded between 800 and 1000 songs in his career. These included the hit songs "T-Model Blues" and "Tim Moore's Farm" which he recorded at SugarHill Recording Studios, Houston. Hopkins recorded more albums than any other bluesman.
By the mid to late 1950s, Hopkins had developed a strong following from his recordings.
In 1959, blues researcher Mack McCormick contacted Hopkins, to bring him to a wider audience as part of the folk revival. McCormack presented Hopkins to integrated audiences in Houston and then in California.
In 1960, Hopkins made his debut appearance at Carnegie Hall alongside Joan Baez and Pete Seeger. Also in 1960, he signed with Tradition Records. In the same year, he recorded the song "Mojo Hand" for Tradition.
In 1968, Hopkins recorded the album "Free Form Patterns" with backing from the rhythm section of the psychedelic band 13th Floor Elevators. D
During the 1960s and into the 1970s, Hopkins released one of two albums a year and toured major folk festivals, folk clubs and college campuses in the US and internationally.
In 1978, Hopkins played a six-city tour of Japan.
Hopkins was Houston's poet-in-residence for 35 years.
On 30/01/1982, Hopkins died of esophageal cancer in Houston.
There is a statue of Hopkins in Crockett, Texas as well as another statue dedicated to him (in the shape of a lightning bolt) in Dallas, Texas.

The Music History Calendar is written by the Blues Rock artist Marshland Pete
If you would like more, come join our Music News and History Facebook Group Community