Rich Hopkins of The Sidewinders/Sand Rubies on the Difference Between Phoenix and Tucson

By William Michael Smith (for Houston Press/Rocks Off Houston)

Living most of his adult and professional life in Tuscon, Arizona, former Sidewinders/Sand Rubies front man Rich Hopkins has recently relocated to Houston.

For those who don't remember, Hopkins and his mates in the Sidewinders hit the charts at the tail end of the '80s with "Witch Doctor" (1989) and immediately followed up with "We Don't Do That Anymore" (1990). They got lots of spins on VH1 and MTV.

But a legal dispute with a cover band called Sidewinder led to the band changing labels and names in 1991, and while they made fine records as the Sand Rubies, they never found the charts again although the band continued to tour for some years and has performed numerous reunion shows.

After an entire adult life spent in Tucson, 54-year-old Hopkins met and married Houston singer-songwriter Lisa Novak a few years ago and recently relocated to the Bayou City, where he continues to perform his brand of searing, psychedelic desert rock as Rich Hopkins and Los Luminarios.

A lot of people say that Tucson feels like Austin, whereas Phoenix has more of an L.A. feel. Tucson just had so much more diverse a scene than Phoenix. -- Rich Hopkins
Up on the Sun: What brought you to Houston after such a long career in Tucson, where you've always been one of the key music scene players?

Rich Hopkins: Lisa has her business here and family, so we had a long-distance relationship for a couple of years there. But my daughter is 19 and she's in college and doing well, so I finally decided I would try Houston.

How do you like it so far?

I think we all sort of dread change, so I wasn't sure, I just took a chance. Coming from a dry, hot climate, I'm actually surprised that I'm starting to like -- or appreciate -- the humidity and the moisture. Otherwise, it's such a big place, I'm just starting to know my around well. But I'm beginning to think I can make it here okay.

How would you compare the music scene in Houston versus Tucson?

I don't know Houston well enough yet, and I haven't really done much night life, much checking out of local clubs and bands yet. I need to, but it just seems like our priority is making our relationship work and making a workable life here.

Tuscon had a cool but small scene. A lot of people say that Tucson feels like Austin, whereas Phoenix has more of an L.A. feel. Tucson just had so much more diverse a scene than Phoenix. And of course we had Green On Red and Giant Sand, those were my musical heroes.

How was Tucson as a base for a band that toured nationally and internationally?

It was actually very cool. Being in Tucson, we were pretty much out of sight, out of mind with the labels we worked with. You hear lots of bands talking about labels getting involved with creative decisions, meddling in the recording process, but that never happened with us.

We were there in Tucson, rather isolated, and we just wrote our songs and recorded them and then went back on the road. I'd have to say it was very good for us, living in Tucson.

You were with RCA and later Polydor. How the hell did they let you get involved in that law suit and then ask you to change the band name when you had all that momentum going? It seems like they had the kind of money to make that go away, or to buy the band name.

The major labels do have all the money, but you never know what they're throwing it at. Our label experience was mostly the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.

At the end of the day, our manager didn't want us to be on RCA anymore. So when Polydor approached, they told us they thought changing our name wouldn't be a problem. They actually wanted us to change our name. And we went along with it even though in the back of our mind we knew that was crazy.

But I try not to dwell on it anymore. It happened. I've got say, we just pissed away the business part of it over time.

The last time we saw you, your rhythm section was from Austin. Is that the lineup [you're currently playing with] or have you found some Houston people?

We've gotten along well and I like what they do, so we're not planning any lineup changes as long as they are fine with driving over here for our gigs.

We haven't noticed you playing many gigs. What are your musical plans?

You know, I'm 54 and I'm really concentrating on the life Lisa and I are building here. I'm concentrating on my daughter, getting her through college, and I've got a couple of little enterprises that I run. So right now, I'm not sure I want to play a lot, tour, etc.

The truth is the only place I've made much money touring the past few years is Europe. So I'll probably keep that active as long as it works, but I'm just not sure about how much I'll play, whether I'll do another record. Lisa and I write together, so there's certainly the possibility that down the road we'll have the urge to do another record.

But we've just released Buried Treasures (Jan. 15, 2012), so we'll see how it does. I still love playing, but I'm not going to lose money to do it.

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