Lightnin' Hopkins [Smithsonian/Folkways] - Lightnin' Hopkins

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Lightnin' Hopkins [Smithsonian/Folkways] - Lightnin' Hopkins

1 CD(s) - Texas/W. Coast Blues - Label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Smithsonian Folkways - Distributor: Discovery - Released: 01/08/1994, 08/1994...

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Review of "Lightnin' Hopkins [Smithsonian/Folkways] - Lightnin' Hopkins"

published 16/10/2017 | 2mennycds
Member since : 28/08/2015
Reviews : 287
Members who trust : 72
About me :
Best wishes to all, and thanks for your kind rates and comments, have been half-expecting the latest announcement for at least the last year. Have thoroughly enjoyed being a member over the last couple of years or so.
Pro Superb blues guitar and singing, some upbeat songs, ambience of recording
Cons Not for all, vocals sometimes hard to make out
Quality and consistency of tracks
Cover / Inlay Design and Content
Value for Money

""I'm gonna do time for another man.. you oughta be ashamed""

Lightnin' Hopkins [Smithsonian/Folkways] - Lightnin' Hopkins

Lightnin' Hopkins [Smithsonian/Folkways] - Lightnin' Hopkins


Sadly, although the most mundane – and conversely, the most expensive consumer products – earn money as well as points on Ciao, music reviews aren’t only exempt from Diamond awards and Premium Fund – like books – but don’t earn a single penny in the writing or for any rating received.

Sharing some great music was my main reason for joining the site. I think it’s the poorer for the absence of music reviews, and despite earning no money for writing them, I still want to recommend some worthwhile listening.


In 1959 an attempt was made to acquaint those caught up in the American “folk” revival with Lightnin’ Hopkins’ music. This album is the result of him being tracked down – understandably sceptical – and persuaded to record for Smithsonian/Folkways, a label dedicated to discovering obscure singers and players and to rediscovering others. The microphone was held by hand and angled alternately towards his mouth and his guitar!

Sam Charters, who tracked down and recorded Lightnin’ for this album, says in the sleeve notes: “This was the kind of blues singer that everyone hoped to find – someone who was a great guitarist, a warm, loose, singer, and who was also in his way an unconventional rebel”. He goes on to say that whenever he was asked later to define the sound of the country blues, he would play this album. It may be partly due to nostalgia or personal joy in meeting the man, but Charters also says that throughout all the following years Lighnin’ recorded many other albums, but that for Charters this one constitutes “his most exciting musical statement”.

I have several of his albums, but I’d have to say that this is my favourite.


Sam “Lightnin” Hopkins was born in 1912 and died of cancer in 1982. He was born and lived in Texas, and from an early age blues music was a huge influence on him; he met the legendary (and highly esoteric) singer and guitar player Blind Lemon Jefferson as a child. His nickname derived from an early pairing with a piano player “Thunder” Smith.

Lightnin’ served some time on a prison farm in Houston in the mid-1930s; in the early 1940s he tried to get into the music business. His Aladdin and Gold Star recordings are considered some of his greatest work.

Like many of his day, Lightnin’ played both acoustic guitar and electric guitar, but his technique was the same on both instruments. He hit chords with a heavy, diagonal sweep of his arm, but fingerpicked riffs and fills, too, using just his thumb and his first finger.

Like a number of blues (and some English “folk”) singers, Lightnin’ had a relaxed sense of timing, his guitar playing fitted in around the vocals, rather than the other way round. For this reason, his solo recordings are often better than those where he is backed by others; apart from some long-term partners, many couldn’t fit in with his timing, which sometimes mars the overall sound.

His intimacy with blues music meant that he could improvise lyrics as well as guitar licks and riffs. The notes on Vol 1 of his “Gold Star” recordings tell how, at a live performance, he addressed lyrics of one song to this or that individual or group that was presen.

It’s estimated that he recorded between 800 – 1000 songs altogether! There’s a statue to him in Crockett, Texas.

The album

The album comes in a jewel case, and comprises 10 tracks, with a playing time of 32 minutes. The accompanying four-page booklet (reproduced from the original vinyl cover) tells something of his story as well as his rediscovery and the recording of this album.

The tracks

~ ~ ~ Penitentiary Blues

This may be autobiographical. Either way, Lightnin’ laments a miscarriage of justice “doin’ time for another man, but ain’t nothin’ po’ Lightnin’ done” due to a miscarriage of justice adding as a spoken line, “Well, you oughta be ashamed”. As with his other downbeat blues material, he sings this with conviction, his gravelly voice lending authority and realism.

~ ~ ~ Bad Luck And Trouble

An abandoned lover song, the lyrics are again enhanced by Lightnin’s voice. As with much of his guitar playing, this song features his trademark style: empahatic strums, staccato playing of two strings at a time (think “di-di-di, di-di-di-di, deeee-di-di-dee…) and some stunning single string note playing. The combination is – to me, at least – quite spellbinding. There’s a hint of menace about solving his problem with a spoken aside: “Don’t wanna do it, but I may have to…”

~ ~ ~ Come Go Home With Me

This is a change of mood, a kind of happy blues; the song structure is very much in the blues idiom, but the lyrics and tempo are upbeat, and cheeky. Some of the words are probably made up as he goes along, many lines are spoken, and the guitar playing is sparkling and, just when you think it’s all a familiar feel and groove, he breaks it up with single string licks. I feel that the song is a worthy and welcome change of feel. Some lively foot tapping helps with the rhythm and drive.

~ ~ ~ See That My Grave Is Kept Clean

This is Lightnin’s take on a song from the repertoire of the esoteric Blind Lemon Jefferson, whom he knew personally.
“One kind favour I ask of you (repeat twice)
“See my grave is kept clean”

The lyric isn’t original to Lightnin’, but I find it haunting, and his rendition of it I find as good as others, and again his guitar work propels the rhythm along and punctuates it with single notes or pairs of notes.

~ ~ ~ Reminiscences Of Blind Lemon

Track 7 is a spoken piece, answering questions (that are just audible) about the legendary player’s life and personality. It’s hardly definitive at just over two minutes in length, but it’s good to hear Lightnin’s voice and personality all the same.

~ ~ ~ Fan It

As with a lot of other blues material, this is based on innuendo. I’ll say no more other than that it doesn’t really appeal to me, though there is some very adept playing.

~ ~ ~ She’s Mine

This is another upbeat blues! With warmth and conviction Lightnin’ sings about a woman who’s crippled, small, and blind, but celebrates that “She’s Mine…”

As well as the trademark interweaving of strums, riffs and single string notes, there’s as section of percussive tapping on the body of the guitar.

Again it makes for a nice change of feel, and Sam’s singing and playing make it a fine song in its own right.

Concluding comments

Despite the innuendo-laden “Fan It”, I rate this album 5 stars (or a “Gold Star”!)

~ ~ ~ The niche style of vintage acoustic blues won’t be to all tastes; words are often hard to make out, and the performance and recording are unpolished.

~ ~ ~ authentic blues isn’t meant to sound pretty, though, and this album is about as authentic as it comes: a singer and player who was personally acquainted with legendary bluesmen, singing and playing solo into a (hand-held!) mike

~ ~ ~ his voice is rich, characterful and gravelly, and to my mind ideally suited to the material

~ ~ ~ his guitar playing at times is sparkling and scintillating, a seamless but seemingly effortless combination of several techniques. Watching him play on video clips is quite fascinating, those big, emphatic downward swings of his arm on his strums, the two-string playing of his thumb and first finger in unison, and his solo string playing, but all to serve the sound, never for effect

~ ~ ~ The Gold Star and Aladdin recordings are undoubtedly his best work, but I love the simplicity of this album, the acoustic rather than electric guitar playing, and the varied moods

It’s currently available from Amazon (new hard copy) for £15.50, MP3 for just £3.99. I much prefer CD format, but £3.99 for the MP3 has got to be worth a punt for anyone interested in vintage blues, acoustic blues, or acoustic guitar playing!

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Comments on this review

  • RICHADA published 02/11/2017
    Really interesting stuff here, on someone I've never heard of too. R.
  • euphie published 30/10/2017
    e :o)
  • jb0077 published 21/10/2017
    An E from me.
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Product Information : Lightnin' Hopkins [Smithsonian/Folkways] - Lightnin' Hopkins

Manufacturer's product description

1 CD(s) - Texas/W. Coast Blues - Label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Smithsonian Folkways - Distributor: Discovery - Released: 01/08/1994, 08/1994 - 93074001929

Product Details

EAN: 93074001929


Listed on Ciao since: 28/10/2011