Lightnin' Hopkins: His Life and Blues

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Chicago Review Press, 2010 - Biography & Autobiography - 334 pages

By the time of his death in 1982, Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins was likely the most recorded blues artist in history. This brilliant new biography--the first book ever written about him--illuminates the many contradictions of the man and his myth.

Born in 1912 to a poor sharecropping family in the cotton country between Dallas and Houston, Hopkins left home when he was only eight years old with a guitar his brother had given him. He made his living however he could, sticking to the open road, playing the blues, and taking odd jobs when money was short. This biography delves into Hopkins's early years, exploring the myths surrounding his meetings with Blind Lemon Jefferson and Texas Alexander, his time on a chain gang, his relationships with women, and his lifelong appetite for gambling and drinking.

Hopkins didn't begin recording until 1946, when he was dubbed “Lightnin'” during his first session, and he soon joined Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker on the national R & B charts. But by the time he was “rediscovered” by Mack McCormick and Sam Charters in 1959, his popularity had begun to wane. A second career emerged--now Lightnin' was pitched to white audiences, not black ones, and he became immensely successful, singing about his country roots and injustices that informed the civil rights era with a searing emotive power.

More than a decade in the making, this biography is based on scores of interviews with Lightnin's lover, friends, producers, accompanists, managers, and fans.

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Early Years
Travels with Texas Alexander
The Move to Houston

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About the author (2010)

Alan Govenar is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker. He is the author of numerous books, including Texas Blues: The Rise of a Contemporary Sound; Extraordinary Ordinary People: Five American Masters of Traditional Arts; Stompin' at the Savoy: The Story of Norma Miller; Untold Glory: African Americans in Pursuit of Freedom, Opportunity and Achievement; and Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper's Daughter. The off-Broadway premiere of his musical Blind Lemon Blues, cocreated with Akin Babatunde, received rave reviews in the New York Times and Variety.

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