Blues legend Lightning Hopkins is captured here in several recordings made in 1961 and 1969. Lightning's genius sparkled most strikingly in the comfort of his usual surroundings: the beer joints and taverns where his nightly improvisational performances usually turned into house parties. Lightning conceived of most of his compositions, polishing his poetics and his style, during his live spontaneous performances, usually fueling his creativity with a little gin. He would later recreate the best of these songs for his recording sessions. Whether in the studio, at Chris Strachwitz's apartment in Berkeley, or even in Lightning's own home, the recordings on this CD are distillations of Lightning's improvisational best, such as "Ice Storm Blues," an impromptu composition inspired by a terrible January freeze in Houston in 1962.
This CD contains selections Lightning Hopkins recorded for Arhoolie Records in the 1960s, which were not included on either CD 302 or CD 390. They were previously available as follows: # 6, 7, 9, 18: previously unreleased. # 1, 2, 4, 14, 15, 19: previously released on ARH LP 1011. # 3: previously released on ARH LP 1012. # 5, 8: previously released on ARH LP 1087. # 10: previously released on ARH LP 1017. # 11, 12, 13, 16, 17: previously released on ARH LP 1063.
1. Ice Storm Blues
2. Speeding Boogie
3. Wine Drinking Woman
4. Do The Boogie
5. My Baby's Gone
6. Wake Up Old Maid
7. Jesus Will You Come By Here (Jesus Won't You Come By Here)
8. Candy Kitchen
9. Gin Bottle Blues
10. Hurricanes Carla & Esther
11. Wipe Your Feet On The Floor
12. Please Settle In Vietnam
13. Up On Telegraph Avenue
14. California Showers
15. Burnin' In L.A.
16. Selling Wine In Arizona
17. Brand New Lock
18. I'm Leaving You Now
19. Goin' Out Number
“A more prolific bluesman than Sam "Lightning" Hopkins is hard to find. The Texas troubadour had already recorded hundreds of sides for dozens of labels when a young Chris Strachwitz made his acquaintance in the late '50s. That meeting led Strachwitz to record the bluesman and form his Arhoolie label, which would document much of the singer-guitarist's work throughout the 1960s.
Some of the material for Po ` Lightnin ` comes from sessions previously released on several Arhoolie LPs and features Hopkins solo and with bass and drum accompaniment. Hopkins' rhythmic nuances didn't always lend themselves to ensemble playing and depending on the drummer, it was a formula that was sometimes met with mixed results. "Ice Storm Blues," recorded in Houston in 1962 with drummer "Spider" Kilpatrick, is a seven-minute tour de force of Hopkins' improvisational genius with Kilpatrick's rumbling backbeat in tow. On the remaining group tracks, drummer Victor Leonard and bassist "Gino" Henry Landry do an excellent ob of matching Hopkins' shifts in meter and achieve a cohesive groove on the instrumental "Speedin' Boogie," and bring an urgency to the brutally lowdown "Burnin' In L.A."
Several previously unreleased solo performances recorded at Hopkins' apartment in Houston in 1967 and at Strachwitz's house in Berkeley in 1969, present Hopkins' moody, introspective verse at its most telling. "Gin Bottle Blues" is deeply personal, with the singer confessing his trouble with drinking.
The real surprises on this disc come from cuts featuring Hopkins' piano and organ playing. The bouncy romp "Do The Boogie" is great fun with Hopkins' laying down thoroughly enjoyable (if somewhat sloppy!) boogie-woogie figures on the piano, while his performance of "Jesus Will You Come By Here" is a deeply moving gospel departure. All in all, Po' Lightnin' presents some great material from Hopkins' association with Arhoolie and reveals much of the genius that marked his best work.”
(ME — Sing Out!)
“WHETHER ON ACOUSTIC OR ELECTRIC guitar, the late great Lightnin' Hopkins always probed the depth of the blues, diving into wells of sadness and pouring out buckets of joy. With this latest batch of Hopkins some previously unreleased on LP, all unreleased on CD Arhoolie captures the legendary Texan improvising tunes, sliding through folk blues (including the slow take on "Gin Bottle Blues" hammering strings and slapping wood on a handful of solo jaunts.”
“The Lightnin' Hopkins title features 4 previously unreleased tracks, and the rest have never been on CD, coming from 5 previous LPs. The recordings were all made in the '60s. Some of the tracks have drums, electric guitar (or piano, or organ) and bass, some are solo. 12 are from the early 60s and 70s are from the later '60s, including Hopkins' "PIease Settle In Vietnam" and "Burnin' In L.A." - his take on current events. Over 76 minutes of music. Chris Strachwitz had wanted to record Lighnin' live, but the one attempt made was unsuccessful. The live performances apparently featured improvised guitar and Iyrics and interplay with the audience that weren't possible to capture in a studio, where Hopkins had his ideas set on what he intended to record. Nevertheless, his recorded output, at least early on, was always interesting. I don't recall having heard any of his keyboard work before.”
(MB — Blue Suede News)
“The halting, slowcoach pace of the Texan's creaky rocking chair blues, as captured during the '60s by label boss Chris Strachwitz, sometimes with primitivist drums'n'bass, sometimes with Lightnin' playing lean and hungry solo numbers, with a handful featuring his piano and organ skills, included to reveal a rarely exposed side of his repertoire. Each twang is delivered with careful deliberation, the '69 tracks adopting a more complex guitar style and smoother vocals than the gutbucket critters at the start of the decade. One of the best of the recent spate of Hopkins reissues.”
(ML — What's On Magazine)
“Material by Lightning Hopkins (1912-1982) has been recorded, repackaged and released countless times. Does a new release like this need to feature something fresh to be great?
No. Like good wine - or, in the case of Lightning, good gin - you need only to know it is the genuine thing to be assured it will be as good as any other bottle you've had.
Po' Lightnin" is a good bottle, an authentic sampling of Hopkins' rural Texas style with rich gospel and religious intonations not seen in later coffeehouse-style recordings. It features tracks from several releases from the 1960s plus four unreleased songs, some done with a band, most done solo, including some recorded alone in Hopkins' Houston apartment.
In the '60s, Lightnin' Hopkins became a favorite with the folk festival crowd. The folk artists performed music simply but elevated the complexity of their Iyrics and objectives with satire, humor, storytelling and a good old poke at the way things are, notably seen on this disc in "Burning in L.A." and "PIease Settle in Vietnam."
Missing on "Po' Lightnin'" is the chitchat that makes other Hopkins recordings enjoyable. But Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz compensates with clean, complete recordings from a player easily distracted by improvisation, liquor and mood swings.
On three tracks, Hopkins plays some startlingly good barrel-house piano. On "Gin Bottle Blues," "Ice Storm Blues" and others, Hopkins touches the guitar with intriguing style, evoking the airy sound and of offbeat timing of Son House and John Lee Hooker.
Blues fans immersed in the guitar artistry of the Delta region in the 1930s will want to add some Lightnin' Hopkins to their CD racks. "Po' Lightnin," with 19 tracks in 78 minutes is a comprehensive start.”
(Ralph Siegel — Associated Press)
“Once again, Arhoolie reaches back into their seemingly limitless vaults for these early sessions by Lightnin' Hopkins, recorded in Berkeley and Houston in the 60s. The bulk of the material was recorded during a 1961 studio session that had Hopkins in a variety of settings performing solo or with bass and drum support on guitar, piano, and organ. Particularly evident is his penchant for composing timely blues tunes virtually on the spot, such as the harrowing "Ice Storm Blues" that opens the CD, recorded the day after some fierce weather swept through Houston. The 1969 session offered Hopkins' then-timely observations on the war ("Please Settle in Vietnam") and the street scene in Berkeley ("Up on Telegraph Avenue"). Although his finger-picked guitar style is relatively familiar, the tracks with Hopkins on keyboards show a different side of his musicianship, notably his soulful organ on "My Baby's Gone." All but four of the selections here were previously released as parts of five different Arhoolie LPs, but the 19 tracks on "Po' Lightnin'" consolidate material from a few sessions, and offer a generous sample of Hopkins in his prime in the process.”
(MP — Dirty Linen)
“Most blues labels who are converting their LP catalog to CD are reissuing each album straight to disc, sometimes with a few previously unissued bonus tracks. Arhoolie has often taken a different tack, recompiling their releases by incorporating material from various LPsalong with unissued materialto create new programs that best fit the generous playing time of CDs. Po Lightnin' is a product of that policy.
Arhoolie has already released five CDs of Lightnin' Hopkins' material, and this disc gathers some remaining loose ends. Drawn from five LPs and mixing in four previously unissued songs, it presents Hopkins in a various venues between 1961 and 1969. The variety shows off the versatility of this brilliant, highly improvisational bluesman: Hopkins plays piano on three cuts and organ on two; on some tracks, Hopkins' guitar is the sole instrument; on others he benefits from Spider Kilpatrick's drums. Bass and drums add rhythm to the final few tracks. Towering above the other 18 songs is "Ice Storm Blues." Recorded in Houston's ACA Studios in 1962, "Ice Storm" is a stellar example of the spontaneous improvisation for which Hopkins was famous. Beginning with a reportorial account of a recent winter storm, Hopkins builds marvelous poetic imagery connecting weather with life. Because of its variety, this set makes an excellent introduction to Hopkins' work for Arhoolie. The sound is good, and the booklet includes four Hopkins photos that have probably not been seen by new fans of the preeminent Texas bluesman.”
(Peter R. Aschoff — Living Blues)
“The Arhoolie label have been releasing good reliable titles since the early 1960's and this, their latest Lightnin' Hopkins compilation, is well up to their very high standard. Collectors of Hopkins will already have fifteen of these titles for they have appeared on various Arhoolie albums in the past but the good news is that there are four unreleased titles included. Of the four, "Gin Bottle Blues," is quite outstanding with some beautiful slide guitar work and lyrics telling us that Lightnin' has given up drinking! There are many superb examples of his very personalized guitar techniques. His style sounds deceptively simple but it is indeed a very difficult feel and sound to emulate. The long track "Hurricane Carla and Esther" illustrates all of his impressive skills. There are two blues on which Hopkins plays organ and although this is not my favourite sound they still show the breadth of his musical skills. There are three titles where he plays piano and for me he sounds more relaxed and in control. His spiritual "Jesus Will You Come By Here" is sincere and well meant.
The set was recorded at various locations between 1961 and 1969 and there is no doubt that throughout this period Lightnin's playing and singing never faltered. For me he was one of the most profound of the blues poets and could produce songs on many subjects, humorous, sad or political. Many of his lyrics were spontaneously improvised as I think were many on this excellent set. For those who have little by this great Texas bluesman here is a wonderful start to a collection. The sound quality is excellent, there are some interesting notes by Chris Strachwitz and some lovely photographs, all of which enhance this near perfect release.”
(Robert Tilling — Blues & Rhythm)
“The Texas blues of Sam "Lightning" Hopkins is as hot as the sweltering heat in the Houston beer joints which he tore up with his electric guitar. And as does the other Hopkins' recordings made in the 1960's for the Arhoolie labelnamely, Texas Blues (CD 302) and Lightnin' (CD 390)- this new release of Po' Lightnin' also strongly delivers the goods. The personal, moody, visceral, poetic blues of Lightning Hopkins is one of those powerful sounds that is purely definitive blues and one that is exemplified over the 76 minutes of this album. The 19 cuts here represent a mixture of tracks taken from various Arhoolie LP's (#1011, 1012, 1087,1017, 1063 if you check your Lightning collection on vinyl) as well as 4 previously unreleased tracks ("Wake Up Old Maid," "Jesus Will You Come By Here," "Gin Bottle Blues," and "I'm Leaving You Now"). The cutsall of which feature superb singing and playing- were recorded in the studio, in Lightning's Houston apartment, and Chris Strachwitz's California apartment over the years from 1961-62, '67, and '69, and find Hopkins on guitar, piano (3 tracks), and even organ (2 tracks) in solo, with drum or drum and bass accompanied settings. The opening grinder "Ice Storm Blues" with Lightning's electric guitar snaking around the raw drumming of "Spider" Kilpatrick, sets the tone for "Po' Lightnin'." Some of the songs reflect the times and his travels to the West Coast (as in "Please Settle in Vietnam "California Showers," and "Burnin' in LA"). His piano playing is solid, as especially shown on the church song "Jesus Will You Come By Here," and his organ playing is hauntingly ethereal, as on "My Baby's Gone." From "Wine Drinking Woman," which is as great a slow blues as Lightning has recorded, to "Selling Wine in Arizona" to "I'm Leaving You Now" and the others, the album definitely does not disappoint. And, the CD booklet has some great photos of a relaxed Lightning. Recommended.”
(Dennis Rozanski Jr. — Bluesrag)
“When you cock a first-generation Ruger and most (not all) Colt single-action revolvers, there's an exquisiteness that's both sonic and tactile. The knock-offs can't touch it.
Same with Lightnin' Hopkins. His deep, textured voice, dirty guitar work, one-of-a-kind lyrics and powerful persona comprise an artist of unsurpassed individuality. Six of the cuts on this CD were on Lightnin' Sam Hopkins (Arhoolie 101 1), nine were on other Arhoolie LPs and four are previously unreleased. Fans of Hopkins recognize his Arhoolie output as one of vast creativity, hallmarked by topical, autobiographical and often spontaneous lyrics. That sounds a mite lofty; the material is also great fun!
Selling Wine in Arizona" is Lightnin' the outlaw, hassled by a pitiless constabulary merely for selling wine to outlaws and children. ("I was trying to make a living!" he pleads.) "Ice Storm Blues" is Lightnin' the topical, lamenting a damaging ice storm (a Texas specialty) in company with his Houston amigo, drummer Spider Kilpatrick. "Wake Up Old Maid" and "Jesus Will You Come By Here," two of the unissued cuts, feature him on, respectively, organ and piano. He played neither fluently, but that didn't give him a moment's pause. The first song is ribald and uproarious (it sounds like he's playing a circus calliope), the second, reverent and downright touching.
If you have LP 1011 and all (or most) of Lightnin's other Arhoolie recordings, you'll have to be quite the completist to want this for the four unreleased cuts. If you don't have them, by all means have at this!”
(Tim Schuller — Blues Access)