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A public conversation about our worlds.

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Brain Activity



Lightnin’ Change When Lightnin’ Want To Change

December 23rd, 2007 by Rory Harper

Well, it’s a cold, bright Sunday morning here in Bryan. Time for some more music from another Texas boy who made good.

Sam ‘Lightnin’’ Hopkins was an old-school acoustic bluesman, with every damn credential imaginable. He chopped cotton, did time on the chain-gang, and drank like he meant it. He was also incredibly talented at what he did. He cut about a million albums and played about a million gigs, from high-profile arenas to gut-bucket juke-joints. He was a major influence on many Texas musicians.

The most famous story about him is this one, told by Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, excerpted from an excellent Guitar Player magazine article about him:

To accompany Hopkins meant doing things his way, as Gibbons quickly learned: “We were playing a traditional blues and we all went to the second change, but Lightnin’ was still in the first change. He stopped and looked at us. Our bass player said, ‘Well, Lightnin’, that’s where the second change is supposed to be, isn’t it?’ Lightnin’ looked back and said, ‘Lightnin’ change when Lightnin’ want to change.’ And we knew — don’t do that no more!”

“You had to know and feel Lightnin’ and follow him,” seconds Johnny Winter. “I guess he played a lot by himself, and he didn’t worry about changes. It didn’t hurt a damn thing, either. Lightnin’ might not change on time all the time, but he was technically a damn good guitar player when he wanted to be. He could play his butt off, and he was always his own man.

I saw him play multiple times during the Sixties and Seventies. The details of those memories are blurred, as usual. But I do remember one glorious night in a hole-in-the-wall joint over in Houston’s Fifth Ward when Lightnin’ was obviously completely drunk on his ass. So drunk that he played the same song twice in a row. He did a hell of a job both times.

Here’s a YouTube cut from the DVD ‘The Blues According to Lightnin’ Hopkins’. Long, long ago, my old buddy Brian ‘Dr. Mojo’ Robertson gave me a copy of the tape of this. It’s an amazing showcase of a uniquely talented bluesman, and will repeatedly blow your mind.

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You might want to also try this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PILGaerSSEk

There are quite a few of his songs on YouTube, and many of them are haunting, with their deep-reverb late-at-night vibe. I have about a dozen of his albums on old cassettes, and really must transfer them over to the computer Real Soon Now. I heartily encourage you to check them out.

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Also – I’m about ready to get in the wind to Austin to hang with She Who Is Awesome and then come back here with her on our bikes, either this afternoon or tomorrow. Not sure how all that will play out, or how tired I’ll end up being, so I may or may not make another post today.

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Posted in Music, People, Personal History, Rachael is Awesome, Rory | 12 Comments »

12 Responses

  1. Larry Wilson Says:

    What was the name of the restaurant, near Inlet, that Lightnin’ played at? Who was the other main headliner?

    Just wondering.

  2. Rory Harper Says:

    Ooh, a quiz. Cool!

    Okay, it was the Sixties. In the Montrose. It was all a blur.

    But Lightnin’ probably played at Anderson Fair Retail Restaurant, which I think would have been the closest one to Inlet. Though I only remember seeing Don Sanders play there a bunch of times.

    Were you there? Remember the spaghetti lunches?

    And I don’t know whether Lightnin’ ever played at Sand Mountain, though he probably did. But I don’t think of that as a restaurant, just a coffee house.

    He might have played at the Family Hand, too. I have a brief, VERY psychedelicized memory of a New Year’s eve at the Family Hand, with two guitar gunslingers shootin’ it out wonderfully.

    I have absolutely no idea what club it was where I saw the gig that I’m referring to above. Liberty Hall, maybe, though that wasn’t in Fifth Ward, was it?

  3. Larry Wilson Says:

    Strange; you didn’t mention the most famous white player – Townes Van Zandt.

    It’s nice that you mention Don; I really miss him. Remember “Waiting for My Coffee to Boil”? (not sure if that was the real title, but that was the main refrain)

  4. Rory Harper Says:

    Wait! Don’s dead? He was a really nice guy! I just now googled and don’t see anything one way or the other on that. His kid and mine both went to the same day care, and we chatted occasionally during drop-offs and pick-ups.

    Last time I saw him play was when he invited me to catch him at a rather upscale little club in the Village, probably around ’91 or ’92. He was still good. Sadly, I have no memory of any particular songs of his, just that he was a neat, warm person…

    …I probably saw Townes more than once, but honestly don’t remember doing so. I caught a LOT of live music back then, and probably remember about a tenth of it. I never much liked that folk stuff then, was mostly into rock and blues. I have more tolerance now, but still like it most when the distortion is cranked up.

  5. Larry Wilson Says:

    Nancy knew Townes and Lightin’ extremely well. In fact, when she first propositioned me, it was at the Family Hand Restaurant, and Lightnin’ was playing and we were sitting right in front of him, and at an apparently pre-arranged time, he went quiet, and in front on 250 people, Nancy made her move.

    I was a bit flustered and came up with a quick, funny response, but the next day – I moved in.

    I don’t think Nancy would mind me repeating this; she was not ashamed of anything she did; she accepted it all with a quiet grace, and was not shy in repeating the story to people.

    I heard from another music compatriot of mine – my best friend fron high school, Jim Ross (now lives in Austin and plays there) that Don had died in the 90′s. Many times, Don would come to Inlet or to my staff house and play. I don’t know whatever happened to his self-published ‘white’ album, but I’ve often wished I still had it. He passed a few of them out, but I’ve never found one for sale.

    Townes died a few years ago, and a movie was released, last year, about his life. I wrote a piece about him for another acquaintance of mine, Eric Alterman (Altercation on MediaMatters.org – but he was still on MSNBC at the time). The movie painted him as a real ass, but he was always gracious to Nancy and myself.

    RIP, Townes and Don.

  6. John Roenigk Says:

    Owned a copy of the Don Sanders “White” album back in the day. Purchased it directly from Don following one of his performances in the early 1970s. I think I may have seen him perform a half dozen or so times.

    My copy of the album had only one side of music. On the other there was an etching of Texas. Sadly, it was lost in a fire in the late 1970s. I quite miss that music.

    I paraphrase a bit of the lyric from his “Waitin’ for my coffee to boil” below from memory:

    I see my toe and my toe sees me
    But we’re so far apart that we never could be
    The friends that we’d like to
    The pals we dream of
    It’s a children’s fairy story
    Admiration, kind of love

    Waitin’ for my coffee to boil…

    If you do ever come across a (or an extra) copy of the “white” album, I would be interested to hear from you.

  7. Don Sanders Says:

    1/5/2009
    to quote the pythons, “I’m not dead yet.” In fact, I’m still quite active.

    Doing a story and song performance @ The Grand in Galveston @ 3pm on Jan 18, 2009

  8. Rory Harper Says:

    Don! You survived, dude! This is delightful!

    It’s good to see you here, and I’m glad you’re still out in the world performing.

    John — Thanks for dropping by. Hey, maybe Don can hook you up…

  9. Barbara Roenigk Jenkins Says:

    I would like to contact John Roenigk who left a comment on Jan. 3rd for genealogy purposes. My maiden name was Roenigk.

  10. Dale Shank Says:

    I was talking to a friend about and then Googled Waiting for my Coffee to Boil and found this thread. I met Don (through Candy) back in the 70′s in Houston and bought the album also, and will be heading to the garage rafters this weekend to look through that old box.

    Hello Don, waving

  11. Ken Graves Says:

    Hey Dale, I sure would like to hear that album! I’ve been wanting to hear some of Don’s song for yers, but they’re kind if hard to find around here in rural Indiana. If I can’t get the music I would at least like to get the lyrics. I’m sure glad he’s still around!

  12. John Lopez Says:

    When I was young, I could never figure out,
    why all the grown ups were never without….

    at least one cup of coffee at the starting of the day,
    and why when they drank it,
    they seemed so far away.

    Waitin’ for my coffee to boil…. et al…

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