Lightnin’ Hopkins

I am excited about this one! Not that I am not excited for any other. However, Lightnin’ hold a special place in my heart. He’s from Texas, and anyone who knows me (Joe) knows Texas blues is near and dear to my heart. I may have grown up in Kansas but the Lone Star state has shaped me musically.

Lightnin’ bridges the gap between delta and electric blues. Born in 1912, he grew up during the genre’s infancy and was at the cusp of electrifying the guitar. He played an acoustic for the majority of his career, always punctuated with a sound hole pickup. His non conformist sense of meter and picking style bordered on the Avant-garde; making Lightnin’ a true original, one that would be emulated and impersonated for decades to come. Baby Please Don’t Go (Brendan will make a lesson for this in the future) comes to mind. Even though Joe Williams is credited with popularizing the song, I would call Lightnin’s the definitive version.

I am of the opinion that when it comes to the quintessential troubadour bluesman image, there is Robert Johnson and Lightnin’ Hopkins. He is one of the most recorded artists of the genre. Mainly due to his tendency to take money from anyone to record, he has released several versions of the same material on numerous labels (each recording is, of course, different).

Hopkins was active musically until his death in 1982 of esophageal cancer. The New York Times described him as “One of the great country blues singers and perhaps the greatest single influence on rock guitar players.” That is a statement I agree with 100%.

Joe’s recommended listening:

Smokes Like Lightnin’
The Great Electric Show and Dance

There are so many videos online of Lightnin’ here is one of my favorites

We will do a one off lesson on Lightnin’. It won’t encompass everything in the scope of his style but give you a taste of the truly unique nature of his playing.

Brendan recommends watching the documentary “The Blues According to Lightnin’ Hopkins” on youtube.


Albert King

The third of the three Kings. Certainly not the least! Albert hailed from the same city as B.B., Indianola, Mississippi. I find it interesting that this little town would produce two men who would go forth and leave such a profound impression on guitar. Anyone who picks up a guitar in this day and age cops licks from both Albert and B.B., whether they know it or not. They have been copied so many times that they are interwoven into the fabric of the instrument itself.

We discussed B.B’s vibrato, but Albert is know for his stinging over bends. He played a left handed guitar strung upside down (high E where the low E is located normally). This gives him many advantages as a guitarist. He was able to bend strings down the fretboard. Using his hand as a fulcrum he could execute full step, one and a half steps, even two step bends. Couple that with Albert’s fingers popping the strings, his lines and solos scream and tear out of your speakers.

It is important to note that Albert is no different than the other two Kings in that his guitar playing was a musical counterpoint to his vocal, the guitar was as much of a voice as the lyric was. To play like Albert, or to glean something from his playing, you have to put this at the forefront of your approach. In my opinion, this is what is missing from a lot of guitarists approach these days, the application of true phrasing. Albert was the definition of phrasing. The absence of guitar punctuated and accentuated his soloing. This is what we will attack and address in the coming weeks with our lessons.

To me (Joe) the quintessential Albert albums are Born Under a Bad Sign, I’ll Play the Blues for You, and In Session. In Session is a special album for me. It features Stevie Ray Vaughan sitting in with Albert. Anyone familiar with Albert and Stevie knows that Stevie was heavily influenced by Albert. There is a great story of how Albert was not going to do the show as it was designed to pair the two together and he did not know who “Stevie Ray Vaughan” was. Albert did not usually make a habit of letting people sit in with him. However, he had let this kid from Austin he knew as “Little Stevie”, not Stevie Ray Vaughan the break out blues star of the early 80’s. By this time, Little Stevie had emerged from his formative days idolizing and imitating Albert and others to become a force of nature, one that swept the world and brought the blues back to the forefront of popular music.

King was out there on the road, touring, and bringing blues to the world until his death in December of 1992. He played his last gig two days prior to his passing in Los Angeles. That is the blues, it is a lifestyle, it is a lifelong journey, one that only ends when we cease to be. Albert personified that, just like his brothers in name, Freddie and B.B. This set of lessons draw to a close our showcase of the three Kings. I hope you enjoy them and take something away you can use in your everyday playing.

Brendan’s recommendation. If you can find it, check out Albert sitting in with Leo’s Five Direct from the Blue Note Club. Very cool album from a few years earlier than Born Under a Bad Sign.