From the Annals of the Blues – In 1982, Sam (Lightnin’) Hopkins passed away. Hopkins was a blues legend whose influence cannot be overstated. He was born in Centerville, Texas, in 1912. By age ten, Hopkins was already playing music with his cousin, Alger (Texas) Alexander, and Blind Lemon Jefferson. He played all over for decades on the blues club circuit except when he was incarcerated in the mid-1930’s at the Harris County Prison Farm. In 1950 he settled in Houston and finally had his breakthrough in 1959 when Hopkins began working with legendary producer Sam Chambers. White audiences were exposed to his music and began to appreciate the blues legend. In the 1960s, Hopkins switched to an acoustic guitar and became a hit in the folk-blues circuit. During the early 1960s he played at Carnegie Hall with Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, and by the end of the decade was opening for rock bands. Hopkins recorded a total of more than eighty-five albums and performed around the world. His most famous songs include Mojo Hand, Baby Please Don’t Go, Bring Me My Shotgun, Jail House Blues and Have You Ever Loved a Woman.
From the Annals of Folk Music – In 1972, the first Kerrville Folk Festival got under way. The KFF was founded by Rod Kennedy and began with performances in the Kerrville Municipal Auditorium. This year’s festival is already under way and runs from May 24 to June 10.
The KFF bills itself as “the longest continuously running music festival in North America” and “a Mecca in the songwriting community.” The Festival is now held over 18 days at the Quiet Valley Ranch about 9 miles south of Kerrville. The Festival attracts as many as 30,000 guests come from all over the world, but each evening’s performance is limited to about 3,000 guests.
The KFF has presented many famous and not-so-famous singer-songwriters over the years, including such notables as Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, Robert Earl Keen, Lucinda Williams, Peter Paul & Mary, Judy Collins, David Crosby, Janis Ian and Arlo Guthrie to name a few. You are very likely to see one or more future stars of folk music at the Festival.
Poster from the 2010 Kerrville Folk Festival.
From the Annals of the Chanteuses – In 1967, Austin celebrated “Damito Jo Day.” Damita Jo DeBlanc was born in Austin in 1930 but was raised mostly in Santa Barbara. In 1949, LA Deejay Joe Adams began to promote her career getting her gigs at Club Oasis and other LA clubs. Adams later signed her to Discovery Records but she found little success as a solo artist and spent much of the 1950’s with R&B group Steve Gibson & the Red Caps. She married Gibson but later divorced him as their marriage collapsed and the band’s fortunes waned. Her solo breakthrough came with the R&B smash hit “I’ll Save the Last Dance for You” in 1960 (an answer to “Save the Last Dance for Me” and 1961’s “I’ll Be There” (an answer to “Stand by Me”). DJ worked with a number of performers including Ray Charles, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton. In 1984, she retired from R&B and devoted the remainder of her career to modern Gospel music.
From the Annals of Rock & Roll – In 1936, Roy Orbison was born at Christ the King Hospital in Vernon. His family moved to Fort Worth and later Odessa and Wink where he spent much of his childhood. Orbison got his first guitar as a gift from his father at age 6 and by age 7 Orbison was a dedicated musician. RO began singing and in a rockabilly band – the Wink Westerners – in high school and met Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash when they played in Odessa. Orbison attended North Texas State in Denton to study geology in case music did not work out. After seeing fellow student Pat Boone make a success, Orbison became convinced he could make it as a musician. Ultimately, Orbison was signed by Sam Phillips of Sun Records but he did not flourish at that studio. His real success came after leaving Sun and signing with Monument Records. From 1960 to 1966, twenty-two of his singles reached the Billboard Top 40 including No. 1 hits “Running Scared” and “Oh, Pretty Woman.”
From the Annals of the Bluesmen – In 1982, Sam “Lightnin” Hopkins passed. Hopkins was born in Centerville and began his music career at age 8 playing with a homemade cigar-box guitar with chicken-wire strings. He was soon playing with his cousin, Alger (Texas) Alexander and Blind Lemon Jefferson who were both mentors to the young musician. By the time he was 20 Hopkins was playing the blues on the road. Like all good bluesmen, Hopkins served time in jail in the 1930s for an unknown offense. He continued with music after his release with mixed success living for a while in Houston. At one point he returned to Centerville to work as a farm hand. By 1946 he was back in Houston where he met Lola Anne Cullum of Aladdin Records from Los Angeles. She convinced Hopkins to travel to Los Angeles, where he accompanied the pianist Wilson Smith. The duo recorded twelve tracks in their first sessions in 1946. An Aladdin executive decided the pair needed more dynamism in their names and dubbed Hopkins “Lightnin'” and Wilson “Thunder”. He returned to Houston and continued recording with Gold Star records playing mostly in Texas blues clubs. In 1959, Hopkins was contacted by music researcher Mack McCormick who managed to get Hopkins’ music in front of white audiences in Houston and California just in time to catch the folk-blues revival of the 1960s. He switched to an acoustic guitar to capitalize on the trend and later began getting gigs as an opening act for such rock bands. The documentary, The Blues According to Lightnin’ Hopkins captures much of his on-stage brilliance and behind the scenes life. Over his career, Hopkins recorded a total of more than eighty-five albums.
From the Annals of the Tunesmiths – In 1980, Mickey Newbury was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Association International Hall of Fame. Newbury, who was from Houston, started as a singer in The Embers – a group which had moderate success opening for acts such as Sam Cooke and Johnny Cash. After a stint in the Air Force, Newbury decided to try songwriting and moved to Nashville where he signed with Acuff-Rose and later RCA and cranked out hit songs for a wide range of performers including Andy Williams, Roy Orbison, Eddy Arnold, Ray Charles, Waylon Jennings, B. B. King, Joan Baez, Dottie West, Linda Rondstadt, Rat Price, Jerry Lee Lewis, David Allen Coe and Johnny Rodriguez to name a few. In 1968 Newbury became the first songwriter to ever score Number 1 hits on the easy listening (Sweet Memories – Andy Williams), country (Here Comes the Rain Baby – Eddy Arnold), rhythm and blues (Time is a Thief – Solomon Burke), and pop-rock charts (Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) – Kenny Rogers & the First Edition) at the same time. This incredible feat has never been matched. Among his best known works is his “American Trilogy” arrangement of Dixie, All My Trials and The Battle Hymn of the Republic which Elvis Presley frequently used as the closing number for his live shows.
Newbury’s influence as a songwriter and producer can hardly be overstated. He was considered a “songwriter’s songwriter” and is listed as a major influence by such diverse tunesmiths as Kris Kristofferson, Townes Van Zandt, Roger Miller, Guy Clark and John Prine. Although never successful as singer (with over 20 albums), he is a legend among those who know music.
From the Annals of Song and Dance – In 1965, the Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation opened the show “Thundering Sounds of the West” in an outdoor amphitheater in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. The show ran until September 6, 1965. The success of the show led to the first annual presentation of the musical Texas in 1966. Texas has been performed annually ever since in the Pioneer Amphitheatre. The show runs from the first weekend in June until mid-August every summer.
From the Annals of Rock and Roll – In 1957, Buddy Holly’s band, the Crickets, released their first single, “That’ll Be the Day” on Brunswick Records. The song was written by song written by Buddy Holly and Jerry Allison. It has been recorded by various other artists including notably Linda Ronstadt and it was the first song to be recorded by the Quarrymen. The catch line of the song came from a visit to the cinema by Holly, Allison and Sonny Curtis to see “The Searchers.” Holly liked John Wayne’s oft repeated phrase “that’ll be the day.” The song was a major hit and propelled the band into national prominence. It is listed as number 39 on Billboard’s 500 all time greatest rock and roll records.
From the Annals of Sacred Music – In 1900 the Southwest Texas Sacred Harp Singing Convention was organized at McMahan. Sacred harp music is a religious folk music that derives its name from Benjamin Franklin White’s The Sacred Harp (1844). It features a cappella singing of white spirituals written in shaped notes. The sacred harp is the human voice. The tradition continues today with the annual Southwest Texas Convention at McMahan, held in the spring, and the East Texas Sacred Harp Singing Convention held in August in Henderson. Other Sacred Heart events are also regularly held around the state.
Photo of Southwest Convention from http://www.texasfasola.org/.
From the Annals of the Musicians – In 1972, Don McLean’s song “American Pie” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Pop Charts. The rambling lyrics have evoked numerous interpretations but what is not in doubt is that “the Day the Music Died” refers to February 3, 1959, the date of the tragic deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. “the Big Bopper” Richardson all of whom were from Texas. The song became something of an anthem for a whole generation of high school and college students. Perhaps no one was more surprised by the success of the song than McLean himself who claims he did not write the song intending it to be a generation-defining epic. McLean states that it was simply written to capture his view of “America as I was seeing it and how I was fantasizing it might become.” McLean’s greatest hope was that he might make a few thousand dollars and be able to keep performing for another year. Instead, when asked about the meaning of the song, McLean remarked “it means I don’t ever have to work again if I don’t want to.”