Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins (March 15,
1912 – January 30, 1982) was a country
blues guitar musician, from Houston, Texas.
Born in Centerville, Texas, Hopkins learned
the blues when young in Buffalo, Texas from
Blind Lemon Jefferson and his older cousin,
country-blues singer Alger 'Texas' Alexander.
When Hopkins and Alexander were playing in Houston
in 1946, he was discovered by Lola Anne Cullum
of Los Angeles', Aladdin Records (although Alexander
would not make it out to L.A.) Hopkins' fast
finger style is very distinct.
He settled in Houston in 1952 and gained much
attention. Solid recordings followed including
his masterpiece song Mojo Hand in 1960.
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. His musical phrasing
would often include a long low note at the beginning,
the rhythm played in the middle range, then
the lead in the high range. By playing this
quickly - with occasional slaps of the guitar
- the effect of bass, rhythm, percussion and
lead would be created.
In 1968 Hopkins recorded the album Free Form
Patterns backed by psychedelic rock band the
13th Floor Elevators.
Hopkins was a great influence on many local
musicians around Houston and Austin, Texas in
the 1950s and 1960s. He was an influence on
Jimmie Vaughan's work and, more significantly,
on the vocals and blues style of Ron "Pigpen"
McKernan, the keyboardist of the Grateful Dead
until 1972. He was also an important influence
on Townes Van Zandt, the Texan folk/blues songwriter
and performer, who often performed Hopkins numbers
in his live performances. Doyle Bramhall II
is another Texas artist who was influenced by
Hopkins, as evidenced by a tattoo of Lightning
on his upper left arm. Jimi Hendrix reportedly
became interested in blues music listening to
Lightnin' Hopkins records with his father.
A song named after him was recorded by R.E.M.
on their album Document.
The Houston Chronicle included Hopkins in their
list of "100 Tall Texans", 100 important
Texans that influenced the world. The George
Bush Presidential Library and Museum included
Hopkins in a 100 Tall Texans exhibit that opened
in September 2006. The display includes Lightnin's
Guild Starfire electric guitar and performance
Hopkins' Gibson J-160e guitar is on display
at the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland,