Book Review: Twisting by the Pool

Rock & roll summer reading

Twisting by the Pool

Mojo Hand: The Life and Music of Lightnin' Hopkins

by Timothy J. O'Brien & David Ensminger
University of Texas Press, 294 pp., $29.95

Despite the plethora of interviews and material on Lightnin' Hopkins, Texas' seminal bluesman remains alluringly elusive. Mojo Hand's greatest contribution may thus be the rigorous academic pursuit of its subject through the archives and records scattered in the wake of his resolutely fringed lifestyle. O'Brien, whose manuscript received a posthumous polish from Ensminger, meticulously traces Hopkins' life through the myths and misinformation in detailed exhumation of contracts, first person accounts, and the songs themselves, portraying the artist as stubbornly frustrating to his own success even as the industry took advantage of him. O'Brien contends from the outset that Hopkins' contradictions sprung from his early experiences in East Texas, producing a talent both humbly rural yet determinedly dapper. The guitarist's insistence on up-front payments ignored long-term royalties, which resulted in a collection being taken up before his 1978 Austin City Limits taping. Houston's vibrant Third Ward of the mid-century becomes equally honored in the text, Hopkins epitomizing both the outlandish talent and marginalized existence of the neighborhood. An invaluable work of scholarship on a still often misunderstood artist.

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