Lightnin’ Hopkins

By Gary:

We have posted 885 Posts on our blog and I believe that I have produced over 800.  I am running out of gas.  I am 77, I have just moved to a new home and area, so needless to say I have been really busy.  You will probably be getting more posts from Russ now as I have awakened the Sleeping Giant. 

I am a simple music person, Russ, on the other hand, is an accomplished Jazz Saxophonist and has been playing for probably 60 years.  Now me, I am a 6 chord wonder with maybe 3 years of internet and the odd lesson.  The reason I mention this is because my love of early Rock and Roll or Rockabilly and Blues is very simple music and usually a 12 bar blues structure.

I am a guitar lover and I was doing some research regarding guitar licks, who developed them where did they come from.  I loved James Burton (Susie Q), Scotty Moore (Elvis), Ike Turner (great musician) and so on.  Now, did Scotty Moore develop the riffs for Elvis? Where did 16-year-old James Burton come up with the Susie Q riff? Who were their influences?

I have always had a love of Country Blues, yep that’s the 12 bar type. I found a singer, songwriter, and guitar player that did not have any “Real” hits as we know it, yet he influenced many generations of pickers. 

Rolling Stone picked this man as number 71 on a list of 100 most influential guitar players.  I love his own composition of “Mojo Hand” which most of you, have never heard of but it’s my kind of music. 

He really did not get a start in music until he was 34, he did some time in a prison farm (I do not know why) but once given the opportunity it is estimated that he has recorded between 800 and 1000 songs.  Samuel John Hopkins was born in Centerville Texas in 1912 and left us in 1982.

Samuel John “Lightnin” Hopkins
1964 / Mojo Hand /
Live Acoustic, watch his guitar work /
What’d I say /
Baby Please Don’t Go /
Lightnin’ Boogie Blues /
Couldn’t Be Satisfied /
Mojo Hand (Electric) /
Lightnin’ Hopkins Pt. 1 /
I was Standing on Highway 75 /
(There were no singles, but here are some album cuts)
HOPKINS, SAM [LIGHTNIN’] (1911–1982)

Sam (Lightnin’) Hopkins, blues singer and guitarist, was born in Centerville, Texas, on March 15, probably in 1911. Though some sources give his year of birth as 1912, his Social Security application listed the year as 1911. He was the son of Abe and Frances (Sims) Hopkins.

After his father died in 1915, the family (Sam, his mother and five brothers and sisters) moved to Leona. At age eight he made his first instrument, a cigar-box guitar with chicken-wire strings. By ten he was playing music with his cousin, Texas Alexander, and Blind Lemon Jefferson, who encouraged him to continue. Hopkins also played with his brothers, blues musicians John Henry and Joel.

Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins Aladdin Recordings.
Images available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

By the mid-1920s Sam had started jumping trains, shooting dice, and playing the blues anywhere he could. Apparently he married Elamer Lacey sometime in the 1920s, and they had several children, but by the mid-1930s Lacey, frustrated by his wandering lifestyle, took the children and left Hopkins. He served time at the Houston County Prison Farm in the mid-1930s, and after his release he returned to the blues-club circuit.

In 1946 he had his big break and first studio session—in Los Angeles for Aladdin Recordings. On the record was a piano player named Wilson (Thunder) Smith; by chance he combined well with Sam to give him his nickname, Lightnin’. The album has been described as “downbeat solo blues” characteristic of Hopkins’s style. Aladdin was so impressed with Hopkins that the company invited him back for a second session in 1947. He eventually made forty-three recordings for the label.

Over his career Hopkins recorded for nearly twenty different labels, including Gold Star Records in Houston. On occasion he would record for one label while under contract to another. In 1950 he settled in Houston, but he continued to tour the country periodically.

Though he recorded prolifically between 1946 and 1954, his records for the most part were not big outside the black community. It was not until 1959, when Hopkins began working with legendary producer Sam Charters, that his music began to reach a mainstream white audience. Hopkins switched to an acoustic guitar and became a hit in the folk-blues revival of the 1960s.


During the early 1960s he played at Carnegie Hall with Pete Seeger and Joan Baez and in 1964 toured with the American Folk Blues Festival. By the end of the decade he was opening for such rock bands as the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. During a tour of Europe in the 1970s, he played for Queen Elizabeth II at a command performance. Hopkins also performed at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. In 1972 he worked on the soundtrack to the film Sounder.

He was also the subject of a documentary, The Blues According to Lightnin’ Hopkins, which won the prize at the Chicago Film Festival for outstanding documentary in 1970.

Penitentiary Blues Album, 1959. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins Historical Marker, with his cousin Milton pictured right. Courtesy of the Houston Press. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Some of his biggest hits included “Short Haired Women / Big Mama Jump!” (1947); “Shotgun Blues,” which went to Number 5 on the Billboard charts in 1950; and “Penitentiary Blues” (1959). His albums included The Complete Prestige /Bluesville Recordings, The Complete Aladdin Recordings, and the Gold Star Sessions (two volumes). Hopkins recorded a total of more than eighty-five albums and toured around the world. But after a 1970 car crash, many of the concerts he performed were on his front porch or at a bar near his house. He had a knack for writing songs impromptu, and frequently wove legends around a core of truth. His often autobiographical songs made him a spokesman for the southern black community that had no voice in the white mainstream until blues attained a broader popularity through white singers like Elvis Presley. In 1980 Lightnin’ Hopkins was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame.

Hopkins died of cancer of the oesophagus on January 30, 1982, in Houston. He was survived by his caretaker, Antoinette Charles, and four children. His funeral was attended by more than 4,000, including fans and musicians. He was buried in Forest Park Cemetery in Houston.

In 2002 the town of Crockett in Houston County, east of the birthplace of Hopkins, erected a memorial statue honouring the bluesman in Lightnin’ Hopkins Park. He is also honoured in the Houston Institute for Culture’s Texas Music Hall of Fame. In the 2010s a documentary, Where Lightnin’ Strikes, was in production.



5 responses to “Lightnin’ Hopkins

  1. Gary, I am an old friend of Russ’s. We played in the same band together back in the early 60’s. It was with the Regent’s. I was the organ player (Barry Lloyd) originally from the Mid-Knights. Ran into Russ last year and renewed our friendship. He got me onto this site. Wish I had some more of those 800 some posts you did, I love them. I am a real R&B man love the Blues. Played with Hooker, Jimmy reed and Bo Diddly. Thanks for what you are doing. I’m 76 now and am slowing down also but still love playing the keyboard. Barry

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

    • Barry: I am glad you enjoy the Blog. All of the Post’s are still there just use Russ’s Index, but remember like you Russ is a Musician so Bobby Darin will be filed under “B” for Bobby not “D” for Darin. Other than that it is easy to look up any Artist.

  2. another blues icon fav of mine. Good article Gary


    Age means nothing as long as the brain is working and sure as hell yours is smoking with all this musical information. Lightnin’ Hopkins another great guitar player and recording artists. ADLADDIN had so many great artists on there 2 labels. California the home of solid entertainment and Record labels and Studios for Recording. Enjoy your new living quarters.
    Wayne Cochran passed on this week, any relation to EDDIE COCHRAN?



    • Hugh: I do not really know if they were related, but I doubt it. They were born 1 year apart but Eddie was Minnesota and Wayne Georgia, so I very much doubt it.

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