Rich Hopkins and Luminarios
(Blue Rose Records, 2014)
Rich Hopkins is in a heroic struggle against mediocrity and complacency. A prolific writer, singer, guitarist, producer and humanitarian, Hopkins is concerned for the well-being of his fellow man and wonders about the events that have shaped us as a nation and a race. Letting him into your life with his music and stories on 'Tombstone', just might help you make sense of it all in some small way.
Hopkins, who has been a part of the American music scene since 1985, is, amazingly, still an undiscovered talent to some. Founding the Tucson, Arizona based Sidewinders (RCA 1989-91) / Sand Rubies (Polygram 1993), Hopkins toured the U.S. and celebrated success with college / indie rock classics “Witchdoctor” and “We Don’t Do That Anymore” (both went to #5 on the CMJ charts). In 1991, Hopkins formed Rich Hopkins and Luminarios as a side project; with his first album 'Personality Crisis' that was released on Germany’s EFA Records. After the Sand Rubies initially broke up in 1993, Rich decided to keep going with his ever changing cast of Luminarios band members and recorded 'Dirt Town' (1993) and 'Dumpster Of Love' (1995) for Enemy Records in Germany and the U.S.A.
Rich Hopkins has consistently cranked out new records (26 in all) and tours yearly in Germany / Europe (25 tours) where, in 1996, he was one of the first artists signed to Germany’s Blue Rose Records.
A new member of the Tucson Musicians Museum (Class of 2013), Hopkins enters music history as the quintessential desert rocker, a constant in the bedrock of alternative music. Showcasing an ability to create unmistakable guitar tones that drive a hallmark sound, as the years pass, Hopkins continues to reinvent and motivate himself for yet another album and tour as evidenced on 'Tombstone', the latest release from Rich Hopkins and Luminarios.
Lisa Novak grew up in Houston, TX, and came from a very musical family. Not only did mother play piano in a band, her grandfather rocked Shiner, Texas back in his day. Her dad's cousin, Red Novak was well known amongst Houston musicians for selling guitars to Elvis as well as the locals. Lisa picked up her first guitar in the eighth grade and wrote music in high school but kept music as a hobby and pursued a career as a hairstylist. In 1995, under a friend's suggestion, she recorded her first music and assembled a band to tour and promote the songs.
As a perennial nominee in the Houston Press, Best of Houston Awards, Novak won the 2004 Best Folk / Acoustic Act with singer-songwriter Melinda Mones, and in 2005 Novak has won the title of Best Female Vocalist. She has also garnered recognition from Musician Magazine in 1995 through the Best Unsigned Band Contest and Billboard Magazine Song Contest awarded a certificate of achievement in 1998 for her song "Make Believe". She has played in Austin, TX at the annual SXSW Music Conference as the Houston Press nominated her band for Best Pop / Rock and Best Folk in 2000. Her song "Perfect Mess" was also nominated for Song of the Year in 2002.
The other Luminarios are: Jon Sanchez (guitars, keyboards, sitar, mellotron, harmonica, synths) and George Duron (drums). With guests on 'Tombstone': George Reif, Paul Beebe, Alan Anderson, Duane Hollis, Larry Cooper, Damon Barnaby.
Rich Hopkins talks about 'Tombstone':
1. "Don't Worry": The record kicks off with trademark loud Rich Hopkins guitar rock. He is still known as the loudest rootsrocker touring Europe, with Steve Wynn as a good runner-up. Rocking without compromises on three soaring electric guitars: Rich himself, Jon Sanchez and also guest Larry Cooper takes two solos. In the meantime the lyrics reflect on learning on a daily basis from life's personal struggles.
Rich: The song wasn't so much written as it was received in about five minutes as I was waiting around to do some guitar overdubs on another song. Just came to me. The message pretty much sums up about what I am striving for and that is not to strive and worry about 'things' but to enjoy what God has given me.
2. "Everything": Tempo slows down and the mood changes for a catchy midtempo folk rock song, with Jon Sanchez laying down a mesmerizing guitar riff.
Rich: What makes this song is Jon's killer guitar riff... that's the money! Jon is so good at just coming up with the right hook! Lisa and I wanted to write the perfect pop song so here it is! Maybe we will get lucky and become famous... or maybe not?! This song is about the life of a young girl who 'seemingly' has everything but no one ever does. It's only a mirage to judge someone else. Love and heartbreak is what makes us all human!
3. "Tombstone": The powerful title track, a heavy and highly inflammable garage rocker with again three electric guitars. Rich told Zocalo Magazine, that this was a basic one take recording. Damon Barnaby plays the lead guitar. It is a dark and reckless historic story: "Me and my brothers / We don't believe in hindsight", according to the survivor of the legendary OK Corral shootout in Tombstone, Arizona on October 26, 1881.
Rich: Written from Ike Clanton's perspective. Ike was an angry drunk who thought the law (Wyatt Earp and his brothers) had it out for him and his family. But anyone who drinks whiskey for 36 hours straight ain't gonna make wise choices so the fight in the OK Corral didn't go too well for him and his friends. Such is life!
4. "Home Of The Brave": Asking for change, begging versus actual changes - a smart lyrical twist in this socially conscious song. Still played on the fiery guitars, the nice backing vocals by Lisa give all these songs a somewhat lighter touch. Impressive and convincing.
Rich: Who are the brave people in your life? I admire people who are courageous enough to put their shame and fear aside long enough to ask for help. Sure it takes all kinds of people and situations to be brave but asking for help takes courage. I feel we might be a bit numb to the homeless who are out on the streets begging for money. Who hasn't ever gotten irritated by someone asking for money? I know I have but it takes guts to ask. I am working on not judging my fellow man. Who gave me the right to judge?
5. "Free Man": A raw rock piece with another killer guitar riff, this is almost basic punk rock. Nice touches here by Lisa's tambourine and George Reif's fuzz bass. Let's not underestimate Lisa, she rocks with the best of them!
Rich: This album was going to be called 'Free Man' cuz we are very interested in man's welfare and in becoming whole and free. Freedom from abuse, slavery, debt, addictions, prejudices, judgment, etc. Lisa wrote the lyrics and main guitar riff to this song and she is just one of the great song writers I have ever known.
6. "Hang On": Ah, this is power pop with sweet twanging guitars! I love it. Jon plays keyboards here, there's even a poppy chorus with hand claps. "You didn't win the fight / but you can say you fought". Rich and Lisa harmonize perfectly. I'm singing along - favorite!
Rich: We all need hope in our lives or what's the use in hanging in there? We all know some days can be very depressing and we might even think 'what's the use in living' when things are really bad? That's why we need each other, to break the pattern of isolation that manifests in the crazy mind. Sometimes we also need to learn to sit with our uncomfortable feelings and know, this too shall pass! Didn't George Harrison say something like that?!
7. "Top Of The World": An epic 7m39s long spoken tale, a rock band's history, complete with twin guitar battle (Rich and Jon, who also plays keyboards on this track) plus a lovely somewhat melancholic chorus. It's hard to keep such a long piece entertaining, but Rich certainly pulls it off.
Rich: This is dedicated to every rock band who ever had the dream of 'making it' but for what ever reason, the dream ended. At least we got to dream for a while and had fun playing music. That in itself is worthwhile!
8. "No Regrets": More warmly welcomed power pop, winking at folk rock circa 1970 with Jon's sitar (!) and the nice little chorus.
Rich: Are you living the life you truly want? I know it's a big question to ask but this isn't dress rehearsal. I know I have been given many chances to learn my lessons and for that I am grateful. Let's wake up before it's too late. Life is great. God is good.
9. "Campfire Chat With Luke And Jimmy": A one minute recording of this chat indeed. Jon plays a little harmonica part in the background.
Rich: What must it be like to be a young man knowing that tomorrow you are going into battle against a fierce enemy for the first time? As a country we still are sending off our youngest men to fight our dirty wars. There are no winners.
10. "Private Shaw": A gripping 8m35s long soundscape with spoken word by Rich. Besides guitars, there's Jon's mellotron and 'spooky death march vocal', plus some bass and well-placed drum salvos. The bloody history of the so-called Indian Wars, Rich commented to Zocale Magazine, that while not drawn from any particular battle or massacre, he drew from many such violent Western encounters. Then building up to a powerful ominous thundering climax, while "the sky turned black and the river red" and slowing down to a sad, distorted ending.
Rich: In writing this song, I tried to write a story that summarizes many of the battles that took place here in the West from Texas to Arizona in the mid 1800's between the US Army and the many different native tribes (Comanches, Sioux, Apache to name a few) that lived and thrived on these lands for hundreds of years before the European settlers in the early 1600's. It's hard to judge history but I am saddened by the losses and sometimes complete eradication of the natives cultures who proudly lived here.
11. "Mourning Song": A gorgeous duet by Lisa and Rich, who also plays a baritone guitar, while Jon puts synthesizers to good use.
Rich: This ties into Pvt. Shaw. After a war, it is customary to mourn the death of our loved ones. We must honor the dead who paid with their lives.
12. "Leona's Waltz": Arnold Parker sings the lead vocals on this traditional country waltz with Rich on a rare acoustic guitar, Paul Beebe on piano and Jon playing 'country guitar', you can call that a pedal steel... A touching tribute to Lisa's mother, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease and is now imagined dancing with the angels, written by Rich and Lisa at the night of the funeral service.
Rich: Dedicated to Lisa's mother, Leona Novak. She used to play piano in a dance band from the 1950's called The Southernaires. Arnold Parker, who became the lead singer in The Southernaires and is in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, was a friend and bandmate of Leona's back in the 50's. He was kind enough to sing this song that Lisa wrote for her mother. If you listen carefully, you will feel Leona's spirit in this song.
What you expect from Rich Hopkins, is what you get. Straight forward, sturdy rock - the man invented the desert rock almost single-handedly. He told Zocalo Magazine: “I thought that the whole record would be this weird Western thing, but I didn’t have enough of those songs.” So he added some other fine fitting stuff to this concept album. The songs follow each other perfectly, maybe there are a few too many similar sounding rock tracks at the beginning, but that isn't really bothering me. The sound quality is good, the album was produced by Rich, Lisa and Lars Goransson. Rich is also known for the beautiful lay-out of his albums, this one comes with a mini-poster in the package. Highly recommended for all the rockers among us!
Written & compiled by Johanna J. Bodde - March 12th, 2015.