this year, Lightnin’
Hopkins, the late legendary blues musician, was awarded a Texas
Historical Marker to be placed in Houston,
where he moved in the 1920s and lived until his death in 1982.
But an East Texas city
long ago beat the state and Houston
to the punch.
of Hopkins stands in Crockett
in front of the Camp
Street Cafe, where he often performed during his early years.
Hopkins’ headstone stands in Houston’s
Forest Park Cemetery and was the only public marker that tied Hopkins
to Houston until Houstonian
Eric Davis led the campaign to fund a historical marker after visiting
grave, only to find the headstone faded and covered with grass.
“This guy has done so much for the blues internationally and regionally,
and it was sad for me to see that there was nothing in Houston
to honor him,” said Davis, a Hopkins fan for ten years.
Davis originally thought about putting the state marker near his grave,
which can be difficult to find. But Project Row Houses offered property
on Dowling Street--a fitting place for a man who used to pay his guitar
and sing while riding a bus up and down Dowling.
whose given name was Sam, was born in Centerville
on March 15, 1912, the son of Abe and Frances (Sims) Hopkins. After
his father died in 1915, the family (Sam, his mother, five brothers
and a sister) moved to Leona. At age eight he made his first instrument,
a cigar-box guitar with chicken-wire strings. By ten he was playing
By the mid-1920s Sam had started jumping trains, shooting dice, and
playing the blues anywhere he could.
He served time at the Houston County Prison Farm in the mid-1930s,
and after his release he returned to the blues-club circuit.
In 1946 he had his big break and first recording in Los Angeles for
Aladdin Records. On the record was a piano player Wilson (Thunder)
Smith; who gave Sam this nickname, Lightnin’.
Aladdin was so impressed with Hopkins that the company invited him
back for a second session in 1947. He eventually made forty-three
recordings for the label.
During the 1960s he played at Carnegie Hall with Pete Seeger and Joan
Baez and in 1964 toured with the American Folk Blues Festival. By
the end of the decade he was opening for such rock bands as the Grateful
Dead and Jefferson Airplane.
During a tour of Europe in the 1970s, he played for Queen Elizabeth
II at a command performance. Hopkins died of cancer of the esophagus
on January 30, 1982.
Bob Bowman's East Texas
February 15, 2010 Column
A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers
for Lightnin' by Bob Bowman