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Lightnin Hopkins - Free Form Patterns

  by Jon Rogers

published: 9 / 8 / 2014

Lightnin Hopkins - Free Form Patterns
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Jon Rogers examines Texan country blues guitarist Lightnin' Hopkins' 1968 album 'Free Form Patterns', which saw him collaborating with members of the 13th Floor Elevators and has just been reissued in a three CD box set

On the face of it a collaboration between Sam John Hopkins and the rhythm section of the 13th Floor Elevators seems a rather disparate union, up there with the likes of David Bowie and Bing Crosby and Norah Jones and Dave Grohl. On the one hand there's Hopkins, described in his 'New York Times' obituary as "one of the great country blues guitarists", and on the other two of the members of the psychedelic pioneers who had an appetite for dropping tabs of acid. While both, however, were immersed in the culture of southern America, both parties were suitably removed and critical of it, giving themselves enough common ground to stand together. Born in 1912 Lightnin' Hopkins had honed his rather unique style, having effectively served as Blind Lemon Jefferson's apprentice for a while and slowly come to attention playing country/Texas blues mixing his finger-picking style with mournful singing and talkin' blues. By the late 1950s though Hopkins's style had largely fallen out of favour with the wider public as the more urban styling of Chicago blues and the use of electric guitars, as favoured by the likes of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, grew in popularity. By 1959 Hopkins was down on his luck when musicologist Sam Charters tracked him down in an attempt to revive his career. He'd even had to hock his guitar for money. The recordings Charters made in Hopkins' living room at his Hadley Street home in Houston, that became the album 'The Roots of Lightnin' Hopkins' managed to reconnect him with the public and give his career a second wind. It was producer Lelan Rogers who came up with the idea to pair the veteran bluesman with the Elevators' drummer Danny Thomas and bassist Duke Davis in 1968. As with many of Hopkins' later recordings, due to the cost of recording studios, songs were recorded quickly, usually in just one take with Hopkins often refusing to do a second version, and 'Free Form Patterns', largely, follows this blueprint with the 10 songs that comprised the original album recorded in just one day on 1 February 1968 at the International Artists studio in Houston. 'Free Form Patterns' though is not the genre-bending 'psychedelic blues' albums that the line-up would perhaps suggest. It is firmly a blues album, despite the members of the Elevators admitting that they were high on LSD during the recording. While that might be disappointing in a sense of what might have been, still a solid blues album was set for posterity displaying Hopkins' skills. Songs like 'Give Me Time to Think' and 'Got Her Letter This Morning' indicate that none of the blues magic had been lost, and that the musicians in the Elevators were not 'one-trick ponies' and could comfortably adapt to a different style of playing. The real revelations in a new three CD reissue come in the bonus material. Rogers kept the tapes rolling whilst the band and Hopkins were not recording and ended up with a sort of audio-verité style document as Hopkins talks about his life, no doubt with some rather tall tales thrown in, and all manner of subjects such as how he got his stage name, life in Texas and politics. This is not to mention a smattering of different versions of songs that would end up on the album and abortive attempts of songs that did not make the cut. Admittedly some of it amounts to little more than idle studio chit-chat or discussions about particular songs, but the overall effect is to give a revealing insight into this blues icon, warts and all. While 'Free Form Patterns' lacks anything that can stand up to Hopkins' at the peak of his powers, like 'Blues in the Bottle' or 'Tim Moore's Farm' it's an album that has weathetrf well over the years and this new set can only add to his reputation.

Track Listing:-

Lightnin Hopkins - Free Form Patterns

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