Wednesday, April 7, 2010

thedeltablues: Lightnin’ Hopkins – New Facts Emerge

By Jason  //  Bluesblues history  //  No Comments

The History of Lighnin’ Hopkins is Re-written by TheDeltaBlues!

 Sometimes, especially when it comes to the blues, facts around a performer’s life can become marred by oral histories, embellishments, false interviews, and fake witnesses.  Sometimes it turns out that complete histories can be rewritten with the findings of documents.  SOmetimes it is just a small part of the history.  Thus is the case with Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins.

Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins

Hopkins was born in 1912 in Centerville, TX.  He was surrounded by the blues at an early age.  He would become fully immersed into the blues at age 8, when he met Blind lemon Jefferson at a picnic.  This chance meeting would lead him to track down and learn from his (distant) cousin, Texas Alexander.  This is where his history has been marred.

Texas Alexander

It is stated, and widely accepted, that Hopkins (who also is the only known musician to ever accompany Blind Lemon Jefferson) began playing with his cousin Texas Alexander in an attempt to break into the blues scene.  What is falsely reported, in almost all books, web sites, and biographies, is that Hopkins served time in the Houston County Prison Farm in the mid 1930’s for an unknown offense, which led to a temporary break up between him and Alexander.  It is also believed that Hopkins moved with Alexander to Houston in the late 1930’s in an unsuccessful attempt to break into the music scene there.  Though he did move to Houston, it was not his music that made the attempt unsuccessful.  Some historians say this unsuccessful attempt caused Hopkins to move back to Centerville, to work as a farm hand. This is also not the case.

So what really happened?

Letter from TDCJ (click to enlarge)

The great state of Texas, and more specifically, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has outstanding records.  The TDCJ has records that date back to the early 1800’s for every person ever incarcerated there.  In fact, they boldly state, as did Rachel Williams, a Records Coordinator with the TDCJ, that if a person was incarcerated in Texas in the 1900’s they would most definitely have a record if it.  Her statement made to me reads “As a matter of fact, we have records dating back to the 1800’s.  So if [Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins] were incarcerated here, we would definitely have the records.”  In a letter sent to me by the TDCJ, Hopkins has no records of ever serving time in any prison system in Texas.  You see, Hopkins was never jailed there.

So what caused his break up with Alexander in the mid 1930’s?  More than likely, it was Alexander himself.  At this time, Alexander was somewhat of a hot commodity.  It is widely known in 1934 he was recording sides for Vocalion in San Antonio, and also recorded sides in Fort Worth and New York.  Well, as reported himself, Hopkins hated to travel, and preferred to stay put.  More than likely, Alexander left to record, and this is what led to the temporary break up of the duo.

As far as Hopkins move to Houston with Alexander and his “unsuccessful” attempt to break into the music scene, here again the facts are not correct.  After Alexander’s return from New York and his recording adventures, he came back to Texas and started playing with Hopkins again.  They did indeed decide to move to Houston to break into the bustling music scene there in the late 1930’s.  The reason the attempt failed was the fact that in 1939 Alexander murdered his wife.  This murder is what caused the duo to fail in Houston.  The fact that Alexander served time in the Texas State Penitentiary  from 1940 to 1945 is what caused Hopkins to move back to Centerville and work as a farm hand, and later try to break into the music scene again in Houston after Alexander’s release.  This is what led him to be discovered by Lola Anne Cullum a rep from Aladdin Records.

Again, it is not difficult to determine this portion of Hopkin’s life.  After an easy inquiry to the TDCJ, and after comparing Hopkins biography to that of Alexander’s, any one can deduct the same reasoning.  Hopefully this will allow the history books and biographies to be corrected.

Author: Jason Rewal

Jason is an avid blues musician, scholar, and fan based out of the Tampa Bay area.

Jason Rewald has written 104 articles for us.

Posted via web from ttexed's posterous

1 comment:

Tim O'Brien said...

That's a nice piece of research, but all it proves is that Hopkins did not do time in the state penitentiary. What it does not prove is if he spent time in county jails for example Houston County where he said he was sentenced after an arrest in Crockett (the county seat). Check out the reissue of Mojo Hand (on Fuel 2000) and listen to the track "Conversation with Mr. Hopkins" and you can hear the story from the source.