Tales From the Dark Side

Troubled singer/songwriter Billy Sedlmayr teams up with guitarist Rich Hopkins for a collection of songs that chronicles a life spent on the fringes

When Sed plunged headfirst into the arrest-detox-jail spiral, Hopkins' career in the Sidewinders took off. Sed sat in prison and watched as Hopkins landed record deals and achieved a modicum of national success. Further coloring their complex partnership is the fact that Hopkins married and divorced Sed's one-time girlfriend (former Sidewinders drummer Andrea Curtis) -- a fact that still rankles to this day. Their working relationship is fraught with subterfuge, sly manipulation and squabbles over money.

"This is, to be honest with you, this is the one and only thing that we are ever going to do," explains Hopkins over the phone from his Tucson home. When talking about Sed, Hopkins chooses his words carefully, not so much out of bitterness, but rather a guarded sense of respect.

"There are some financial problems that him and I are experiencing and that tends to cloud the idea of us even being musicians. If we're squabbling about this and that it takes away the good feeling from the songs. At one point, we thought we would get Billy to join the Luminarios. There was a lot of hope that it was gonna work out and then it became apparent that it wasn't. You just have to enjoy the process of making music and playing it live. With Billy, it's different. He's up there in [Phoenix]; he's kind of isolated. We can't do a lot together and it's a frustrating situation.

Fifty percenters: Rich Hopkins (left) and Billy Sedlmayr.
Kim Blake
Fifty percenters: Rich Hopkins (left) and Billy Sedlmayr.


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"I must say this about Billy," he adds. "That guy really has a beautiful voice. He is really is expressive with his words and the guy is a poet."

Hopkins and Sed grew up together in the affluent foothills of Tucson's Santa Catalina Mountains. Long before Hopkins -- who, at 43, is three years Sed's senior -- ever clutched a guitar, Sed co-founded The Pedestrians with neighboring teens John Venet and Dave Seger. Amped on up-to-the-moment glitter, punk and new wave records from London, New York and Los Angeles, The Pedestrians single-handedly jump-started Tucson out of its sleepy cover-band/cowboy-bar blues. From The Pedestrians' ashes came the genesis of bands that later morphed into rock-press darlings: Giant Sand, Green on Red, Naked Prey, the Sand Rubies.

In the summertime, when Hopkins would return home from prep school, records and weed were the order of the day. "We would go out, dig up the bamboo bong that we'd stashed," laughs Sed. "All of us guys would compare bands and smoke pot. We would show each other what records we collected. Richard's whole thing at that time was jazz-fusion. Not jazz, jazz-fusion. There's a big difference." He stops and half-shrugs, then adds reluctantly, "You know I like my fusion, too. I'm guilty, too."

"Finally in the mid- to late-1970s, I had enough Mahavishnu, and the Dixie Dregs, Jeff Beck's Wired, all that stuff. All of a sudden, one of those summers I had grossed out. My watershed was with Patti Smith. I really started saying 'fuck this.'

"But," he adds, "We still had a real love for Thin Lizzy, Phil Lynott especially. That twin guitar attack . . . those boys could really play some guitar. By that time, except for the Liz, I was done with that shit. I had sold all that stuff off. I bought Velvet Underground and Television."

Though they shared a common background and musical passion, at the time the idea of forming a group with Hopkins was never broached. For one thing, Hopkins didn't even pick up a guitar until 1980.

"I was just a good-time pot-smoking kinda guy wishing I could," laughs Hopkins. "When I first started playing guitar in 1980, I was really trying to play jazz but I didn't know how to do it."

The Pedestrians' rudimentary but impassioned playing had huge impact on the fledgling musician, enough to make Hopkins believe that learning the guitar could be a life-changing endeavor. "Bands like The Pedestrians were my salvation. It wasn't until I saw The Pedestrians when I realized 'Hey, I could do this.'" (Hopkins repaid his debt to the band this past year when his record label, San Jacinto, released a crude-sounding but historically invaluable live album of The Pedestrians debut gig at Tucson's famed Pearl's Hurricane bar.)

In 1979, Hopkins threw a backyard bash at his folks' house. He hired The Pedestrians as the entertainment. The event lives on in Tucson new wave folklore. The party is viewed as the first step towards a scene that would launch careers of some of the Old Pueblo's favorite sons.

"That party at Rich's was the living definition of the Patti Smith song 'Dancing Barefoot,'" recalls Sed wistfully, nearly a quarter century later. "Because we broke all this glass accidentally and everybody was so into it they were just dancing on the broken glass . . . blood was everywhere."

Seated in a booth at a generic, tan-toned eggery in downtown Phoenix, Sedlmayr is working on a round of eggs and home fries. His prison-etched tats, sharp, skeletal frame and occasionally foul-mouthed dialogue have the restaurant's snow-haired patrons shaking their heads. Still, Sed, as revealed in both his lyrics and an as-yet unfinished novel, has a gift for lending a poignancy to things without all the indulgent ennui and track-mark self-pity.

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