Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lightnin' Hopkins: His Life and Blues Redux

I thoroughly enjoyed Alan Govenar's Lightnin' Hopkins: His Life and Blues (Chicago Review Press, 2010).  Govenar scoured city and country to find every bit of information he could; he dug through company records, conducted numerous interviews and sifted through a mountain of liner notes and articles. Combined with an extended engagement with Hopkins' recorded output -- even a reasonable sampling -- this biographical study will give anyone interested a good feel for the iconic bluesman.  One also glimpses how the music show business worked from the 1940s into the 1980s, in the studio and on the road. 

Some keen observations by Ed Pearl, owner of Ash Grove, a West Coast oasis for live performances at  8162 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles that ran from 1958 to 1973: "He [Hopkins] knew his limitations . . . and he was happy to be part of his community, but he knew there was a bigger world out there. He thought people should be equal and he thought . . . poor people should have more. And everyone is a child of God. He was against the Vietnam war" (page 194, from 2008 Govenar interview).  Another noteworthy aspect of Lightnin' Hopkins' life: his thirty-five year relationship, until his death, with Antoinette Charles. She was a love of his life, and strong, if not the only one; given that she was married to someone else for the same duration, with kids, it was the same for her. 

As Govenar points out emphatically, not all of the bluesman's recorded output is of equal quality. Delving into his discography (and there's a comprehensive one included), it's a good idea to choose carefully. The most recent collection I've been listening to features him on electric guitar  (Hopkins' preferred style): Lightnin' Hopkins, Rainy Day In Houston (2000), recordings from 1955, 1961 and 1968.  This one has three of my favorite of his topical tracks: "War Is Starting Again," "The World's In A Tangle" and "Vietnam War." 

Today's Rune: Wholeness.

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