Sam's Place

Lightnin' Hopkins is only the second Texas bluesman to get his own historical marker, after his mentor Blind Lemon Jefferson.
Matthew Keever

Lightnin' Hopkins is official.

This past Saturday, a crowd that overflowed the tent erected due to the inclement weather (though it never actually rained) showed up to witness the dedication of a state historical marker honoring Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins, the legendary bluesman who lived in Third Ward from the late 1940s until his death in January 1982.

The marker was unveiled around 11 a.m. near the intersection of Dowling and Francis streets, on the grounds of Project Row Houses. Hopkins was once so familiar in the area that he became known as "The King of Dowling Street," and that particular corner as "Lightnin's Corner."

Before the unveiling, several people spoke to the crowd, led off by R. Eric Davis, whose visit to Hopkins's grave in Forest Park Lawndale cemetery in 2009 was the catalyst for obtaining the historical marker. When he realized the modest gravestone was the only public memorial in the city for a musician recognized around the world as a profound influence on both blues and rock and roll, Davis said, "I knew something had to be done to begin recognizing and reclaiming an important part of Houston's cultural fabric."

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Davis's voice caught several times as he read a long list of people and organizations that helped raise funds for the marker and dedication ceremony, including the Houston Blues Society, House of Blues and numerous private donors. House of Blues donated the tent, stage, production equipment and the hot dogs served after the ceremony as local blues artists Diunna Greenleaf & Blue Mercy, Milton Hopkins (Lightnin's cousin) and Texas Johnny Brown performed.

Houston City Councilman James Rodriguez, whose district includes Third Ward, read a resolution from Mayor Annise Parker's office congratulating Davis on his efforts and proclaiming Saturday "Lightnin' Hopkins Day." Harris County Historical Foundation representatives read further messages of congratulations from County Judge Ed Emmett, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Governor Rick Perry, and presented commemorative plaques to Hopkins's granddaughters Bertha Kelly and Jessica Woodson.

After the ceremony, looking a little less nervous, Davis said seeing the historical marker in its permanent home was "surreal."

"This thing's been sitting in my garage for two months," he said. "It's weird to see it up."

Davis added that he hoped Saturday was the first step toward securing proper recognition for other Houston blues figures and landmarks whose fame isn't quite as far-reaching as Hopkins's. He has already used some leftover funds to buy a gravestone for Hopkins's onetime musical partner, pianist James "Thunder" Smith.

An application for a historical marker outside the nearby El Dorado Ballroom, where many top names in jazz, R&B and blues played from the '40s to the '60s, has already been submitted.

The Houston-area graves of bluesmen Elmore Nixon and Juke Boy Bonner remain unmarked or in severe disrepair, Davis said. He and Houston blues scholar Dr. Roger Wood, who also spoke at Saturday's ceremony, have been discussing forming a foundation dedicated to restoring and recognizing Gulf Coast blues landmarks similar to the Mississippi Blues Trail, Davis added.

"There's as much history here as there is in Mississippi," he says.


Last Monday, Cox Communications' 106.9 FM changed its format from '80s and '90s hits to "alternative gold," jettisoning artists such as Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Tom Petty in favor of Depeche Mode, the Cult and (more) U2 and R.E.M. Positioned somewhere between Mix 96.5 and The Buzz, the station rechristened itself as "The Zone" instead of "The Point." The real point, however, according to several commenters on the Press's Rocks Off music blog, is Houston's continued lack of a true-blue, uppercase Rock FM station. "Where is my rock?" said the one and only Outlaw Dave, the former KLOL jock who now hosts a show weekdays from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Saturdays on 950 AM. "Why are the men and women of this city being underserved? In the meantime, all I can do is promote a sense of community and keep on 'talking.'"


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