Lightnin' Hopkins on an Analogue Productions LP

Is there such a thing as a bad Lightnin' Sam Hopkins record? No, but there are a lot of badly recorded Hopkins records. Happily, Goin' Away originally released in 1963 on the Bluesville label (an imprint of Prestige Records) isn't one of them. And the already good sonics have even been improved in yet another superb 180gram Analogue Productions LP reissue.

Even in the colorful universe of the blues, the Houston-area native was a singular personality. A raconteur and a bit of a scoundrel, Sam is often pictured with a big toothy smile and a lit cigarillo. Hugely underrated as a guitar player, he developed an idiosyncratic fingerpicking style of guitar. Coupled with the fact that he was unwilling to play in straight times—his marvelous rhythmic sense is instinctual and meant to conform to his words—that style made accompanying him a real challenge.

Consequently, the bulk of his recorded catalog, scattered across a dozen labels large and small, consists of solo records. Rarely, however, do you miss a band. With his intricate, acoustic and occasionally electric guitar work, his ability to work up a swinging, driving boogie rhythm and his warm, confident singing voice, he was one of the strongest solo performers amongst all the bluesmen. You get the feeling from most of the solo records that "poor Lightnin','" as he often refers to himself in song, liked working alone. The one thing you do miss on Hopkins' studio recordings are the hilarious, improvised tales he used to introduce every song when he played live.

Goin' Away, however, is one of the rare Hopkins band records. Here he's fronting a trio of bassist Leonard Gaskin and drummer Herbie Lovell, who do an admirable job of staying with him and his loose sense of time. On "Little Sister's Boogie" he steps out, ups the tempo, and, driven by Lovell's brushes, plays a number of fast runs on the acoustic guitar that show what a great electric guitar slinger he could have been had he followed the direction he explored for a minute on 1960's Lightnin' and the Blues—and its famous full-on rock 'n' roll track, "Sky Hop."

Prone to sing about himself in the third person, Hopkins, like most bluesmen, mixed autobiographic details with boasting and blather. In the full-tilt boogie "Don't Embarrass Me, Baby" he quits drinking and gets a "new 44," warning his woman that she needs to walk the straight and narrow as well. In most of Hopkins music, though, you get the distinct feeling that, despite all the talk about guns, gamblin' and women, he's a good-natured soul underneath. He rarely wishes anyone harm or ill. In most of his songs about women, he often loses the battles he picks. In the slow-paced "Wake Up Old Lady," where he tells his mate, "this is one morning you gonna cook `ol Lightnin' some bread," and then, when he syas h will stop giving her money, she simply threatens to leave. Arrogance evaporated, he says she's "hurt me to my heart."

Few bluesman could ever improvise lyrics, literally make `em up on the spot, like Hopkins. He ends "You Better Stop Her" with this bit of bizarre, improvised Lightnin' logic. "You know a woman can marry one brother and if he die she can marry him again, that'll keep it from being a sin."

Finally, there's the Stranger Here a rare topical about racism and war number, which ends with this charged couplet: "You know they've already called me a dog, I know I don't want to be called a coon."

A fine place to begin a Hopkins collection and yet another familiar joy for collectors, Goin' Away is Hopkins at his best.

COMMENTS
dalethorn's picture

I tried to find this on CD or download, and I had a choice between a used $40 CD and an Amazon MP3 album for $7. I took the MP3's, which (given the recorded quality) were acceptable. Hopefully this will make it to high-res downloads in a new remastering. I hadn't had any Lightnin' Hopkins until now, but on my first listens, these are quite good.

saxman73's picture

After reading this review, I set out to buy the record. In the process, I discovered that there are two different remasters, both on Analogue Productions: the more recent one (APRJ 1073 on the Acoustic Sounds website), which I assume is the one reviewed here, remastered by Kevin Gray and pressed at QRP, and another one (APB014), which was remastered by Doug Sax and pressed at RTI. I ended up buying the Doug Sax version. I actually thought I was buying the other one but I am not in the least disappointed. It sounds great sonically, very direct, dynamic and present.

I wanted to make sure that the version reviewed above was indeed the newest remaster.

I would also be curious to hear them both and hear the differences. Has anyone compared? I might try to get a copy of the new one, just to see ...

The music is great, of course, needless to say.

Anyway, thanks for turning me on to this great record!

Jerome Sabbagh
www.jeromesabbagh.com