Lightnin’ Hopkins – Autobiography in Blues
How many Lightnin’ Hopkins “albums” are there, exactly? God only knows. Depending on your definition of what a “song” is, he may or may not be the most prolific songwriter ever recorded.
I picked this album in particular for four different reasons:
1) it was the first Lightnin’ Hopkins record I ever heard; possibly the first country blues record I ever heard. My Grandpa played it for me, starting with the song “Get Off My Toe.” He told me the story of the song—Lightnin’ was in the studio, waiting for the producer to hit the record button. An engineer in the live room stepped on Lightnin’s toe while trying to adjust a cable or something. Off Lightnin’ went. I was flabbergasted. He just made up the song on the spot. At the time, this seemed like a magic impossibility to me. I know about improvisation now. But it still seems like a magic impossibility.
2) Of all the sounds Lightnin’ could make, my favorites happened when he played a nylon string guitar. His guitar and voice together simply never sounded better.
3) This album has a little bit of everything Lightnin’ did so well. Familiar songs reimagined, restyled, and reshaped. New improvisations explored. Deeply personal reflections translated into universal forms. Humor, pathos, satire, irony, wit. Killer guitar, devastating vocals, vibe for days. You could study this album your whole life, and never approximate its mojo, nor plumb its funky depths.
4) “Mama and Papa Hopkins.” There have been those who’ve intimated Lightnin’ wasn’t really a songwriter at all, that he was just a grifter, a charlatan, an aggregator of cliches put over as original to audiences too self-conscious to cry foul. To anyone who takes that stand, agree with them, cuz it’s all true. Then play them this song. And then tell them to suck it.
Recommended track to start with: 75 Highway
Why this track? Because it’s a perfect blues song. It’s genuinely perfect. Everything you think the blues is, this song IS.
I asked her for a piece of bread
she said, go ‘head
I said I’m hungry, miss
she said, you look like ya already been fed