Had Lightnin' Hopkins' Herald sessions been his only accomplishment, he'd still be the legend he is now. He rambled into a studio, pulled out the electric guitar and amplifier, put himself in the company of a rude and powerful rhythm section of bass and drums, and let loose. Having been taken advantage of by record labels in the past, he became one tough cat. He was pretty much willing to record for anyone, but only if you put the cash in his hand first. He wanted to hear nothing of royalties, future payment schedules, or possibilities; figuring the best way to avoid getting ripped-off again was to get the cash in his pocket, cut his sides, and walk away. Thankfully, the cash was there in 1954 when Hopkins waxed these sides.
Comprised of 16 tracks, this is some of the finest blues you're liable to come across. Hopkins did record in settings similar to this, but never with quite the amount of success shown here. The slow and direct "Nothin' But The Blues" starts the disc and it's evident that Lightnin' was in rare form. His playing is as raw as any of his contemporaries and years ahead of its time, while "Lightnin's Boogie" is a rollicking mid-tempo workout with Sam talking over some fine guitar as the bands shuffles along in support. Guitar Slim's "The Things I Used To Do" was big at the time, and Hopkins' own "Life I Used To Live" owes more than a small debt of thanks. The brooding "Sick Feelin' Blues" is a gut-wrenching drag with some fiery six string, as is "Evil Hearted Woman." The slower pace continues for the next four and "My Baby's Gone" features more of the slashing, distorted guitar that came from these dates. Things get back to cruising speed with "Lightnin's Special" and "My Little Kewpie Doll," another showcase for Lightnin's dexterity on the fretboard as slurs and piercing notes buzz around. "Shine On Moon" slows back the charge and the seemingly made-up-on-the-spot "Had A Gal Called Sal" ripples along with the rhythm section staying tight throughout. "Remember Me" is another slow blues and the disc closes out with the storming romp of "Movin' On Out Boogie," full of crippling rhythms, blazing double-stops, and sizzling leads.
While there's no shortage of Lightnin' Hopkins material, this CD, with a dozen-plus-four cuts and a mid-line list price of $11.98, is worth the expense. Much easier to locate than an import Hopkins/Herald set from last year, it also follows hot on the heels of Buddha's March release of a fine Elmore James disc. A few minor knocks are that it's an incomplete look at some of Lightnin's finest material, and a pile-up of seven slower tracks, one directly after the other, following track three. Hopkins' two 1954 Herald dates provided a total of twenty six sides, and with better than 70 minutes of available playing time on CD's, the glass is about two-thirds full. On the plus side, sound is top quality and packaging is strong with a nice cover shot of the 'Houston flash.' Add to that, Lightnin's sense of fun and good times, and a barrage of paralyzing guitar played by a man with an unconventional style, and the outcome is definitely favorable. Perhaps there's more planned to fill out the complete picture. www.buddharecords.com
This review is copyright © 2001 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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