Mojo Hand: The Life and Music of Lightnin' Hopkins

Overview

In a career that took him from the cotton fields of East Texas to the concert stage at Carnegie Hall and beyond, Lightnin’ Hopkins became one of America’s greatest bluesmen, renowned for songs whose topics effortlessly ranged from his African American roots to space exploration, the Vietnam War, and lesbianism, performed in a unique, eccentric, and spontaneous style of guitar playing that inspired a whole generation of rock guitarists. Hopkins’s music directly and indirectly influenced an amazing range of ...

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Mojo Hand: The Life and Music of Lightnin' Hopkins

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Overview

In a career that took him from the cotton fields of East Texas to the concert stage at Carnegie Hall and beyond, Lightnin’ Hopkins became one of America’s greatest bluesmen, renowned for songs whose topics effortlessly ranged from his African American roots to space exploration, the Vietnam War, and lesbianism, performed in a unique, eccentric, and spontaneous style of guitar playing that inspired a whole generation of rock guitarists. Hopkins’s music directly and indirectly influenced an amazing range of artists, including Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Tom Waits, and Bob Dylan, as well as bands such as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and ZZ Top, with whom Hopkins performed.

Mojo Hand follows Lightin’ Hopkins’s life and music from the acoustic country blues that he began performing in childhood, through the rise of 1950s rock ’n’ roll, which nearly derailed his career, to his reinvention and international success as a pioneer of electric folk blues from the 1960s to the 1980s. The authors draw on 130 vivid oral histories, as well as extensive archival and secondary sources, to provide the fullest account available of the development of Hopkins’s music; his idiosyncratic business practices, such as shunning professional bookers, managers, and publicists; and his durable and indelible influence on modern roots, blues, rock ’n’ roll, singer-songwriter, and folk music. Mojo Hand celebrates the spirit and style, intelligence and wit, and confounding musical mystique of a bluesman who shaped modern American music like no one else.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Lightnin' Hopkins was a deeply influential blues musician whose career was filled with staggering highs and lows. After years of toil and a brief prison term in Texas, Hopkins found success in the late 1940s when he was in his 30s. His style of unaccompanied, straight-talking country blues, coupled with a conversational stage presence, led him through a vast recording career and countless live performances that are well documented here by the late O'Brien (history, Univ. of Houston) and Ensminger (Left of the Dial: Conversations with Punk Icons). Hopkins had rather unorthodox business practices for a musician—avoiding managers, agents, etc.—and the details of his career, filtered through a picture of the business at large, paints an interesting portrait of the blues and folk world from the 1940s through the 1980s. VERDICT This is the second biography of Hopkins to appear in the last few years, joining Alan Govenar's 2010 Lightnin' Hopkins: His Life and Blues. While both books are thorough and well researched, this new release, though very informative, is slightly more academic and does not shed dramatic new light on the subject. Recommended only for dedicated fans.—Peter Thornell, Hingham P.L., MA
Kirkus Reviews
Unsatisfying biography of the Texas blues original. Journalist Ensminger (Visual Vitriol: The Street Art and Subcultures of the Punk and Hardcore Generation, 2011, etc.) completed the work of his colleague O'Brien after the latter's death in 2011. Singer/guitarist Lightnin' Hopkins' (1912–1982) prolific recorded output revealed one of the most distinctive of blues talents. Born Sam Hopkins into a rural sharecropping family, he began playing guitar at the age of 8, picking up his older brother's instrument. He lit out from home early and was an itinerant musician by his teens, learning at the feet of legends like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Texas Alexander. He settled in Houston's rough Third Ward; the ghetto neighborhood remained his home until he died. The trajectory of Hopkins' career was similar to those of many of his blues contemporaries. After years of local renown, he recorded for a number of independent R&B labels in the late 1940s and '50s. As the '60s turned, he cut records for folk labels catering to the growing white folk-blues market; by late in the decade, he was playing Europe, colleges and the rock ballroom circuit. Hopkins' enormous discography and improvisatory, stream-of-consciousness style led to his lionization before his death. The authors interviewed some 130 subjects and compiled a mountain of research, but Hopkins' essence proves elusive. The authors detail the illiterate and mistrustful musician's affection for liquor, gambling and hard cash, but they fail to plumb his inner life. Too often, the book settles into a frustrating pileup of concert itineraries and reviews, descriptions of recording sessions, nightclub back stories, musings on Southern race relations and long-winded source quotes in need of serious pruning. Hopkins' combative relationship with his longtime producer, manager and agent, Mack McCormick, is the only interpersonal tale spun in any depth. The interior source of his remarkable and poetic gifts remains a mystery. The blues master emerges more as a cliché than a living artist.
Mojo - Lois Wilson
Mojo Hand covers all the pivotal moments in his fascinating life through narrative punctuated with large, unwieldy chunks of oral history – both from first and secondary sources. Though thoroughly researched, as befits its genesis as the late Tim O’Brien’s dissertation for the University of Houston, it turns Hopkins’ story into an excellent reference tool rather than a thrilling page turner.
Crossroads Blues Society of Northern Illinois - Mark Thompson
The biography maintains a focus centered on Lightnin’ and his music….He has crafted a fascinating, well-researched look at a true blues legend, and helps us understand the social environment that created such powerful music.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780292745155
  • Publisher: University of Texas Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2013
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,396,257
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

The late Timothy J. O’Brien held a Ph.D. in history from the University of Houston, where he studied African American history, social movements, and labor history. His music journalism appeared in Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Left of the Dial.

David Ensminger is a writer, drummer, college instructor, folklorist, and digital archivist of punk and vernacular culture. He publishes a monthly column on PopMatters.com. His previous books are Left of the Dial: Conversations with Punk Icons and Visual Vitriol: The Street Art and Subcultures of the Punk and Hardcore Generations.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Chapter 1. East Texas Cotton Picking Blues
Chapter 2. Can't Leave Home Blues
Chapter 3. Bad Luck and Trouble Blues
Chapter 4. The War Is Over
Chapter 5. Folksinger Blues
Chapter 6. Too Many Drivers
Chapter 7. Vietnam War Blues
Chapter 8. Heaven, Hell, or Houston
Chapter 9. Po' Lightnin'
Chapter 10. Epilogue: Remember Me
Notes
Index
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