Sam Hopkins was born on March 15, 1912 in Centerville, Texas. In 1920, at the age of eight, Hopkins met and played with the legendary Blind Lemon Jefferson, even becoming Jefferson’s guide for a short time. Hopkins’ cousin, the great bluesman, Texas Alexander, was another influence. Their musical partnership was broken up by Hopkins’ time in Houston’s County Prison Farm during the 1930s.
When Hopkins made his way to Houston’s Third Ward in 1946 he was introduced to Lola Anne Cullum, a talent scout who had pieced together deals with companies such as Aladdin Records out of Los Angeles. She paired up Hopkins with a piano player by the name of Wilson “Thunder” Smith and came up with the name “Lightnin’” as an obvious match. It stuck.
Hopkins had no little success with a release named “Katie May,” cut on November 9, 1946. After that came a series of releases on the Aladdin label – “Shotgun Blues,” “Short Haired Woman,” “Abilene” and “Big Mama Jump.” The blues floodgate had opened. What followed was more than thirty years of albums on everything from small, obscure labels to big ones. The list includes Modern/RPM, Gold Star, Mercury, Jax, Decca, Astan, and Herald. During this period he cut some of the most ferocious blues guitar mixed with what he called “air songs,” meaning those where he’d just pull the lyrics right out of the air on the spot.