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Doug Hopkins 12/1993

Goug HopkinsDecember 5, 1993 – Doug Hopkins was born on April 11, 1961 in Seattle, WA  but raised in Tempe, Arizona. It’s unknown when exactly the Hopkins family arrived in Arizona, but the family lived in suburban Tempe. Little is published about Doug’s younger days, prior to attending McClintock High School. As a senior, Hopkins picked up an acoustic guitar and began taking lessons. An instructor encouraged him to change to bass, on account of his large hands. Doug’s interest in music kept him busy, often practicing the guitar on a Friday night rather than going to parties. Doug successfully graduated McClintock in 1979, even after a gym short incident resulting in a two week suspension during his senior year.

After High School, Doug briefly studied music at Mesa Community College, before becoming disenchanted with the emphasis on classical music. Following this, he enrolled at Arizona State University, studying Sociology.

Doug’s first foray into music was playing for bass for a little known cover band in Fountain Hills. At the time he was largely into classic rock. Stories of Doug engaging in strong arguments about music are peppered throughout his life. One of the more notable instances of this was around this time with McClintock pal Bill Leen. In the late 70’s and early 80’s the pair would argue the validity of classic rock vs. punk rock, with Bill championing the latter genre. Eventually Doug saw the value to punk rock and put it to Bill that they should start a punk band. Doug decided that he’d teach Bill to play bass, and he’d pick up the guitar again. The fact that neither of them could play all that well, instruments worried them too much. There was born Moral Majority, Doug’s first serious original band, with neighbors Alan Long and Jim Swafford on drums and vocals respectively.

True to the punk genre, there was not much musical training between the bunch, but the punk rock power chords, reminiscent of many 70’s punk rock bands was a perfect backdrop for Doug’s interest in literature and his intelligence was expressed through his clever lyrics, often targeting political and social issues. After months of practicing and playing living room gigs with family and friends as spectators, Moral Majority secured a position opening for then local heroes The Jetzons.

Moral Majority dissolved towards the end of 1981, and by the beginning of 1982 Doug had started a new band, The Psalms. Throughout his life, each new band often showcased a genre shift from the last. With The Psalms, Doug put to bed punk rock and moved towards a new wave sound. The Psalms were able to pick up where Moral Majority left off, opening for the Jetzons, and later more high profile spots opening for the likes of Billy Idol. During the bands two or so year tenure they received a reasonable amount of local press, and released a single and an EP with some help from Ed Reilly. Six months into the band Doug began to experiment with keyboards and synthesizer, teaching singer Jim Swafford to play guitar to devote more time to those instruments. A decision that he later regretted towards the end of the Psalms. The Psalms disbanded in early 1984. The same year Doug graduated from Arizona State University.

With both his studies and The Psalms behind him, Doug started putting together his next band in early 1985. Despite having jammed with former Psalm band mates through 1984, the line up of Algebra Ranch was made up of new players, including Damon Dorion from the newly defunct Jetzons. Algebra Ranch are cited as the band in which Doug grew significantly as a writer and honed in on the jangly pop sound and style which a few years later would become the trademark of the Gin Blossoms. Around this time he was working on future hit songs such as Hey Jealousy and Found Out About You. The latter of which was inspired by an ex-girlfriend who put him in a hospital with a shattered cheek bone, with a Tai-Kwondo kick to the head at an R.E.M concert the same year. Despite the advancing in his song writing and arrangement craft with the Algebra Ranch material, Doug’s on stage antics and unserious manner saw the band only last about a year before breaking up.

The following year, Doug teamed up again with Jim Swafford to form the Ten O’Clock Scholars. Although the band held on to some Algebra Ranch songs, and their set lists were virtually a blue print for the early Gin Blossoms, working with this singer David McKay gave this band more of a folk slant than any of Doug’s previous work. After a few months of jamming, the band dissolved when Doug up and left for a recording contract in L.A, but was soon picked up in Portland after David McKay convinced the rest of the band to move to Portland. On arriving in Portland, Doug garnered a spot with a local cover band to help pay the bills along side Scholars gigs. Despite local television exposure, the gigs were hard to come by for the Scholars, and by the end of 1986 the band had broken up and members had returned to Phoenix.

Doug’s next project would become his most famous band. The Gin Blossoms formed in late 1987, and soon became local favorites in Tempe, Arizona. After some lineup changes, a trip to Austin’s South By South West and independent cassette release, the band was signed to A&M Records in 1990. The band achieved local success with the recording of their A&M debut Up and Crumbling in 1991, and the following year started recording their follow up record in Memphis. During the recording sessions, tensions rose within the band and label as Doug was reported to be “moody, homesick and unproductive” and drinking heavily throughout the time in Memphis. The situation came to a head when he was sent back to Phoenix and soon learnt that he’d been fired from the band.

Back in Phoenix, Doug was a local celebrity and had no problem putting together new bands. The first of which was The Eventuals, with Marc Norman and Brian Blush, both Hopkins fans who have been quoted as saying he inspired them to become musicians. Blush and Hopkins had become friends years earlier when the underage Blush attempted to sneak into Long Wongs, caught by Doug who told him to buy him a beer or he was going to shanghai his ass out of the bar. The Eventuals were short lived, only ever playing one gig together.

Soon after Doug, hooked up with Lawrence Zubia to form the Chimeras. The Chimeras, with a solid lineup of musicians paired with Doug’s writing skills garnered a near immediate local following and played showcases like South By Southwest. By early 1993, the Gin Blossoms album New Miserable Experience was starting to find footing, and the success of his former band fueled Doug’s song writing desire for revenge, as well as increase his inner turmoil and self destructive behavior. Despite the impressive following and arsenal of songs that could rival the Gin Blossoms, in April 1993 while performing at the KUKQ Birthday Bash festival, Doug fumbled a solo and promptly quit the band after the set. While the next day he asked to rejoin the band, his inner turmoil was obvious to the band who denied the request, although Hopkins and the Zubias remained good friends.

For the latter part of 1993 Doug continued playing with local musicians, however his depression worsened as the Gin Blossoms success continued to grow. In November 1993 he received a gold record for sales of Hey Jealousy, which hung on his wall for 2 weeks until he smashed it. Concerns for his well being by friends and family escalated, and Chimeras band mate Lawrence Zubia took to checking on him daily. On Dec 5, 1993, a week after Doug smashed the gold record, Lawrence found that he’d taken his life in his Tempe apartment at the age of 32.

“I told him I was sorry I couldn’t make him happy,” Hopkins’ sister, Sara Bennewitz, remembers of her last conversation with him Thursday. “He just said, ‘I was born unhappy.’

“I told him I loved him and that I knew I wouldn’t see him again. He patted my hand and said goodbye.”

Hopkins’ sister, Sara, told The Associated Press that this was Hopkins’ sixth suicide attempt in 10 years.

Doug’s death hit the Tempe music community hard, with former band mates Lawrence and Mark Zubia turned their Sunday night set into an impromptu wake. A memorial service was held in Tempe a few days later. Immediately following the service, Robin Wilson of the Gin Blossoms was approached by a women with a relaying a message from Doug – that he had poured sugar in their tour van’s gas tank, causing the van to breakdown and the band miss that night’s show.

Doug’s musical legacy lives on, with his songs still being heard on radio, and performed by the Gin Blossoms. Over the years, many band mates have recorded and performed cover versions of his songs, as well as songs in tribute to him.

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