Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins (1912-1982) was the embodiment of Texas country blues and inspired novelists, filmmakers, and of course, countless blues singer-guitarists. The stunning impact of his charismatic performances comes fully to life in this video tracing Lightnin's career subsequent to his rediscovery in 1959.
In 1960, German filmmaker Dietrich Wavzyn captured Lightnin' on his Houston home turf, and the clips here of him perfoming on the street and in a Houston bar are rare glimpses into his milieu (and the earliest known footage of Hopkins). Seven years later, a relaxed Lightnin' delivered engaging folk-blues performances for Seattle folklorists, five of which appear here. In 1970 he painted a masterful and entertaining musical self-portrait in eight songs from the Los Angeles PBS shows Boboquivari. Finally, Lightnin's "lion-in-winter" appearance on Austin City Limits in 1979 shows a still powerful country bluesman disproving the old dog/new tricks adage with a Stratocaster and a wah-wah pedal!
Titles include: Lonesome Road, Lightnin's Blues, Baby Please Don't Go, Mojo Hand, Take Me Back, Hurricane Beulah, Baby Scratch My Back, Couldn't Be Satisfied, Questionnaire Blues, Ain't It Crazy, Shining Moon, Black and Evil, Lightnin's Boogie, What'd I Say, How Long Has It Been, Ain't No Cadillac, Rock Me Baby.
Running Time: 70 minutes
Review: Lightnin' Hopkins is generally considered the last true giant to have appeared on the acoustic blues scene.This video bears out that reputation, though even in the earliest cuts he is clearly happier when his acoustic guitar is plugged into an amp and can give him some extra sustain. Showing him in 1960, '67, '70 and '79, and mixing live concert footage with quiet filming sessions for the University of Washington, the video tracks Hopkins through the glory days of his "discovery" by a young, white audience.
The concert bits are a particular treat for those who never saw Hopkins live, giving a taste of his engaging stage style. He introduces songs with autobiographical stories or wry throw-away lines, and charms the crowd with
an array of low-key guitar tricks, reaching his right hand over his left to hit a string, or pointing with his left as his right plucks open notes.
Hopkins was only 48 in 1960 and, unlike older bluesmen who seemed out of place in their new-found glory, he took it all in stride. He wears nice suits or V-neck sweaters, a high pompadour or a sharp cap or fedora. In the final segment, he is playing a Stratocaster with a wah-wah pedal, though the music is barely hanged from his acoustic style. (Unfortunately, the rhythm section that backs him on these tracks only drags him down.)
Many Hopkins favorites are here, from his driving reworking of the old-time Take Me Back to a sizzling 1967 version of his hit Mojo Hand and a sinuous cover of Slim Harpo's Baby, Scratch My Back. The '67 studio tracks are musically strongest, showing Hopkins playing and singing with a depth that seems somewhat diluted in the concert clips by his urge to entertain. Which is to say, there are pleasures in every minute of this video, whether they come from artistry or showmanship. Hopkins was one of the great, defining blues stylists, and we are lucky to have this much and this varied a range of his work on film. - Sing Out!