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Lightnin' Hopkins: His Life and Bluesby Alan Govenar
Synopses & Reviews
By the time of his death in 1982, Sam “Lightnin” Hopkins was likely the most recorded blues artist in history. This brilliant new biography--the first book ever written about him--illuminates the many contradictions of the man and his myth.
Born in 1912 to a poor sharecropping family in the cotton country between Dallas and Houston, Hopkins left home when he was only eight years old with a guitar his brother had given him. He made his living however he could, sticking to the open road, playing the blues, and taking odd jobs when money was short. This biography delves into Hopkinss early years, exploring the myths surrounding his meetings with Blind Lemon Jefferson and Texas Alexander, his time on a chain gang, his relationships with women, and his lifelong appetite for gambling and drinking.
Hopkins didnt begin recording until 1946, when he was dubbed “Lightnin” during his first session, and he soon joined Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker on the national R & B charts. But by the time he was “rediscovered” by Mack McCormick and Sam Charters in 1959, his popularity had begun to wane. A second career emerged--now Lightnin was pitched to white audiences, not black ones, and he became immensely successful, singing about his country roots and injustices that informed the civil rights era with a searing emotive power.
More than a decade in the making, this biography is based on scores of interviews with Lightnins lover, friends, producers, accompanists, managers, and fans.
Based on scores of interviews with the artists relatives, friends, lovers, producers, accompanists, managers, and fans, this brilliant biography reveals a man of many layers and contradictions. Following the journey of a musician who left his family's poor cotton farm at age eight carrying only a guitar, the book chronicles his life on the open road playing blues music and doing odd jobs. It debunks the myths surrounding his meetings with Blind Lemon Jefferson and Texas Alexander, his time on a chain gang, his relationships with women, and his lifelong appetite for gambling and drinking. This volume also discusses his hard-to-read personality; whether playing for black audiences in Houstons Third Ward, for white crowds at the Matrix in San Francisco, or in the concert halls of Europe, Sam Hopkins was a musician who poured out his feelings in his songs and knew how to endear himself to his audience—yet it was hard to tell if he was truly sincere, and he appeared to trust no one. Finally, this book moves beyond exploring his personal life and details his entire musical career, from his first recording session in 1946—when he was dubbed Lightnin—to his appearance on the national charts and his rediscovery by Mack McCormick and Sam Charters in 1959, when his popularity had begun to wane and a second career emerged, playing to white audiences rather than black ones. Overall, this narrative tells the story of an important blues musician who became immensely successful by singing with a searing emotive power about his country roots and the injustices that informed the civil rights era.
About the Author
Alan Govenar is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker. He is the author of numerous books, including Texas Blues: The Rise of a Contemporary Sound; Extraordinary Ordinary People: Five American Masters of Traditional Arts; Stompin at the Savoy: The Story of Norma Miller; Untold Glory: African Americans in Pursuit of Freedom, Opportunity and Achievement; and Osceola: Memories of a Sharecroppers Daughter. The off-Broadway premiere of his musical Blind Lemon Blues, cocreated with Akin Babatunde, received rave reviews in the New York Times and Variety.
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