Life After Death

As we reach the fifth anniversary of Doug Hopkins' suicide, his best music remains unheard by all but a few friends

Regardless of the circumstances, Hopkins was understandably disappointed with the Algebra Ranch experience. Having written his best material and put together a group of talented players, Hopkins had expected more and was upset when the band's failure was placed on his shoulders. When he began planning his next move, he realized that he wanted to work again with Leen.

Among the musicians that Leen and Hopkins began jamming with were drummer Randy Saunders, and Dave McKay, a singer who had fronted a Tempe pop band called the Photos, which also featured future Gin Blossom Jesse Valenzuela. McKay was a different type of singer from those Hopkins had worked with. A former folkie with a love for Dylan and roots music, McKay's style fit in well with Hopkins' budding new direction.

"By this time, we were looking at what was going on in music and we were like, 'Fuck all these British bands and MTV and everything else,' and we started listening to American music," says Leen. Hopkins' concept for this new band began to crystalize after seeing the Replacements perform on Saturday Night Live. The Minneapolis, Minnesota, rockers were a sort of divine inspiration for Hopkins, if not musically, then at least in terms of attitude. "After seeing them, we realized you can go onstage and just have fun and do whatever you want. You don't have to follow trends or do whatever is fashionable or current," adds Leen.

Hopkins shared a sort of twisted kinship with Replacements front man and songwriter Paul Westerberg. Both were equally adept at writing sad confessionals or angry rockers about alcohol, lost love and the struggles of adolescence. On a personal level, both men were heavy drinkers with a distaste for the conventions of the music industry. And both Hopkins and Westerberg had notorious self-destructive streaks and a willingness to sabotage their own chances for success.

Once again, Swafford came back into the fold, and along with the others, Hopkins knew he finally had a band that, if nothing else, would have a good time playing together. Settling on a name--the Ten O'clock Scholars--things seemed to be coming together when Hopkins pulled the rug out from under the group.

"One night out of the blue, he came to me and said he was moving to Los Angeles with Brian Smith [Gentlemen After Dark, Beat Angels] to get a record contract--and the next day he just left," Leen says. Hopkins' trip to the City of Angels was less than fruitful. Smith and Hopkins' original intention behind the move was to write songs together. Instead, the pair spent a few drunken weeks staying at the Sunset Palms without accomplishing anything except having a good time.

Hopkins returned to Tempe to find that the band he left behind hadn't waited around. For one thing, McKay had moved to Portland. But it wasn't long before McKay called, and by April, everyone was in Portland. Hopkins immediately got a spot playing with a local cover band to earn money, and then began rehearsals with the Scholars. Following through on Hopkins' promise to keep things light and fun, the Scholars would mix in a variety of off-the-wall covers like the "Theme From the Jeffersons" as well as renditions of Hopkins originals like "And" and "Blue Eyes Bleeding."

"That right there is really what the Gin Blossoms were based on," Leen says. "We were doing the same type of covers and originals, and with the same kind of idea behind it." In addition to creating an advanced blueprint for what the Gin Blossoms would become, Hopkins was also putting together ideas for a number of future hits, including "Hey Jealousy" and "Found Out About You."

Despite the creative success that Hopkins and the Scholars enjoyed, the Portland music scene was not especially welcoming to a group of outsiders from the desert, and gigs were hard to come by.

While the others enjoyed the lush beauty of the scenic Oregon coast, Hopkins was starting to become unhappy being away from Tempe. "He hated being away from home. He always felt like he was missing something," says Shipp. Without ever really getting off the ground, the Scholars closed shop in Portland. By November the Tempe refugees began making the pilgrimage back home. Leen was the last one to leave. By January of '87, Leen was back in Tempe. "The first night I got back, I went to Richard Flower's house," he says. "While I was waiting for him to get ready, I started looking through his magazines and books--and that's when I saw the picture of W.C. Fields with the gin blossoms on his nose."

For much of 1987, Hopkins kicked around town playing with a variety of the usual suspects. He also continued to write, but itched for the chance to finally put together the "perfect" group. "I think he kind of saw the light after Portland. Even though it wasn't a big success or anything, I think he finally had a real firm idea for what kind of band he wanted," says Shipp.

Leen and Hopkins spent some time playing with Dave McKay, in the hopes of continuing what had been started with the Ten O'clock Scholars. But when McKay decided to move back to Portland, he recommended that Hopkins hook up with his old bandmate from the Photos, Jesse Valenzuela. With Valenzuela on vocals, the group added drummer Chris McGann and guitarist Richard Taylor, and the original Blossoms lineup was born. Originally billed as Cap'n Crunch, the group made its debut on December 20, 1987, at Edcel's Attic, kicking off its set with a new Hopkins original, "Lost Horizons." The band continued to play through the new year, and the crowds also finally started to come. The Tempe of 1988 was a completely different place from the one where Hopkins had started a few years before. Bars like Edcel's Attic, Long Wong's and the Sun Club were finally providing an opportunity for live music to flourish on Mill Avenue. Early on, the Blossoms lineup went through a critical change when rhythm guitarist Taylor was fired and replaced by Robin Wilson, a young record-store clerk whom Hopkins had heard sing at a party.

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