We all have days when we feel like singing the blues. It’s like pouring your heart out, laying all your sins on the table and bemoaning your plight. Lightnin’ Sam Hopkins felt like that music was part of him. He knew he’d be singing the blues when he was only 8. Born in Centerville, Texas on this day in 1912, he would one day be honored as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, by Rolling Stone Magazine.
He was born into the blues really. At the age of 3, his father, Abe was killed over a card game. His grandfather had hung himself to escape the indignities of slavery. In the 30s, Hopkins was sent to a prison farm in Houston. The offense is unknown. After his release, he tried to break into the music business, but failed and soon was back working as a farm hand in Centerville.
As a young boy, he met Blind Lemon Jefferson at a church picnic and knew that he wanted to do what that man was doing. He learned from a distant cousin, Alger “Texas” Alexander and Frankie Lee Sims how to play. Eventually he played with Jefferson on guitar at a church gathering. Jefferson would never let anyone play with him except young Hopkins. Hopkins in turn learned much from Jefferson.
In 1946 he tried again and this time he caught a break. Those years in between were probably giving him living inspiration for putting his music together with his emotions. That’s what the blues is. Taking difficult situations and putting them into a song. Sort of like making music with deep feeling poetry.
During his career Hopkins made between 800 and 1000 recordings. Guess he had was right about having the blues in him. Hopkins was Houston’s poet-in-residence for 35 years. He recorded more albums than any other bluesman.
Hopkins died of esophageal cancer in Houston on January 30, 1982, at the age of 69. His obituary described him as “one of the great country blues singers and perhaps the greatest single influence on rock guitar players.”
Today is a big day for famous birthdays. I decided to highlight Lightnin’ today, because some days you just have to sing the blues.