Friday, October 8, 2010


Lightnin' usually tuned his guitar in the key of E, though not necessarily to

a concert pitch. He utilized what ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons has called

"that turnaround....It's a signature lick....He'd come down from the B chord and

roll across the top three strings in the last two bars. He'd pull off those strings to

get a staccato effect, first hitting the little open E string then the 3rd fret on the

B string and the 4th fret of the G string. He would then resolve on the V chord

after doing his roll. It's a way to immediately identify a Lightnin' Hopkins tune."

Lightnin' was tremendously appealing for aspiring blues guitarists to

emulate because his signature turnaround was relatively easy to learn,

but it was extremely hard to replicate his sound because of his distinctive

held notes, pauses, string bending, and shortened and lengthened measures.

Sometimes, as bluesman Michael "Hawkeye" Herman points out, Lightnin'

"played it in triplets, sometimes as a quarter note, sometimes as an eighth

note....He knew how to play the same lick/riff forward, backward, from the

middle to the front, from the middle to the back, from the back to the front...

each effort creating a completely huge guitar vocabulary." Ultimately, it didn't

matter what kind of guitar he was playing, acoustic or electric. "He just had

this feel," guitarist and luthier Sam Swank maintains, echoing the sentiments

of so many Lightnin' devotees. "There aren't that many blues guitar players

in the world that when you drop the needle on the record, anybody who's

anybody knows who that is. Lightnin' Hopkins is one of those guitar players."

Alan Govenar
Lightnin' Hopkins, His Life and Blues
(Chicago Review Press 2010)