How To Play Blues Guitar – Lightnin’ hopkins Tips

How To Play Blues Guitar – Baby Please Don’t Go Acoustic Blues Guitar Lesson


How to play blues guitar in the Lightnin’ Hopkins style.

Hopkins was a giant blues man from Texas but was well known all the Southern States and beyond for his captivating style. Together with fellow Texas Mance Lipscombe, they perfected their own version of the monotonic bass fingerpicking pattern which was the back-bone of their performances. In this fingerstyle guitar picking pattern, the thumb hits one or more bass strings as a kind of drum beat to the melody produced by the fingers on the treble strings, unlike the so-called Travis style picking, or Piedmont ragtime blues guitar style fingerpicking technique where the thumb alternates between two or more bass strings.

lightnin hopkins - bring me my shotgun - how to play blues guitarOf course, other blues men used this exact technique, but Hopkins and Lipscombe extended into many forms that greatly improved it’s delivery. Lightnin’ thumb was very mobile and could sometimes double up on the beat, creating a heart-beat effect which was a powerful draw on the listener’s emotions. Baby Please Don’t Go was also performed and recorded by many blues guitar players of the old school, but Hopkins’ version is particularly rich in various techniques. He varies the thumb beat a lot and introduces syncopation by using the thumb over on the treble strings as well as maintaining that solid tempo.

The bass note could either be left to ring out, or be damped (muted) by the palm of the fingerpicking hand, depending upon the effect he wanted to create. Students wishing to learn how to play blues guitar in this style must practice this technique until it’s absolutely perfect – damped too much, and it loses any musicality. Damp it too lightly in the wrong place, or with the wrong chord, and the notes will ring and pass through into the next and produce weird harmonics.

Mance Lipscombe - Texas Blues GuitarTry to see the complete film called ‘The Blues According To Lightnin’ Hopkins’ to get a flavor of his wonderful appeal. Muddy Waters had this anecdote to share abut Lightnin’ – they were both waiting to play in a big concert hall outside of Chicago, and Hopkins was due to follow a big swing band. For Waters, it seemed a bit intimidating for lone acoustic blues guitar players to follow such  big sound, with all those dancing people, but Lightnin’ wasn’t at all concerned. He calmly sipped his beer, walked up on stage at the right time, plugged in his guitar taking his time. He sat down, said nothing and started to lay down a throbbing bass line. Within three minutes the audience were totally captivated, dancing around and yelling. Waters had never seen anything like it – a real blues guitar genius at work.

Both Mance and Lightnin’ dropped out of favor somewhat in the 40s and 50s, but enjoyed a second career during the folk blues revival of the 60s, both touring the States and Europe and appearing on TV in many countries. There’s a really impressive TV film of Lipscombe playing some fine examples of the Texas acoustic blues style in which he plays with an enormous bandage on his second finger. This makes it very obvious that these Texas blues guitarists used just one finger, the forefinger, to pick those tremendously complex patterns. This was the case with many master guitar pickers, from Merle Travis & Doc Watson, to Reverend Gary Davis and Big Bill Broonzy.