Styles of the Greats: Lightnin’ Hopkins

Let’s take a look at the playing style of Lightnin’ Hopkins, one of the originators of Texas blues. His style often alternates between rhythm and lead within a single verse and is well suited to everything from solo acoustic playing to a whole band. Lightnin’ himself played both acoustic and electric, and was a big influence on later players such as John Hammond, Albert Collins and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

This solo demonstrates Lightnin’s approach to a slow blues. Notice the combination of bass runs, chords and single note lines. This is a feature of his style and of Texas blues in general, as is the use of open string harmonies and unison notes. This style of blues originated on acoustic guitar but transfers well to electric. It works particularly well in the key of E. Lightnin’ uses all the classic blues techniques – slides, slurs, trills, tremolo and note bending. Sometimes he bends single notes and other times whole chords. He also moves freely around the fretboard using a mix of major and minor pentatonics, the blues scale and chord tones.

The best way to learn the solo (or any new solo) is to listen to the recording several times while following the notation, then start learning the notes. Work on one phrase at a time and then try stringing them together until you have the whole thing under your fingers. Then listen to the recording a few more times, paying particular attention to expressive techniques and timing. Once you’ve worked on these for a while, try playing the solo along with the recording. The final stage is to create your own phrases based on what you’ve learnt. The other essential element in absorbing a new style is to listen to lots of recordings. There are plenty to choose from with Lightnin’. Some of my favourites are ‘Blues Masters – The very best of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ and ‘The Complete Aladdin Recordings, but any good collection will get you on the right track.

Hope you enjoy the solo. If you have any questions or feedback, you can contact me via the website:

Solo: “Flash Lightnin”