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Lightnin' Hopkins: His Life and Blues Hardcover – May 1, 2010

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In only the second biographical book on seminal blues guitarist-singer Hopkins (see Sarah Ann West, Deep Down Hard Blues, 1995), Govenar traces Hopkins’ long, twisting route to worldwide fame. Leaving home when still a child, Hopkins spent most of his life pursuing the sex-and-drinks-and-blues lifestyle that preceded the sex-and-drugs-and-rock-’n’-roll model, at least in the popular imagination. Apparently dubbed Lightnin’ at his 1946 first recording session, the moniker wasn’t, as oft-rumored, a tribute to his guitar stylings but made to go with session-mate Wilson Smith being called Thunder. Govenar finds that much else of what fans think they know about Hopkins doesn’t stand up to investigation, yet in pursuit of the truth via extensive interviews with family and friends, he turns up many nuggets as satisfying as the dispelled myths and inconsistencies. His detailed examination of how the delightfully cantankerous Hopkins rode the folk music craze of the early 1960s to rediscovery and a second, probably more remunerative recording career should be a cornerstone of blues-covering pop-music collections. --Mike Tribby


"Recommended without question."  —Cadence


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press; First Edition edition (May 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1556529627
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556529627
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #173,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alan Govenar is a writer, folklorist, photographer, and filmmaker. He has a B.A. with distinction in American Folklore from Ohio State University, an M.A. in Folklore and Anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin, and a Ph.D. in Arts and Humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas. He is president of Documentary Arts, a non-profit organization he founded in 1985 to present new perspectives on historical issues and diverse cultures. Over the years, he has worked with Documentary Arts to organize festivals, arts-in-education programs and exhibitions; develop interactive media; and produce films, videos and radio series for national and international broadcast. Govenar has served on an Experts Panel on the safeguarding and inventory of intangible cultural heritage at UNESCO and has worked with FARO in Brussels to develop the touring exhibition Recognizing Our Cultural Heritage: An American and Flemish Dialogue.
Govenar is the author of more than twenty-five books, including Texas Blues: The Rise of a Contemporary Sound, Stompin' at the Savoy: The Story of Norma Miller, Extraordinary Ordinary People: Five American Masters of Traditional Arts, Untold Glory: African Americans in Pursuit of Freedom, Opportunity and Achievement, Stoney Knows How: Life as a Sideshow Tattoo Artist, Deep Ellum: The Other Side of Dallas, Portraits of Community, and The Early Years of Rhythm and Blues. His book Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper's Daughter won First Place in the New York Book Festival (Children's Non-Fiction), a Boston Globe-Hornbook Honor; and an Orbis Pictus Honor from the National Council of Teachers of English. The off-Broadway premiere of Govenar's musical Blind Lemon Blues, co-created with Akin Babatunde received rave reviews in The New York Times and Variety.
For more than two decades, Govenar has directed Masters of Traditional Arts, an ongoing, multifaceted initiative focused on the recipients of the National Heritage Fellowship, awarded annually by the National Endowment for the Arts since 1982. In this capacity, Govenar has worked with institutions and cultural organizations across the United States and has compiled and edited a two-volume biographical dictionary, co-authored an education guide for teachers and students, developed interactive touchscreen kiosks for museums, schools and libraries, produced two 52-part radio series for national broadcast, and curated the touring exhibition Extraordinary Ordinary People: American Masters of Traditional Arts. 
Govenar has directed numerous documentary films for broadcast and educational distribution in the United States and abroad, including You Don't Need Feet to Dance, The Beat Hotel, Master Qi and the Monkey King, Poetry of Exactitude, The Devil's Swing, Texas Style, Everything But the Squeak, The Human Volcano, The Hard Ride, Dreams of Conquest, and Little Willie Eason and His Talking Gospel Guitar. His film Voyage of Doom was co-produced with La Sept/ARTE for broadcast in 20 French and German countries and with NOVA for primetime broadcast in North America.


Customer Reviews

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Stuart Jefferson TOP 100 REVIEWER on April 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Hardcover-8 page Introduction,24 pages of b&w photographs,236 pages of text,50 page Discography,23 pages of End Notes,8 page Selected Bibliography,plus Index.

The (late) Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins was without a doubt one of the finest blues artists,not just in Texas,but in the entire history of the blues idiom. He was also a man difficult to know. His blues style,no matter if it's traditional,solo acoustic country blues,or in a band setting with electrified instruments,didn't really change much. His songs focused on traditional themes of the blues-women,gambling,alcohol,people he met along the way,and everyday observations about himself and life in general. He was capable of playing simply (and off meter)with just his voice and guitar in the old field-singing style. Or he could propel a song in a toe-tapping boogie/shuffle time,with an electric guitar and/or a rhythm section to great effect.

In this highly readable book,Alan Govenar delves into not just Hopkins' music,but the man himself. The author starts with Hopkins' early life,with details that haven't before now been so thoroughly researched. Govenar spent a decade collecting information from family,close friends,and business acquaintances to fill in a number of areas of Hopkins' life. The photographs give added depth to the book,showing Hopkins,his family,associates,and homes he lived in as a young man. These crisp photos (some unseen by many people) help tell Hopkins' life during his most important years,and are a true bonus.

Beginning with his up-bringing,Govenar details Hopkins' hard-scrabble life growing up in the Texas countryside. The country is where Hopkins first heard music played at country suppers,which was part of the foundation for his own music.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Frank A. Delaney on May 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I was stationed in the deep South in the 1960's when many of the older blues men were rediscovered, and I have been playing and researching this music since then. I have a large collection of blues bios and books, videos, and tapes, and this is the best blues Bio I have read.

Lightning Hopkins was always one of my favorites, along with his fellow Texan Mance Lipscomb, and Mississippi players like Mississippi John Hurt, Furry Lewis and Skip James.

I already have an Alan Govenar Book and Video - "Living Texas Blues" - so I was looking forward to his book on Lightning, and it was even better than I had expected.

In this incredibly detailed and well researched book we learn the details of Lightning's early life, which previously had just been alluded to in Les Blanks' video from back in 60's. We learn of Lightning's association with Blind Lemon Jefferson and Texas Alexander and other famous blues personalities, and how parts of his life had been written about by Samuel Charters and Paul Oliver, but to date there has been nothing as revealing as Govenar's book.

It shows that Lightning was never actually rediscovered - he just started recording and playing and although people had a hard time finding him - he was always around. Although we think of him as an acoustic player, he was playing electric guitar very early, and was persuaded to switch back to acoustic to appeal to the Folk Music boomers of the 50's and 60's, as advised by noted musicologist Mack McCormac and others interested in his career.

There is a wealth of blues information in this book, and an equal amount of wonderful and entertaining stories about Lightning. I recommend it as an excellent read, and a must-have in any blues library.

Frank Delaney
Webmaster The Mississippi John Hurt Foundation [...]
Music Producer
KPBX FM 91.1 Spokane Public Radio NPR Network
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By R. Weinstock VINE VOICE on September 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This review has appeared on my blog, as well as Jazz & Blues Report.

One of the blues most iconic artists, Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins, is the subject of a welcome new biography, "Lightnin' Hopkins: His Life and Blues" (Chicago Review Press), by writer and photographer Alan Govenar. Govenar has written a number of books including "Texas Blues : The Rise of a Contemporary Sound," as well as a musical "Blind Lemon Blues," that has been performed Off-Broadway.

Hopkins was celebrated during his life for his ability to spin songs seemingly out of the blue, for his sometimes acerbic commentary on people, the relationships between men and women and current events, while performing for two very different audiences, the urban working class folk that bought his commercial recordings and frequented the bars in Houston's black community and the white audience that was first introduced to his music during the folk revival and later when he became one of the most respected performers on the blues circuit from the sixties through his death in 1982.

Hopkins was born in rural Centreville, Texas. At the time Texas was pretty racist, with lynchings happening far too frequently. In this world, life was rough and hard and often violent. Hopkins' dad was shot to death over a card game when he was three. Shortly thereafter his oldest brother, John henry left because he would have killed the man who shot their dad. He grew up in a world of country suppers and square dances, and had to share in the farm work. he learned to play guitar as well as dance as a youngest and this enabled him to give up the hard life of farm work.
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