Samuel John Hopkins born March 15, 1912-died January 30, 1982
In the blues world people used the term to describe someone really fast. Lonnie Johnson was one of the first bluesmen to be called a Lightnin’ Boy. Somehow others escaped the moniker. Robert Johnson was an absolute virtuoso but was never called Lightnin’ at least that anyone knows about. Who knows with Robert Johnson, right?
Samuel Hopkins was called Lightning but maybe not for the reason outlined above. Was he a virtuoso? Absolutely he was. Was he fast, fast as anyone? Oh yes he was. Rolling Stone Magazine has him rated in the top 100 guitarists of all time. He was born in Texas and as a child the blues music was all around. He met Blind Lemon Jefferson when he was only a child and announced then and there that the blues was in him. So he learned the guitar at an early age and as he grew and developed he was the only guitarist that Jefferson wanted or allowed to play with him. Hopkins was skilled and as he got older he made two attempts to make it as a blues performer in Houston. On his second attempt he was discovered by Aladdin records and traveled to Los Angeles where he recorded with a pianist Wilson Smith. It was there an Aladdin executive dubbed Hopkins Lightning and Smith Thunder in an attempt to make them more attractive to listen to. He recorded more and then returned to Houston and afterwards rarely traveled away from Texas until 1959 when he went to Carnegie Hall and from there Hopkins was introduced to the world.
I discovered Lightning Hopkins pretty late in my blues journey. That is somewhat surprising given how high he is on my list of all time blues artists. It’s also not surprising as there are hundreds of blues artists. Don’t even get me started with those with Blind in their name and who actually was and who wasn’t really blind. A friend gave me his complete Aladdin recordings and that introduced me. I loved him instantly and every time he comes around on my playlist enjoy him a little more.
Hopkins music is tremendous and like John Lee Hooker he was a tremendous storyteller and concert performer playing many large folk festivals. He later toured the world. Sadly he died of cancer at the age of 62 in Houston. Hopkins closely resembled the old school blues performers who often would come on stage alone and play in such a way that one man sounded like a band. He is truly a virtuoso talent. He has great songs and is a really good singer. He is rated number 5 on my all-time list of bluesmen and he is well worth listening to in an exploration of the blues.