JC Hopkins is not the kind of guy who lingers too long at the fair.
Over the course of his eight-year recording career, focusing on his guitar
talents, Hopkins has switched styles more often than children's television-show
personality Mr. Rogers swapped sweaters.
This time, though, former Flophouse frontman Hopkins may have switched to
the right style at just the right time.
It so happens that vintage swing sounds are the current retro rage. It also
happens that Hopkins' latest endeavor is a musical titled "Show Biz'ness" -- a
musical steeped in the sound of swing jazz.
To hear Hopkins tell it, the move to musical theater was nothing more than a
logical next step.
"It's been in my brain for a while. I did a lot of touring last year, and while I was
on the road, the songs kinda put themselves in a certain order and started
telling a story," said Hopkins, 30. The songs he was referring to were a set of
tunes honed at his weekly gig playing piano in a San Francisco dive bar called
the Rite-Spot Cafe.
"I enjoy playing in the corner of a bar, while people are chattering away,"
"Show Biz'ness" was co-written with San Francisco-based writer Pete
Simonelli, who used the songs composed by Hopkins as an outline. Simonelli
said that penning the bulk of what Hopkins classified as "high drama, low
comedy" took a little bit of boozing, some fighting and a whole lot of writing as
the two hashed out their vision for the play.
"We butted heads quite a few times," said Simonelli, 28. "Ultimately, it was pretty
rewarding. Over two long nights, we really got to know each other a whole hell
of a lot better. The first night we went at it until about 4 a.m. That night, we had a
little whiskey, a little beer and we got through the first act."
Previously best known for his guitar work, Hopkins cited the versatility of the
piano as his reason for setting down the ax and settling in to tickle the ivories for
his latest venture.
"Piano serves as a percussion instrument as well," Hopkins said. "You can bang
out a meter while playing a bassline with another couple fingers, with one hand
playing chords and also a melody.
"You have all these different voicings going on," he added, "and the transition to
passing chords seemed a little freer. The whole thing together can create a real
atmosphere, and you get a song where the music fits the sentiment of the song."
Set in a beer-soaked roadhouse, "Show Biz'ness" revolves around Serge, a
classically frustrated musician stuck waiting tables (which he's not good at)
instead of singing (which he is good at), and the trouble that stems from his
perpetually stunted state.
Hopkins first appeared on the music scene in 1988 after sharing the stage with
former Plimsouls leader Peter Case at a songwriters' showcase. Case later
produced the eponymous debut of Flophouse, a San Francisco trio fronted by
Over the course of five LPs, Flophouse displayed a variety of facets, including a
political bent and a critically heralded power-pop attack. Most recently, Hopkins
released his solo debut, the subdued Athens by Night, which included
collaborations with Barbara Manning, formerly of the SF Seals, and violinist
Carrie Bradley (the Breeders) on songs such as
Despite the popularity of the recent swing revival, Hopkins said the tunes
played by the JC Hopkins Heptet that accompany "Show Biz'ness" draw more
inspiration from the craftsmanship of legendary pianist and composer George
Gershwin and the innovative stylings of Thelonious Monk and Charlie "Bird"
Parker than from any modern-day swingers.
Initially slated for a three-night run in June at the intimate Cafe Du Nord in San
Francisco, "Show Biz'ness" will reappear there for several July dates. Simonelli,
in the meantime, is looking toward future productions of the play.
As for any new projects, Hopkins said he's open to whatever comes next. "I've
learned a lot about music. From folk, I learned how to tell a story in a song.
When I was in a rock band, I learned how to create some noise and how to
control that," Hopkins said. "It's exciting to me to keep learning new things.
Every time you do, it takes you to a new place you've never been before."