Life After Death

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

"Doug had Bill call me up and asked me to join the band, and my first reaction was I was scared to death. The idea of playing the Mason Jar on a Friday night was just terrifying," says Wilson, now fronting his own post-Blossoms group, the Pharoahs.

It wasn't long before it became clear that Valenzuela was the superior guitarist and Wilson the better vocalist, and the switch was made. After going through a pair of drummers, the group settled on Phillip Rhodes, and the Blossoms' "classic" lineup was in place.

The group released a local album, Dusted, and was soon garnering national attention. The band signed with A&M Records in 1990. The release of an EP, Up and Crumbling, and a national tour soon followed. By 1992, the band ended up at Ardent Studios in Memphis to record its full-length major-label debut.

But the Blossoms' burgeoning success brought a screeching halt to Hopkins' songwriting. "By this point, he was a local 'celebrity,' and he didn't have to buy his drinks anymore, and people were always around, and the first thing to go was the writing," says Shipp. "On top of that, he was playing four or five nights a week and going out seven, so it was just hard to even find the time to sit down and concentrate."

Although Hopkins would pen several more gems including "Pieces of the Night" and "Hold Me Down," the surge of creativity that had continued unabated for nearly three years was over. "He really kind of stopped writing," recalls Wilson. "At one point, he said to me, 'I don't have anything else to write about. I can't think of anything that's worth writing that I haven't already done,'" says Wilson.

The other, more disturbing pattern in Hopkins' behavior was an apparent desire to sabotage the band's seemingly inevitable rise, a tendency that reached its low point in Memphis. "The closer we got to succeeding on a national level, the more self-destructive Doug became. It was really exactly at the same pace," Wilson says. With the record company making ominous threats to the rest of the group unless Hopkins was dealt with, the band was forced to do the unthinkable: fire Hopkins from his own band.

Returning to Tempe after the Memphis debacle, Hopkins began plotting his "comeback." In a strange way, his dismissal from the Blossoms was almost liberating, at least initially.

A local hero and free agent, Hopkins began jamming with a number of younger local musicians. One of these was an avowed Hopkins fan named Brian Blush. Blush was a veteran of a local group, August Red, and would later go on to national success as a member of Valley popsters the Refreshments. For the younger Blush, Hopkins was both a friend and an idol.

Hopkins and Blush began playing informally with a number of other musicians including future Refreshments drummer P.H. Naffah, and Sledville singer Mark Norman. Billing themselves as the Eventuals, the group made its one and only public appearance at Edcel's Attic, playing a mix of Hopkins tunes like "Hold Me Down" and "Angels Tonight" as well as a few new pieces that Blush and Hopkins had put together.

"I was just so gung ho about the idea of going onstage with Doug that we probably rushed it a little bit," Blush says. "And even though it didn't really go anywhere, I was so happy to have been able to play with him."

But Hopkins was looking for more than casual jamming partners. His initial relief at being freed from the Blossoms was quickly being replaced by feelings of anger and betrayal. Those feelings in part helped provide inspiration for what was to be his final great surge as a songwriter. Hopkins' next move was to put together what would be his final band. Lawrence Zubia, then a singer with local roots-rock outfit Live Nudes, recalls the day Hopkins approached him.

"One day he asked me to come over and said, 'I have to ask you something'--and I couldn't imagine what it would be," Zubia says. "We were standing by the pool at his apartment, and he said, 'I want to know if you want to start a band with me.' It didn't take more than a second to know I wanted to play in a band with Doug Hopkins, so my mind was made up."

The group inherited a tight rhythm section from local blues band Chuck Hall and the Brick Wall, and the Chimeras were born. The group began rehearsing in August of 1992. Hopkins' new band renewed his spirit as a musician and his inspiration as a writer. His growing feelings of animosity toward the Blossoms provided an added motivation.

"Revenge was a big motivator for Doug," Zubia says. "Revenge being your motivator in anything, it created a lot of emotional inertia. He was excited about music again, whether it was out of resentment toward the Blossoms or to the industry in general."

Zubia also notes that Hopkins was feeling pressure to come up with something special. "He had an enormous burden on his shoulders at that moment. Now, us and the Refreshments, Dead Hot, One--so many bands have had big record deals and gotten dropped. And you come home with your tail between your legs for a period of time, depending on how tough you are. But at that time, it was only Doug. Doug was at the pinnacle--and then, boom, he was back home in Tempe. And it was fuckin' summer, and he was just hating life. So he had kind of an overwhelming burden on him."

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