The Public Records 7/12/18
Since it is July and since July is the birthday month of the nation, here in The Public Records we decided that it would be pertinent to focus on American music and American musicians. So we will start where it all began; well, it didn’t all begin there, but for all intents and purposes it did: The Blues.
Blues and jazz are distinctly American forms of folk music (and what great forms they are). We’ll start with the blues because that is what I pulled off the shelf first and because urban jazz most likely derived from its rural cousin. Blues, just like any other musical genre, is not limited to a specific sound or style; the first album we will explore is a ‘country-blues’ album by Lightnin’ Hopkins.
Hopkins, born Samuel John in 1912 in Centerville, Texas got his start playing at a very young age. At age 8, Hopkins met Blind Lemon Jefferson at a church picnic. This meeting inspired to take up playing the guitar and after receiving initial musical training from his cousins, who themselves were musicians, began to regularly accompany Blind Lemon Jefferson at informal gatherings. The young Hopkins was the only accompianist that Jefferson would accept and this allowed Hopkins to gain experience and ability very quickly.
Because Lightnin’ grew playing without a backing band, he developed a distinctive style that while it remained within the realm of the 12 bar structure he played all the parts. He was lead, bass, rhythm, and percussion all while singing with wit and humor. In fact, he was Houston’s poet-in-residence for over three decades.
Sam Hopkins moved to LA after being discovered on the streets of Houston, Texas’ 3rd Ward and was convinced to go to California by Aladdin Records Lola Anne Cullum. He was paired with pianist Wilson Smith. The company execs gave them the nicknames Lightnin’ and Thunder to make their act a little more wild. After working with Aladdin in the 30s, he then signed with Gold Star Records in the 40s and 50s.
By the 1960s he had a large following of Americans of all races and was approached to work with white musicians of the folk revival. He began large tours outside his native Texas and performed with Joan Baez and Pete Seeger in Carnegie Hall. His influence on rock began to grow and he worked with the 13th Floor Elevators in 1968.
Hopkins became an international success and had a major tour in Japan as well as constant US tours and was still able to put out one or two albums a year. When he died in 1982, he had the largest recorded catalog of any bluesman.
Hopkins will be best be enjoyed with a tall glass of Sage Advice.