Friday, January 23, 2009

Room, Gin, Microphone

When Sam Charters wanted to record blues legend Lightnin´ Hopkins for the Folkways label in the late fifties, he had quite a bit of trouble to even locate the blues legend, who had more or less stopped playing at the time. One of his cousins, who worked as a cook down in New Orleans, told him to check out Houston, Texas. Lightnin´ just might be living there. In Houston, he only managed to locate Lightnin´s guitar at first... in a pawn shop on Dowling Street.

But word got around that someone was lookin´ for Lightnin´ and the next day Hopkins showed up. Charters first had to convince him he was serious in doing a session, then had to go over to the nearest liquor store to buy the man a nice bottle of gin. In the shabby room Hopkins was renting at the time, Charters had to hold the microphone in his hand, moving it down towards the guitar when a solo was being played, then moving it close enough to Hopkins´ lips again to catch the vocals.

The result of these more than primitive recording conditions? An amazing blues album, originally issued in ´59 as The Roots Of Lightnin´ Hopkins, which spawned a new interest in the Texas maestro´s music during the blues revival of the early sixties. This was acoustic Lightnin´, which turned out to be every inch as impressive as the better known electric Lightnin´ who cut these legendary sides for the Herald label back in ´54 amongst many others.

For proof, just check out the intense Penitentiary Blues from this album - later re-released as just Lightnin´ Hopkins in a Warholian sleeve to die for. "You know I´m gonna do time for another man, ain´t nothin´ poor Lightnin´ done..." What a voice.

Lightnin´ Hopkins - Penitentiary Blues MP3


Skarpi said...

Thanks! I only knew of him thru his Townes connection, which was quite a lot, I think, and never really heard him play. Except for that great bit in the TVZ documentary.
Love the blog as always, probably my favorite mp3-blog!

Ramone666 said...

Thanks for your kind words Skarpi. Townes indeed covered a quite lot of his friend Lightnin´s songs, and I like these very much, but nothing beats the man himself.

David Horgan said...

Thanks for your note about this Smithsonian Folkways recording.

If anyone is interested in more information, including a .PDF of the liner notes or ordering the CD, please visit:



David Horgan
Smithsonian Folkways

Anonymous said...

If you can find it, Autobiography in Blues (Tradition TLP-1040, TRAD 1002CD) comes from this same period, and to my ear it blows away any electric Lightnin'.

Ramone666 said...

I´ll check it out Curmudgn, thanks for the tip!