Hey Anthology

The Gin Blossoms bloom again with a greatest-hits collection, a reunion show and talk of a new album

The lack of rare selections is the most disappointing aspect of the anthology, especially given the availability of a large number of unreleased tracks ("Blue Eyes Bleeding," "What"), European B-sides ("Soul Deep," "Heartaway"), and other oddities found on various tributes and compilations ("Christine Sixteen" from the 1994 KISS tribute album Kiss My Ass, or the Blossoms' version of "Back of a Car" from Ignition Records' still-unreleased Big Star salute).

To its credit, however, Universal's project team did include "Pieces of the Night," a song from New Miserable Experience authored by the late Doug Hopkins and arguably one of the most beautiful songs in the guitarist's vast catalogue. According to Ragogna, the idea of releasing "Pieces of the Night" to radio as a single was floated initially, although plans to do so were later scrapped.

Although the "best of" effectively cannibalizes all three of the band's records, Universal representatives say they have no plans to alter or delete any of the Blossoms back catalogue. UME's Andy McKaie feels the greatest-hits collection may actually boost the group's overall sales.

Just south of nowhere: The jeans and flannel Blossoms in their late '80s heyday. From left, Phillip Rhodes, Jesse Valenzuela, Robin Wilson, Bill Leen, Doug Hopkins.
courtesy of Sara Cina
Just south of nowhere: The jeans and flannel Blossoms in their late '80s heyday. From left, Phillip Rhodes, Jesse Valenzuela, Robin Wilson, Bill Leen, Doug Hopkins.

"A lot of people buy hits collections to begin with. They'll pick up an album and not see one of the big songs they really want and just put it down. And this gives those kind of people the opportunity to take a shot at the Gin Blossoms," says McKaie. "I've always found hits collections tend to, especially initially, boost the catalogue. And if the music in the catalogue is strong enough, then it lasts."

How the record will fare is anyone's guess. Thanks in large part to continued airplay, the Blossoms' catalogue has continued to shift a respectable number of units annually. With a good spot on the fall release calendar, a fairly comprehensive and attractive package, and ample distribution and label support, the record has a legitimate chance to do better than respectable business in both the short and long term.

The Blossoms' best-of also comes hot on the heels of some unrelated news: the announcement of a New Year's Eve reunion show. A noon press conference has been scheduled for September 22 at downtown's Patriots Square park to officially announce the millennium concert extravaganza called Phoenix 2000 and to confirm a bill that includes the Gin Blossoms and fellow Tempe bands the Peacemakers, Gas Giants, and Pistoleros.

Organizers for the event originally approached Valenzuela's management with the idea of reuniting the group in one-off fashion for the New Year's celebration. Wilson and drummer Phillip Rhodes (also a member of the Gas Giants) signed on immediately -- encouraged, no doubt, by a reported six-figure payday for the performance.

Valenzuela has spent the past year keeping busy as a Los Angeles-based songwriter. That will change when he and his wife, who are expecting their first child, move back to the Valley this fall. Valenzuela's post-Blossoms project, the Low Watts (which featured bassist Darryl Icard, drummer Winston Watson, and former Blossom bandmate Scott Johnson on guitar), suffered a seemingly fatal blow when the group was given its walking papers by A&M during the housecleaning that followed the Seagram's-PolyGram merger. With more than an album of Low Watts material already written and demoed, Valenzuela says he may revive the project in one form or another when he returns to Phoenix. Most recently, Valenzuela collaborated on a collection of songs with singer/songwriter Craig Northey, formerly of Canadian pop-rockers the Odds (who, ironically enough, have their own best-of, Single Slices, coming out on November 2). Valenzuela says he and Northey (backed by members of the Odds) have finished recording nine cuts with plans to complete more for a prospective album which will likely be released independently in Canada.

Although details have been worked out for several weeks, a pair of key sticking points have held up an official confirmation of the show -- specifically the participation of guitarist Scott Johnson and bassist Bill Leen.

For legal purposes, the group needs only three members to bill itself as the Gin Blossoms. With Wilson, Rhodes and Valenzuela already confirmed, the event organizers could have technically billed it as such, but all those involved knew that anything less than a full-scale reunion would be a disappointment and a disservice to the band's reputation.

Johnson's participation was secured when his current group, the Peacemakers (Roger Clyne's post-Refreshments combo), was also guaranteed a spot on the December 31 bill. Leen's involvement was a different matter. Since the Blossoms' breakup, Leen has been the most reclusive of the group, staying as far away as possible from the shadow of the music industry. Living quietly in Mesa, the lanky bassist has divided his time between his family and work as a rare-book dealer. Leen is rightfully considered the heart and soul of the group and the last link to pre-Blossoms progenitors like the Moral Majority, Psalms and Ten O'clock Scholars. Although he was reluctant initially, Leen acquiesced, knowing his presence would be critical in lending the reunion a genuine sense of credibility.

Beyond the compilation and reunion show, the flurry of Blossoms-related activity has opened the door to the very real possibility that the group may record another album together. Rumors even have certain members proposing a five-way publishing split as a means to induce a full-scale resumption of the band's career. Industry sources also indicate that the group and its proven commercial track record would be a welcome addition to any number of major-label rosters. However, any such projects will have to wait -- both Johnson's group, the Peacemakers, and Wilson's band, the Gas Giants, have albums scheduled for mid-October releases with inevitable support tours to follow.

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