Down and Dirty with G. Love: On Lightnin’ Hopkins

The name of this blog is Down and Dirty, and what’s more dirty than the Delta Blues?

I was thinking about dedicating the next few blogs to some of the legends of the blues. When it comes to being down and dirty, I can think of no bluesman who's more down and more dirty than Lightnin' Hopkins. We talked about Delta blues a lot over the past month, but when we talk about Lightnin', we are talking about the Texas blues.

Whenever I get a chance to hang out with the great John Hammond, I always grill him about the old bluesmen; John toured with most of them. From Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf to Big Bill Broonzy and John Hurt, John played with all of them. I think John toured a lot with Lightnin' over the years. They seem to have got on well and John thought he was a real cool cat. After the gigs they would all party and jam. John said Lightnin' would drink a bottle of gin every day. That's some drinking, man.

Lightnin' Hopkins is best known for his quick single-note leads between ferocious boogie-woogie rhythms, and his signature black sunglasses that he wears in every photo and film I've ever seen.

Hopkins has recorded extensively solo electric, solo acoustic and with bands. I find his solo work to be among the greatest and most original blues recordings. The solo electric recordings in particular are very unique. Check out the record Blues In My Bottle.

If I was going to name the two most original players of the blues, I would say John Lee Hooker and Lightnin' Hopkins. Like John Lee Hooker, Hopkins makes unorthodox changes in and out of your set 12-bar blues pattern. He jumps bars and changes all day long, he plays some very dissonant notes, he guitar slaps and fires off these licks that are only played by him. The minute I hear him I know it's him on that guitar.

As a singer, his voice is reedy and strong, full of character and presence. Whenever I hear a song, it's like, "Damn, Lightnin' is just telling it how it is." He is one of those special cats you feel you just know. You feel like he is talking right at you and even if you've never lived what he is singing about, you feel like you understand completely and that's that.

The recordings he has made with a band showcase a different side of his music. I find that many of the solo recordings are based around solo boogie woogie shuffles. The band tracks are almost these country shuffles similar to a John Hurt type of finger picking. Although I enjoy gear recordings, I feel most of what makes him a great guitar player gets lost with more accompaniment. I always feel like that. I love those solo recordings. That's the real deal.

Check out Lightnin' and spend some time shredding on his records. No matter what type of player you are, you will certainly pick up plenty of good riffs and picking and strumming techniques.

Thanks for stopping by, keep it Down and Dirty. Ohhhh baby I like it raaaw!

  • Your friend,
  • G. Love

G. Love, aka Garrett Dutton, has been the front man and founder of the alternative hip-hop blues group G. Love & Special Sauce since their inception in 1993. Widely known for his upbeat hits "Cold Beverage," "Baby's Got Sauce" and "Hot Cookin'," G. Love returned to his blues and country roots on his latest release, Fixin' To Die (Amazon, iTunes), produced by Scott and Seth Avett. A road dog if one ever existed, G. Love performs roughly 125 shows a year all over the world including Australia, Japan, Brazil, UK, Canada and the U.S. G. Love teamed up with Gretsch to create his own signature model, the Gretsch G. Love Signature Electromatic Corvette, which features a pair of TV Jones® Power'Tron™ pickups, deluxe mini-precision tuners and a cool Phili-green color scheme with competition stripe that would make ANYONE from Philadelphia proud! Check it out here.

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