SAM Lightnin













Guitarist and singer Sam ‘Lightnin’ Hopkins was born in 1912 in Centerville, Texas, a younger cousin of Algernon ‘Texas’ Alexander, and an older cousin of Andrew 'Smokey' Hogg. His older brothers Joel and John Henry were also blues musicians and they were the first influence on Sam. It was from hanging around with them at parties and picnics that, in 1920, Sam met Texas singer and guitarist Blind Lemon Jefferson. In return for Jefferson teaching him guitar techniques, Sam would guide Jefferson around the bars and juke joints. When he was a teenager Hopkins teamed up with Alexander and they successfully worked the parties and picnic circuit around East Texas. He also supported his cousin on a few recording that Alexander made for Okeh at the time. When Hopkins was in his early twenties, he was sent to the Houston County Prison Farm for an unknown offence where he spent several years on the chain gang. In the early 1940's, after his release from prison, he married and tried working for a while as a sharecropper. However he wasn’t cut out for that type of work and hooked up again with Alexander, performing on street corners and small clubs in Texas, as well as travelling though Louisiana and Mississippi playing the juke joints.

In 1946 a talent scout engineered an opportunity for Hopkins, but not Alexander, to record with the Aladdin label. Hopkins was teamed up with pianist Wilson ‘Thunder’ Smith and was, almost inevitably, renamed Lightnin'. He had his first session in November 1946, which produced "Katie Mae Blues" After two sessions the label decided that Hopkins was better as a solo artist and, keeping his new nickname, he recorded further sessions recording more than forty sides in all for Aladdin. He went on to record prolifically for a range of labels that included Imperial and Gold Star until the mid 1950’s when changing music tastes resulted in little demand for his type of rural blues. He settled down in Houston and played the bars and juke joints until the folk-blues revival of the early 1960’s brought him back to prominence. He then enjoyed almost unrivalled success on the College and folk/blues festival circuit, recording again, appearing on television and touring Europe. He played at Carnegie Hall with Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, performed at the Newport Folk Festival, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and headlined with rock bands like Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead. However he never lost the habits of a wandering Texas songster and he would only perform, whether it be live or on record, if the cash was up front first. Sam ‘Lightnin’ Hopkins, one of the great country blues artists, died aged 69 in January 1982 after a period of illness following surgery.