If I hadn’t heard Lightnin’ Hopkins, I would not be playing guitar anymore. After two months of bumbling around on my girlfriend’s mini-sized acoustic guitar, trying to strum an A chord, I began to question what I was doing banging around on this stringed box.
We have all had that moment when we try to learn a new skill and we rapidly progress but then hit a wall.
My wall derived from being uninterested in the songs I was trying to play. I never liked playing with a pick, preferring to play with my fingers.
To try and remedy my sudden plateau, I Googled “best music to play on acoustic guitar.” One insightful poster mentioned a learner should try learning blues because it’s the basis of modern music.
I knew I wanted to stick with acoustic guitar with my fingers, and the blues sounded intriguing. Not knowing that acoustic finger style blues is synonymous with country blues, I typed in ‘acoustic blues player old.’
Here’s what came up:
Immediately I thought that this is how a guitar should sound. From that point on, I knew I had to make my guitar sound like that-— I’ve been on the journey ever since.
The player in the video is Lightnin’ Hopkins, perhaps the most widely recorded country bluesman that ever lived. Hopkins was a Texan through and through. Music giants from the area like Stevie Ray Vaughan cite Lightnin’ Hopkins as a major influence in their sound. Some musicians like BB King are as bold as to claim without Lightnin’, there would be no rock and roll.
Lightnin’ was brought into the main stream in 1959, and thanks to his prodigious output and charisma, we have several COLOR videos of him playing.
A lot of bluesmen had their standard guitar licks, and Lightnin’ was no exception. The aphorism ‘it’s not what you play, its how you play it,’ rings true with Lightnin’ Hopkins. He played in a free flowing, improvisational manner; paired with his powerful singing, he had an unrivaled presence and immediacy about him.
Although Lightnin’ typically played in the keys of E and A, he would sometimes play old pop songs like Baby Take Me Back:
If there is one video that characterizes what I think of when I hear Lightnin’ Hopkins, it’s the video below. His poetic, improvisational, effortless style is very evident:
If you are interested in learning more about Lightnin, check out this documentary that was made in the 1970s. Watching him live his life is very interesting, and at times humorous.