Mojo Hand

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Mojo Hand

The Life and Music of Lightnin' Hopkins

By Timothy J. O'Brien and David Ensminger

Through vivid oral histories backed by extensive research, Mojo Hand tells the story of one of America’s greatest bluesmen, whose deeply authentic songs and unique style of guitar playing indelibly shaped modern roots, blues, rock ’n’ roll, singer-songwriter, and folk music.

April 2013


33% website discount price

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6 x 9 | 294 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-76214-5

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In a career that took him from the cotton fields of East Texas to the concert stage at Carnegie Hall and beyond, Lightnin’ Hopkins became one of America’s greatest bluesmen, renowned for songs whose topics effortlessly ranged from his African American roots to space exploration, the Vietnam War, and lesbianism, performed in a unique, eccentric, and spontaneous style of guitar playing that inspired a whole generation of rock guitarists. Hopkins’s music directly and indirectly influenced an amazing range of artists, including Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Tom Waits, and Bob Dylan, as well as bands such as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and ZZ Top, with whom Hopkins performed.

Mojo Hand follows Lightin’ Hopkins’s life and music from the acoustic country blues that he began performing in childhood, through the rise of 1950s rock ’n’ roll, which nearly derailed his career, to his reinvention and international success as a pioneer of electric folk blues from the 1960s to the 1980s. The authors draw on 130 vivid oral histories, as well as extensive archival and secondary sources, to provide the fullest account available of the development of Hopkins’s music; his idiosyncratic business practices, such as shunning professional bookers, managers, and publicists; and his durable and indelible influence on modern roots, blues, rock ’n’ roll, singer-songwriter, and folk music. Mojo Hand celebrates the spirit and style, intelligence and wit, and confounding musical mystique of a bluesman who shaped modern American music like no one else.

  • Preface
  • Chapter 1. East Texas Cotton Picking Blues
  • Chapter 2. Can't Leave Home Blues
  • Chapter 3. Bad Luck and Trouble Blues
  • Chapter 4. The War Is Over
  • Chapter 5. Folksinger Blues
  • Chapter 6. Too Many Drivers
  • Chapter 7. Vietnam War Blues
  • Chapter 8. Heaven, Hell, or Houston
  • Chapter 9. Po' Lightnin'
  • Chapter 10. Epilogue: Remember Me
  • Notes
  • Index

The late Timothy J. O’Brien held a Ph. D. in history from the University of Houston, where he studied African American history, social movements, and labor history. His music journalism appeared in Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Left of the Dial.

David Ensminger is a writer, drummer, teacher, and digital archivist of punk and vernacular culture. He publishes a monthly column on His previous books are Left of the Dial: Conversations with Punk Icons and Visual Vitriol: The Street Art and Subcultures of the Punk and Hardcore Generations.

"Mojo Hand covers all the pivotal moments in his fascinating life...."
—Lois Wilson, Mojo

"The biography maintains a focus centered on Lightnin’ and his music….He has crafted a fascinating, well-researched look at a true blues legend, and helps us understand the social environment that created such powerful music."
—Mark Thompson, Crossroads Blues Society of Northern Illinois

"Without overloading the reader, O'Brien and Ensminger present all manner of fascinating information about Hopkins: his complex personality, his attitude towards whites, his image as a hipster, his wiley business sense, and his influence on John Coltrane. The pages fly by quickly."
Down Beat Magazine

Certificate of Merit
ARSC (Assocation for Recorded Sound Collections)