Tomorrow, Rocks Off - and, we hope, a lot of our readers - will drag our raggedy asses out of bed and over to Project Row Houses in Third Ward at 10 a.m. to witness something incredible: The dedication of a Texas State Historical Marker to the greatest bluesman to ever hang his hat in Houston, Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins.
Rocks Off has been following this story since the beginning, and we have to say, we never thought something like this would happen at all. Then we never thought it would happen so soon. But R. Eric Davis has pulled it off, with a lot of help from the Houston Blues Society, House of Blues and a lot of generous private donors who also recognize what a big deal this is even if the City of Houston itself could care less.
Rocks Off asked Clint Broussard, host of KTRU's Blues In Hi-Fi, to tell us a few of his favorite Lightnin' songs. Take it away, Clint...
It is my pleasure to share my personal favorite recordings/songs by beloved Texas Blues legend Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins. I do have to say however, that these are in no particular order. His records range from the insanely personal, to wittily playful. The man could do it all; And he did it!
1. "Leavin' Blues": I first heard this on an LP that I found at a flea market entitled "Houston's King Of The Blues/ Historic Recordings 1952-'53". It is simply a track that features Lightnin' and a blazing electric guitar. The classic lyric that echoes "Ain't It Hard To Love Someone That Don't Love You/ Low Down And Dirty, Honey, That's The Way You Do..."
You can hear the echo of the room he's in. Just classic.
2. "Walkin' Round In Circles": This appears on Lightnin's classic Vee-Jay album Lightnin' Strikes. (It has recently been re-issued on vinyl.) This track is drenched in reverb and features Lightnin' simply playing an acoustic guitar as only he could do. His style shines always, but here it seems so fluent! Before the lyric even starts, he utters, "I don't know what's a matter with me- something wrong..."
3. "Mr. Charlie, Pts. 1 & 2" (Jewel Records No. 816): This is a "split" song 45. Side one of the record or "Part 1" is a short story that Lightnin' tells in spoken word form about a little boy that stutters and a man that wants the boy to notify him if his mill catches fire.
It really illustrates the difference between Lightnin' and so many other blues artists. He really conected to and loved people. He was not only a storyteller in song; He really keeps your attention as a narrator. Side 2 or "Part 2" is the song section that takes the story into a dark instrumentation that absolutely grooves!
4. "Feel So Bad" (Imperial Records No. 5834): Recorded for Lew Chudd's Imperial label in 1962; This features Lightnin' with a swingin' band. It shows his ability to carry an uptempo blues with the same kind of conviction that comes across in his more personal recordings.
5. "T-Model Blues" (July 1949): I played this track this past week on Blues In Hi-Fi and mentioned that it was not only a landmark Houston recording, it also played a heavy role in the careers of both Lightnin' and Bill Quinn (who owned Gold Star Studios in Houston).
It was one of the breakthrough "hits" for Gold Star, and also one of the earliest successes of Lightnin's long legendary career. One listen will justify all that was to come after. (More information on Gold Star Studios, Bill Quinn and Lightnin' Hopkins can be found in House of Hits: The Story of Houston's Gold Star/Sugarhill Recording Studios by Andy Bradley And Roger Wood.)
6. "Merry Christmas/Happy New Year" (Decca Records No. 48306): If you've ever heard my program, you might notice that I am a big fan of the 45 RPM record! As you might know, every week I do a segment which is my "Spotlight 45." Every Christmas show, I drop a needle on "Merry Christmas" and the following week I flip the record over and play "Happy New Year."
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Having a blues program in Houston, it just seems essential to pay homage to Lightnin' every holiday season. After all, he is the shining star that put us on the map when it comes to blues! Also an interesting note - it is fairly well known that Lightnin' would record for almost anybody that paid him on the same day as the session.
His catalog is cluttered with so many different labels, and so many different song titles that sometimes had been a previous song under a different name. He was known for making songs up on the spot at recording sessions, too. Most times it worked.
Apparently, when this record came out on Decca, Lightnin' had been under contract to at least one other label. Therefore, to avoid lawsuits, the label reads the artist as "Lightening Hopkins"... You can't fool us, though, Sam!
Listen to some of Clint's choices, and a lot more Lightnin' songs, right here.