Lightnin' Hopkins was "Laidback, mildly mysterious and the epitome of street corner cool" according to informative liner notes. Well, there is a lot of Hopkins (19121982) music coming at you on The King of Dowling Street, a generous, smartly packaged three-disc, '100 proof' triple strength blues collection.
Dowling Street was THE Houston street if you wanted to step out in style in the middle of the 20th century. Numerous regional and national musicians performed there, including Houston-based Hopkins who developed a casual country blues that was all his own. Initially, he was mostly a regional artist with a primitive acoustic approach. Although Hopkins performed professionally in the 1930s, he drifted away for several years, only to return after the second world war. He was back to stay, cutting deals with an alphabet soup of records labels and eventually recording hundreds of tracks for numerous companies.
Hopkins could be bawdy, impish and sly or he could switch gears and ease into lowdown, lonesome and laconic. Whether acoustic or electric, his guitar style was economical and, at times, percussive. Each disc in this collection has a title and the first one is anointed "Favorites." The mostly instrumental "Lightnin' Jump" must have been a guiding light for ZZ Top's addictive boogie guitar, while the casual "Black Mare Trot" was breezy and relaxing. Then there's one of his biggest hits, "Mojo Hand," a spunky shuffle that was a siren call to anyone in the room to jump up and to start dancing and swinging.
Disc two is titled "Rarities." Many of the pieces are sparse, casual and low key. It's almost like sitting in on a practice or demo session. Although he usually preferred to get in and out of a studio after just one take, some of the songs are alternative versions of previously recorded songs. "Rarities" includes the lonesome "I Don't Need You Woman" and "Lightnin's Song" plus the haunting "My Baby Was Crying for Bread." But he also fired things up on numbers such as "Let's Work Awhile," "I Wish I Was a Baby" and "Fell Like Ballin' The Jack." Several of the songs focus on Hopkins and his guitar with little or no additional accompaniment while others invite a piano, bass, harmonica or understated drums to join in. Improvisational lyric asides seem to be delivered with a 'you know what I'm talkin' about' nod and wink. Ultimately, much of "Rarities" flirts with the smoky, two-in-the-morning mood jazz has perfected.
The third disc is simply called "Live." Sure, there is the structured lyrics he was supposed to deliver but there was also some of Hopkin's casual patented ad-lib banter as well. Why sing it the exact same way twice he seemed to be saying. The disc features several key Hopkin's songs including "Baby Please Don't Go" and other favorites. Only a few 'repeats' already heard on the first two discs are included on "Live" including a fierce version of "Mojo Hand" and a guitar propelled "Shining Moon" which close out the night.
The package offers us close to sixty examples, many of them potent blues at their best, from a one-of-a-kind blues master. A 'one stop' way to quickly create the core of an essential Lightnin' Hopkins library.
Moanin’ Blues, Leavin’ Blues, Late In The Evening, Lightnin’ Jump, Long Gone Like A Turkey, Through The
How Long Have It Been Since You Been Home, Mojo Hand, Glory Be, How Long Has The Train Been Gone,
You Ever Loved A Woman, Santa, Black Mare Trot, Coffee For Mama, Awful Dream, Sometimes She Will,
Moon, Houston Bound, Baby I Don’t Care, Give Me Time To Think, No Education, This Time We’re Going To
Christmas Time Is Coming, Let’s Work Awhile, The Jet, I Don’t Need You Woman, I Wish I Was A Baby, This
Song, Lightnin’s Love, Take It If You Want It, Have Have You Been, My Baby Was Crying For Bread, I Wonder
Where She Can Be Tonight, Feel Like Ballin’ The Jack, Rainy Day In Houston, How Does It (inst.,) A Man Like
Hard To Find, Movin’ Out, You Just Gotta Miss Me, World’s In A Tangle, Shinin’ Moon, Your Gonna Miss Me
I’m Gone, Big Black Cadillac Blues, Baby Please Don’t Go, Houston Rock, Leave Jike Mary Alone, Rock Me
Long, Don’ Treat That Man The Way You Treat Me, Cook My Breakfast, You Treat Po’ Lightnin’ Wrong, I Got
Hook In My Water, Mighty Crazy, My Babe, Last Night I Lost The Best Friend I Ever Had, Mr. Charlie (part 2,)
Scratch My Back, Mojo Hand, Shining Moon