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Bob Bowman's East Texas

A Historical Marker
for Lightnin'

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
The news outlets from Houston reported recently that a Texas Historical Marker has been dedicated to Lightnin' Hopkins, whose blues music became famous between 1946 and the 1970s.

But Hopkins’ fans in East Texas beat Houston to punch--and in a more significant way--years ago.

At Crockett, resting in a little grove across the street from the Camp Street Cafe, is a statue of Lightnin' playing his guitar. Local historians say that Lightnin' often showed up at the Cafe, a Crockett landmark--to entertain folks.

The statue was the result of Guy and Pipp Gillette, whose grandfather ran the cafe decades ago. The Cafe is now one of the best music venues in East Texas, thanks to the Gillette brothers.

Before Houston decided to erect the historical marker in Hopkins’ honor, the only place where he was honored was a modest footstone in Houston’s Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery.

For those unfamiliar with Hopkins’ music, his approach to the blues was a thing of his own making, It was marked by a laid-back, countrified vocal delivery and a percussive guitar-playing style with his spidery fingers snapping the length of his fretboard like typewriter keys.

There has been much debate if he was playing an acoustic or electric guitar, but one musician summed it up with a simple statement: “He played whatever guitar wasn’t in hock at the time.”

Hopkins could create songs on the spot. Weariness was a common theme, but his songs could also be very funny. “If My Starter Won’t Start” wasn’t about a car, but about the indignities of growing old.

Hopkins’ historical marker stands at the corner of Dowling and Francis in Houston. Fittingly, the ceremony included some of the Hopkins blues songs.


Bob Bowman's East Texas
January 3, 2011Column.
A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers

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(Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of almost 50 books about East Texas. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)
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