Lightnin' Hopkins

The Tradition Masters

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Lightnin' Hopkins' career, recording history, and music remain fascinating. Like John Lee Hooker, he served as a bridge between older country blues and the newer electric variety; like Hooker, he played in both styles while never losing the idiosyncratic nature of the earlier method (his electric music sounds like country blues on an electric guitar). Hopkins' long career also produced a terribly confusing discography, making the task of choosing a particular introductory disc a daunting one. The Tradition Masters, a two-disc set recorded by folklorist Mack McCormick around 1959-1960, is a good place to start for a couple of reasons. First, Hopkins is in his element here, relaxed and comfortable with the material. McCormick's desire to record him "pure and unplugged" also adds to the intensity of these sets, keeping the music focused and intimate. There are fun pieces like "Mama and Papa Hopkins" and "Get Off My Toe," and more familiar ones like "Trouble in Mind" and "See See Rider." Hopkins is joined on vocals by Luke "Long Gone" Miles on cuts like "Baby" and "Prison Blues Come Down on Me" on the second disc. The song credits are bit puzzling, with most of these pieces attributed to Hopkins and McCormick. While these songs may be arranged differently than earlier versions, it's doubtful that either party had a good excuse to take credit for "When the Saints Go Marching In." Regardless of who wrote these songs, The Tradition Masters is a fine set of pure country blues.

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