Born in Centerville, Texas, Hopkins learned the blues when young in Buffalo, Texas from Blind Lemon Jefferson and his older cousin, country-blues singer Alger Texas Alexander. Hopkins recorded prolifically in Texas. Occasionally traveling to the Mid-West and Eastern US for recording sessions and concert appearances. It has been estimated that he recorded between 800 and 1000 songs during his career. He performed regular at clubs in and around Houston, particularly in Dowling St. Where he had first been discovered. By the mid to late 1950s his prodigious output of very fine quality recordings had gained him a following among African Americans and blues music aficionados. In 1959 Hopkins was contacted by folklorist Mack McCormick who hoped to bring Lightnin' to the attention of the broader musical audience which was caught up in the Folk revival. McCormack presented Hopkins to integrated audiences first in Houston and then in California.