Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins learned the blues from Blind Lemon Jefferson in the Twenties. The enduring musical journey of Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins began on a cotton farm in Centerville, Texas in 1912. His style was born from spending many hours playing informally without a backing band.
His distinctive style often included playing, in effect, bass, rhythm, lead, percussion, and vocals, all at the same time.
Born Sam John Hopkins in Centerville, Texas, Hopkins’ childhood was immersed in the sounds of the blues and he developed a deeper appreciation at the age of 8 when he met Blind Lemon Jefferson at a church picnic in Buffalo, Texas. That day, Hopkins felt the blues was “in him” and went on to learn from his older (somewhat distant) cousin, country blues singer Alger “Texas” Alexander.
(Hopkins had another cousin, Texas electric blues guitarist, Frankie Lee Sims with whom he later recorded. Hopkins began accompanying Blind Lemon Jefferson on guitar in informal church gatherings. Jefferson supposedly never let anyone play with him except for young Hopkins, who learned much from and was influenced greatly by Blind Lemon Jefferson thanks to these gatherings. Houston’s poet-in-residence for 35 years, Hopkins recorded more albums than any other bluesman.
Hopkins died of esophageal cancer in Houston on January 30, 1982, at the age of 69. His New York Times obituary named him as “one of the great county blues and perhaps the greatest single influence on rock guitar players.” Hopkins’ style was born from spending many hours playing informally without a backing band.
His distinctive fingerstyle playing often included playing, in effect, bass, rhythm, lead, percussion, and vocals, all at the same time. He played both “alternating” and “monotonic” bass styles incorporating imaginative, often chromatic turnarounds and single-note lead lines. Tapping or slapping the body of his guitar added rhythmic accompaniment.
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