Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Lightnin' Hopkins and the Transition from Country to Urban Blues

Originally posted on January 22, 2008

Texas-originated Lightnin’ Hopkins was a charismatic transitional figure between the country blues and the urban blues that especially came out of Chicago beginning in the late '40s. He often played a solo acoustic guitar and sang, later he might use a semi-hollow, but the essential performances were made with just him and his guitar. What he played on that guitar was often boogie based and could easily have been transposed to an electric band without difficulty. Yet his roots were in the rural style he grew up with, so there can be some variation in the number of bars in the blues form and other asymmetrical features and nuances.

I have a CD on my listening pile right now that was released on Legacy International. It is called The Best of Lightnin’ Hopkins, but I wouldn’t say it is quite of that caliber. He is joined by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee for a more or less casual sounding jam session on about half the cuts and, as much as I appreciate those artists, they take away slightly from what Lightnin’ Sam would have done on his own. Still it’s nice enough. Mr. Hopkins had a sense of humor, a knack for story telling or scene setting and some elemental but perfect guitar accompaniment abilities.

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