Learn to Play: Lightnin' Hopkins' 12-Bar Blues Licks with Jeff Massey

Samuel "Lightin'" Hopkins was born in Centerville, Texas, on March 15, 1912. At a very young age, he developed a talent for singing and playing guitar and was encouraged by the older legendary blues talent Blind Lemon Jefferson. Lightin' also occasionally wrote and recorded music on the piano, as well as the guitar.

Although Hopkins may not be considered a household name, his playing has been a strong influence for both acoustic and electric players in the blues community. His style—which incorporated single-note patterns between vocal phrases and rhythm—is applicable to both acoustic and electric playing.

While players like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Johnny Winter popularized "amped up" versions of Lightin's own licks, Lightin' himself added a pickup to his acoustic guitar later in his career, resulting in a somewhat raunchier and electric tone.

In this lesson, I'm focused on Hopkins' approach to the 12-bar blues—the basis for much of his material. Notice how Hopkins often stays on the I chord rather than turning around to the V the way most 12-bar blues jams turn around. This gives the piece a bit of a different feel and is a signature Hopkins trick.

Lightnin' also has a tendency to jump up to the higher register of a scale in the midst of a 12-bar blues rhythm, flawlessly weaving between thumping rhythms with his thumb and single note lines with the index finger.

Grabbing a couple of Lightnin’s licks for your own trick bag will spice up your blues playing and open your mind to some other melodic possibilities within a blues framework, so be sure to check out the full lesson in the video above.

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