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Diving back into history may be delightful or dismaying. KNKX's Nick Morrison delivers a daily dose of it with his signature humor and skepticism. Here's what happened on this day.

March 15: Sam Lightnin' Hopkins is born; Seattle gets its first Shakespeare production

Sam Lightnin' Hopkis
33stradale. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Sam Lightnin' Hopkins


Lightnin’ Hopkins birthday - 1912

Today’s the birthday of one of my all-time favorite country blues artists—singer and guitarist, Sam ‘Lightnin’ Hopkins. He was born in Texas and followed in the footsteps of his older brothers, Joel and John Henry, who were both bluesmen. Like many blues players of his era he was inspired by Blind Lemon Jefferson with whom he performed and traveled.

The name Lightnin’ was bestowed upon him in the mid-1940s when Aladdin Records paired him up with a pianist named Thunder Smith. After a while Hopkins dumped the piano play but kept the name and began a performing and recording career that lasted into the early 1980s.

Over the years he would occasionally play in a trio setting with bass and drums but often performed and recorded solo. He was apparently a little difficult to play with. Even though his songs were mostly standard 12-bar blues, the idea of a ‘bar’ was a movable thing to him. He’d sometimes stay on one chord until he decided to move along to another, which made him hard to accompany. And nobody’s ever said that Lightnin’ Hopkins was a stickler for rehearsals. And he certainly was never enamoured with the idea of doing more than one ‘take’ when recording. When a song was done, that was that; it was time to move on to another one. And there was always another song.

One source says that Lightnin’ Hopkins recorded more albums than any other blues artist. I don’t know if that’s true but it sure is likely. It’s estimated that he recorded between 800 and a thousand songs in his career. And he played them everywhere, from country roadhouses to Carnegie Hall (1960). Here’s one of them. It’s a version of ‘Katie Mae,’ which I chose because of the line, “She walks like she’s got oil wells in her backyard,” a great example of the poetry that can be found in the blues.

Culture comes to Seattle - 1875

On this day in 1875, Seattle was treated to its first production of Shakespeare, when the Fanny Morgan Phelps Company presented The Taming Of The Shrew at Yesler’s Hall on what is now 1st and Cherry.

The fact that Ms. Phelps chose this particular plays indicates that she was fairly audience-savvy. The Taming Of The Shrew is basically the comedic story of a man trying to ‘tame’ a strong-willed woman. It involves a lot of shouting. High-Brow Seattleites were probably happy just to have some Shakespeare—any Shakespeare, while all the other Brows on the social ladder (at least the Male-Brows) would be pleased to watch a guy torment his wife on stage. And get the upper hand.

Today there is an ongoing debate about the misogyny of the play. I don’t know enough about it to comment—I barely remember the movie. However, while trying to educate myself regarding the play and its themes, I came across something called the theatre ‘Gender and Misogyny Tracker.’ It claims to show, by graphs, where and to what degree the themes of gender and misogyny appear, scene by scene. In The Taming Of The Shrew, a quick looks tell me that Act 2, Scene 1 is the most triggering. I don’t know if this helps…

Nick began working at KNKX as a program host in the late 1980’s and, with the exception of a relatively brief hiatus, has been with the station ever since. Along with his work as a Midday Jazz host, Nick worked for several years as KNKX’s Music Director. He is now the station’s Production Manager and also serves as a fill-in host on KNKX’s jazz and blues programs.