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Cream of The Crate: Album # 199 - Lightning Hopkins: The Gold Star Series Vol 1

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  • Cream of The Crate: Album # 199 - Lightning Hopkins: The Gold Star Series Vol 1

    "The blues is born with you. When you born in this world, you were born with the blues. (Lightnin’ Hopkins, 1967)
    "
    Sam (Lightnin') Hopkins, one of the great country blues singers and perhaps the greatest single influence on rock guitar players." (New York Times Obituary, Feb 1, 1982 )
    "These are not necessarily the best known Lightnin' Hopkins tracks, but in many ways that makes this CD even more valuable."
    (This review)

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    This is album review number One Hundred and Ninety Nine in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.


    The series is called Cream of The Crate and each review represents an album that I believe represents significant musical value, either because of its rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of a music or because there is something unique about the music, the group or the particular production. The first fifty reviews were based on vinyl albums from my collection, with the following fifty on CD albums from my collection. Links to all these reviews can be found at the bottom of the page.

    This is the penultimate retro-review in what has been a series based upon albums in my collection and while the collection goes on, these reviews will finish for a while, after next weeks album [review number 200].

    However I could not finish up without dipping into my blues collection and bringing forward yet another giant among the many wonderful men and women who have written and sung the blues.

    The artist is
    Lightnin' Hopkins and the CD album is titled - The Gold Star Series (Vol 1). It was released on the Arhoolie label and was released in 1991 with the identifying code of ARHCD 330. The album has 24 tracks. It is interesting that the label has him identified as Lightning Hopkins (with a "g") when it is in fact - Lightnin' Hopkins. A bit of a blunder from a major company like this.

    Sam (Lightnin’) Hopkins was born in Centerville, Texas, on March 15, probably in 1911. Though some sources give his year of birth as 1912, his Social Security application listed the year as 1911. He was the son of Abe and Frances (Sims) Hopkins. After his father died in 1915, the family (Sam, his mother and five brothers and sisters) moved to Leona.

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    The Hopkins family home in the early 1930's

    At age eight he made his first instrument, a cigar-box guitar with chicken-wire strings. By ten
    the young Hopkins was exposed to quality blues music and while initially learning from his older cousin, country-blues singer Alger 'Texas' Alexander, he was also heavily and directly influenced by an absolute legend in Blind Lemon Jefferson, who encouraged the young Hopkins to persevere.

    Hopkins also played with his brothers, blues musicians John Henry and Joel. In fact in an interview for a documentary on him, Hopkins recalled his childhood: “I was eight years old when I made my first guitar. I got the screen wire off the screen door to make my little sound on my little box. I made it out of a cigar box, I kept champing on it and I’d ask my brother to let me play his guitar. He said, no boy, you can’t play this guitar. He never did decide to let me play his guitar. So he told me one day, boy don’t you fool with my guitar. But it wasn’t hanging too high from the wall. I got a chair and got it down. One day they went to the field. They come in and I had it down on the floor, laying on the floor but I was picking a tune, and he heard the guitar and he walked in and it was playing so good he just stood there and listened. He liked it so well he said didn’t I tell you not to bother that guitar? His name was John Henry. My brother, oldest brother, so he said you can have it. So that’s how good the music sounded to him.”


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    Joel, Lightnin' and John Henry

    His unique style developed after spending many hours playing informally without a backing band. In fact his distinctive style often included playing, in effect, bass, rhythm, lead, percussion, and vocals, all at the same time. His musical phrasing would often include a long low note at the beginning, the rhythm played in the middle range, then the lead in the high range. By playing this quickly - with occasional slaps of the guitar - the effect of bass, rhythm, percussion and lead would be created.

    In the mid-1930s, Hopkins was sent to Houston County Prison Farm; the offence for which he was imprisoned is unknown. On release he settled in Houston but failed to make an impression and returned to Centerville

    He tried again in Houston in 1946 and while he and Alexander were playing there in 1946, he was discovered by Lola Anne Cullum of Los Angeles', Aladdin Records (although Alexander would actually not make it out to L.A.). She in fact convinced Hopkins to travel to Los Angeles, where he accompanied the pianist Wilson Smith. The duo recorded twelve tracks in their first sessions in 1946. An Aladdin executive decided the pair needed more dynamism in their names and dubbed Hopkins "Lightnin'" and Wilson "Thunder". In fact Hopkins' fast finger style is very distinct.

    In 1959, the blues researcher Mack McCormick contacted Hopkins, hoping to bring him to the attention of a broader musical audience engaged in the folk revival. McCormack presented Hopkins to integrated audiences first in Houston and then in California. He made his debut at Carnegie Hall on October 14, 1960, alongside Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, performing the spiritual "Mary Don't You Weep".

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    1959

    In 1960, he signed with Tradition Records. The recordings which followed included his song "Mojo Hand" in 1960.

    In 1968, Hopkins recorded the album Free Form Patterns, backed by the rhythm section of the psychedelic rock band 13th Floor Elevators. Through the 1960s and into the 1970s, he released one or sometimes two albums a year and toured, playing at major folk music festivals and at folk clubs and on college campuses in the U.S. and internationally. He toured extensively in the United States and played a six-city tour of Japan in 1978.

    In regard to life partners, Hopkins actually had a total of three wives. It appears his first marriage was around 1928. In fact
    when Hopkins married Anna Mae Box, he and his first wife hired themselves out to Tom Moore, a farmer whose callousness Hopkins immortalized in the song, “Tom Moore’s Blues.” “You know,” he sang, “I got a telegram this morning/It say your wife is dead/I showed it to Mr. Moore he says/‘Go ahead nigger, you know you gotta plow a ridge’/That white man said ‘It’s been rainin’/Yes sir I’m way behind/I may let you bury that woman/On your dinner time.”

    I'll discuss that track later in this review.

    Hopkins was certainly one for the ladies, and claimed he had a total of 10 common-in-law wives, but it appears as though he may have only married three and according to his heirs, they never found any records of formal divorces.

    In 1943 Hopkins married his third wife, Antoinette Charles, and moved to a large farm north of Dallas, where he worked for a time as a sharecropper. Around 1946, he was given a new guitar by a family friend, “Uncle” Lucian Hopkins. That inspired Sam to move back to Houston where he teamed up with his old partner Tex Alexander to play the local beer joints.


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    Lightnin' and Antoinette

    There are so many half-told stories about him, but what is indisputable is that Hopkins was Houston's poet-in-residence for 35 years and that he recorded more albums than any other bluesman. Numbers vary from publication to publication but it appears he recorded no less than:
    • 87 albums
    • 91 singles and EPs
    • 134 compilations


    Hopkins was also great influence on many local musicians around Houston and Austin, Texas in the 1950s and 1960s. He was an influence on Jimmie Vaughan's work and, more significantly, on the vocals and blues style of Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, the keyboardist of the Grateful Dead until 1972. He was also an important influence on Townes Van Zandt, the Texan folk/blues songwriter and performer, who often performed Hopkins numbers in his live performances.

    Doyle Bramhall II is another Texas artist who was influenced by Hopkins, as evidenced by a tattoo of lightning on his upper left arm. Jimi Hendrix reportedly became interested in blues music listening to Lightning Hopkins records with his father. Finally, a song named after him was recorded by R.E.M. on their album Document.


    The Houston Chronicle included Hopkins in their list of "100 Tall Texans"; 100 important Texans that influenced the world. The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum included Hopkins in a 100 Tall Texans exhibit that opened in September 2006. The display includes Lightning's Guild Starfire electric guitar and a performance video.

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    Lightnin' Hopkins playing in the Sputnik bar, Houston Texas - 1961

    Hopkins' Gibson J-160e guitar is now on display at the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.

    So we come to this CD - which in fact consists of original recordings by Bill Quinn at Gold Star Studios in Houston, Texas between 1947 and 1950.

    Personnel: Lightnin' Hopkins - vocals, guitar and organ; Frankie Lee Sims & Joel Hopkins (Lightnin's brother) both on guitar

    Track Listing

    1. Short Haired Woman
    2. Baby Please Don't Go
    3. Going Home Blues (Going Back And Talk To Mama)
    4. Automobile Blues
    5. Big Mama Jump
    6. Loretta Blues
    7. Seems Funny Baby
    8. Thunder And Lightning Blues (Coolin' Board Blues)
    9. Grosebeck Blues
    10. Tim Moore's Farm
    11. Lightning Boogie
    12. Traveler's Blues
    13. Goodbye Blues
    14. Unkind Blues
    15. Fast Life Woman
    16. Zolo Go (Zydeco)
    17. You Don't Know
    18. Treat Me Kind
    19. Somebody Got To Go
    20. Death Bells
    21. Mad With You
    22. Airplane Blues
    23. Racetrack Blues
    24. Unsuccessful Blues

    There are so many great tracks on this album, and certainly sometimes the surface noise is noticeable, but we need to remember many of the older blues tracks no longer existed on recording tape, and so are lifted from 78 rpm records.

    In the case of the Arhoolie production, they claim that all the selections on this CD were recorded directly onto an acetate coated 16" metal based master, but the actual source of much of the material is a little unclear as the producers have noted where a track was taken directly from an original acetate OT or an LP, but not differentiating between them.

    What is noteworthy is that the royalties from these tracks are paid to Hopkins widow,

    We will kick off with track 2 - itself an absolute blues classic. B
    aby Please Don't Go is often credited to Big Joe Williams and while it is in fact one of those tracks that writers say the origins are long lost, in fact the label of the original 78rpm record shows the composer as J. Williams. Mind you it is not unusual for blues singers to adapt and adopt old slave songs and folk songs whose origins are unknown, as their own.


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    What can be said definitively is that It IS a "blues standard" with such notable artists, other than Hopkins, having recorded it including John Lee Hooker, Charlie McCoy and Big Bill Broonzy. Of course when the 1960's came and the British drew inspiration from the American Blues standards, Baby Please Don't Go became the staple of many white bands of which Them, probably put out the best version.

    But here with Lightnin' Hopkins we get a wonderfully clean recording of this blues track sung with the passion and intonation by of one of the greatest blues singers ever. Check out his fingering style which is putting it simply - brilliant!

    Baby, please don't go
    Baby, please don't go
    Baby, please don't go, down to New Orleans
    You know I love you so

    Before I be your dog
    Before I be your dog
    Before I be your dog
    I get you way'd out here, and let you walk alone

    Turn your lamp down low
    Turn your lamp down low
    Turn your lamp down low
    I beg you all night long, baby, please don't go

    You brought me way down here
    You brought me way down here
    You brought me way down here
    'Bout to Rolling Forks, you treat me like a dog

    Baby, please don't go
    Baby, please don't go
    Baby, please don't go, back the New Orleans
    I beg you all night long

    Before I be your dog
    Before I be your dog
    Before I be your dog
    I get you way'd out here, and let you walk alone

    You know your man down gone
    You know your man down gone
    You know your man down gone
    To the country farm
    With all the shackles on


    Baby Please Don't Go


    Track 5 is Big Mama Jump, and it kicks off with Lightnin' declaring, that, this aint the Little Mama Boogie but it's the same as . . . and then he breaks into a rather frantic uptempo boogie, but the vocal delivery is more in the 'talking blues' style, where the lyrics are delivered as a narration. The track was on the other side of the first Gold Star blues release - Short Haired Woman.


    Big Mama Jump


    Track 9 - Grosebeck Blues has sufficient surface noise to suggest this was a track lifted from an original 78RPM. The track was one Lightnin' learned from Texas Alexander. Hopkins actually recorded four versions of this track, with the first being a very short version that leaves out most of the lyrics, the second and third are full versions but different to each other and the story goes, the second version was the strongest of the lot, but the original acetate is in bad shape.

    The producers of this album have used the fourth version but don't say why!


    Grosebeck Blues


    The following track, track 10 - Tim Moore's Farm, was actually written by some farm hands that worked for a Mr. Moore in Grimes County, Texas. Over time various local versions were sung about various incidents and in the end Lightnin' chose the most universally understood bits, rearranged the track, recorded it and made it into a commercial record.

    This alone is unusual because it was rare for regional topical protest ballads to make it onto commercial releases because the issues they dealt with were of no interest to the wider community. However Lightnin' for his own reasons, went ahead with it and it is said, that he stood his ground when Tom Moore - the focus of the song, apparently turned up at a dance in Concord Texas where Lightnin' was playing, and told him never to sing that song around there again.

    Lightnin' however was seldom afraid of anyone and took no notice. This is an absolutely delightful piece of blues which interestingly has Tom Moore referred to as Tim Moore in the song.

    Yeah, you know it ain't but the one thing, you know
    This black man done was wrong
    Yeah, you know it ain't but the one thing, you know
    This black man done was wrong
    Yes, you know I moved my wife and family down
    On Mr.Tim Moore's farm

    Yeah, you know Mr.Tim Moore's a man
    He don't never stand and grin
    He just said, "Keep out of the graveyard, I'll save you from the pen"
    You know, soon in the morning, he'll give you scrambled eggs
    Yes, but he's liable to call you so soon
    You'll catch a mule by his hind legs


    Yes, you know I got a telegram this morning, boy
    It read, it say, "Your wife is dead"
    I show it to Mr.Moore, he said, "Go ahead, nigger
    You know you got to plow old Red"

    That white man says, "It's been raining, yes, and I'm way behind
    I may let you bury that woman, one of these old dinner times"
    I told him, "No, Mr.Moore, somebody's got to go"
    He says, "If you ain't able to plow, Sam
    Stay up there and grab your hoe"


    Track 16 is about as different a track that exists on this CD. Titled Zylo Go, it is actually a phonetic misspelling of Zydeco and features Lightnin' playing organ. Zydeco music would become very popular through such artists as Clifton Chenier, but here we have Hopkins playing the style several years before Chenier and the like popularising the style.

    In it Lightnin' is telling a story of attending a Zydeco dance. It is thought that when Bill Quinn, who operated the studio where Lightnin' did most of his recording, heard the song, he had no idea what Zydeco was or how to spell it, so he simple wrote it down as an incorrect phonetic title - "Zyle Go"!

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    Bill Quinn

    The original 78 RPM did not have the spoken introduction by Lightnin' and, his basic organ playing is an attempt to replicate the sound of a piano accordion, which of course is a mainstay instrument of Zydeco music. So what we have here is one of the very first Zydeco recordings ever recorded.


    Zylo Go [Zydeco]


    The final track, track 16 - really should never have come about. Unsuccessful Blues resulted from a misunderstanding between Bill Quinn and Lightnin's wife. It seems as though Bill paid Antoinette for a session that Lightnin' was unaware of, and unprepared for. With no one around but a small jazz combo, Lightnin' implored them to help him out, and thus this spontaneous track was recorded. If you listen carefully you will hear a finger bass being played, quite an unusual accompaniment for Lightnin's music.

    The track ends abruptly, and no reason is given for this.


    Unsuccessful Blues


    Hopkins died of oesophageal cancer in Houston on January 30, 1982, at the age of 69. His obituary in the New York Times described him as "one of the great country blues singers and perhaps the greatest single influence on rock guitar players".

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    Here lies Lightnin'
    Who stood famous and tall
    He didn't hesitate to give his all


    The tracks on this album are not necessarily the best known Lightnin' Hopkins tracks, but in many ways that makes this CD even more valuable, as most of his releases do feature his better known work. One thing is for certain, among all the fantastic and wonderful blues players from Robert Johnson through to Muddy Waters, Howling
    Wolf, Ledbelly and Son House, to name a few great blues artists that I have featured over the past 200 reviews, Lightnin' Hopkins stands tall.

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    Mid 1970's

    He traversed the rural Country Blues tradition and the electric Blues of the postwar years. He was also an accomplished guitarist whose syncopated, thumping fingerpicking style directly or indirectly influenced many subsequent Blues and Rock players.

    To have a blues collection without including Lightnin' Hopkins is definitely, to have an incomplete collection.

    With so many albums to chose from, I can't in all honesty try and pretend this is the best of his work or is a must. However The Gold Series Volume 1 is a great album and if you are interested in purchasing it it is available on Ebay for as little as $21.00 which includes postage from the US.


    VIDEOS - It is wonderful that Lightnin' continued to play through the 60's and 70's because it means we do have some great live performances.


    Baby Please Don't Go


    Lightnin's Blues


    Let's Pull A Party


    Mojo Hand



    If you are interested in checking out the first fifty vinyl albums reviewed, just click here

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    If you are interested in checking out the first fifty (50) CD's reviewed, just click here

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    If you are interested in checking out reviews 101 to 150 (Vinyl & CD) as reviewed, just click here

    ​​​
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    tooraktimes.com.au/content.php/6345-Cream-of-The-Crate-Album-194-Sleepy-John-Estes-Jailhouse-Blues

    Number 195 - Rob E.G. : All His Hits [The Festival File Volume 3]
    tooraktimes.com.au/content.php/6367-Cream-of-The-Crate-Album-195-Rob-E-G-All-His-Hits-The-Festival-File-Volume-3

    Number 196 - Ma Rainey: Ma Rainey
    tooraktimes.com.au/content.php/6393-Cream-of-The-Crate-Album-196-Ma-Rainey-Ma-Rainey

    Number 197 - Sam & Dave - The Best of
    tooraktimes.com.au/content.php/6432-Cream-of-The-Crate-Album-197-Sam-and-Dave-The-Best-Of

    Number 198 - John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band
    tooraktimes.com.au/content.php/6455-Cream-of-The-Crate-Album-198-John-Lennon-Plastic-Ono-Band
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    • Listen To Older Voices: Bob Bright - Part 4
      by Rob Greaves
      Welcome to Listen To Older Voices, a program produced Rob Greaves for Wesley Mission Victoria and podcast through the Toorak Times.

      Listen To Older Voices presents the stories, views and opinions of our older citizens. It is predominantly in a life & times format, with interviewees reflecting upon their lives from earliest memories. An underlying principal of the program is to promote the concept of positive ageing, reinforcing the principle that older people have & continue to make a valuable contribution to both their local & wider community.



      ...
      11 September 2016, 08:48 AM
    • Cream of The Crate: Album # 200 - Australian Compilation: The Complete Havoc Singles (1971 - 1973]
      by Rob Greaves
      "A really stunning & great looking digi-pack from Aztec Records, compiling all the singles from the Australian Havoc Records label in the 70's." (Record Heaven)
      "
      An excellent collection of early 70's Australian Rock / Pop/."
      (Rock On Vinyl)
      "
      Aztec Music prides itself on preserving Australia's rich music history and with this release, they do it with class and style."
      (This review)




      This is album review number Two Hundred in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.
      ...
      26 August 2016, 10:32 AM
    • Cream of The Crate: Album # 199 - Lightning Hopkins: The Gold Star Series Vol 1
      by Rob Greaves
      "The blues is born with you. When you born in this world, you were born with the blues. (Lightnin’ Hopkins, 1967)
      "
      Sam (Lightnin') Hopkins, one of the great country blues singers and perhaps the greatest single influence on rock guitar players." (New York Times Obituary, Feb 1, 1982 )
      "These are not necessarily the best known Lightnin' Hopkins tracks, but in many ways that makes this CD even more valuable."
      (This review)



      This is album review number One Hundred and Ninety Nine in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.
      ...
      19 August 2016, 10:24 AM
    • Cream of The Crate: Album # 198 - John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band
      by Rob Greaves
      "The reality of Plastic Ono Band is that it contains eleven of Lennon’s most accessible and gorgeous melodies and riffs." (Gerry Mullholand - BBC review 2010)
      "An album that will be as much analysed as Sgt. Pepper over the years." (Billboard - 1971)
      "
      It remains one of the most audacious, iconoclastic albums in all of rock and roll." (Guitar World 2016)
      "
      The album certainly shows that he had yet to work through many unresolved matters, and that he still had much anger in him. However he was a brilliant man and knew how to channel these elements in such a way to create some brilliant, memorable and haunting tracks." (This review)


      ...
      11 August 2016, 12:14 PM
    • Cream of The Crate: Album # 197 - Sam and Dave: The Best Of
      by Rob Greaves
      "Sam Moore and Dave Prater's string of soul and pop hits made them the '60s' most successful black vocal duo." (The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001)
      "Sam & Dave created some of their century's most enduring music in the pop form." (Stylus Magazine January 2007)
      "
      There can be no argument that as a duo, Sam and Dave introduced the previously successful sound of the black church music, so successfully to pop music." (This review)



      This is album review number One Hundred and Ninety Seven in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.
      ...
      5 August 2016, 08:52 AM
    • Cream of The Crate: Album # 196 - Ma Rainey: Ma Rainey
      by Rob Greaves
      "Her deep, almost-vibratoless contralto sounded rough and unsophisticated compared to other commercial blueswomen but she projected a great depth of feeling and was adored by audiences." (US Library of Congress
      "Ma Rainey was one of the first singers to popularize the style (the blues)." (Joe McGasko - Bio May 2015)
      "
      When we listen to Ma Rainey, the recordings are very crude, but even so the power and mesmerism of her voice shows that pure talent and commitment to an audience makes Ma Rainey stand out even more today.
      " (This review)



      This is album review number One Hundred and Ninety Six in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.
      ...
      29 July 2016, 10:18 AM
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