Tim Van Schmidt | New SCENE
When I first met NOCO musician and recording ace Russ Hopkins, he had an alter ego.
I was picking up some material for an article at the old Sports Page bar in downtown Fort Collins and Henk, the manager at the time, gave me a cassette tape for a NOCO artist he was heartily recommending — “Blind Lemon Hopkins”.
I listened and I wrote about “Blind Lemon” and so began a longtime musical relationship — and friendship. That was way back in 1989.
Flash forward to 2023 and Hopkins is still making music. He released a new album at the end of 2022, “Songs of Love and Death”, and in 2023, he has released a video on YouTube that is well worth checking out.
The “Songs of Love and Death” CD makes use of traditional folk material that fits with the general ambiance of Hopkins’ music. They are gritty and dark, telling the stories of gamblers and murderers. Three of the songs on the record are originals and that’s part of the point here — Hopkins’ originals stand right alongside the other stuff in tone and effect.
My favorite on the album is “Old Blue”, perhaps the breeziest of the bunch. Guest artists on the record include Beth Mosko and Vi Wickam, both on fiddle.
The video, currently on YouTube, is simply titled “Russ Hopkins LIVE”. It’s a forty-minute set of new stuff from Hopkins, supported by two more legendary NOCO musicians, Jerry Palmer, and Steve Amedee.
Make no mistake — this video is about all three of these musicians making music together. It’s Hopkins at the guitar and vocals, but both Amedee, on drums and percussion, and Palmer, on bass, flute, guitar, and lap steel, add touches that help make this a special program indeed.
My favorite tune in “Russ Hopkins LIVE” is “Straight Rope”, a performance as dramatic and intense as “Old Blue” is mellow.
It also helps that the video is a pro job, creatively mixing various images in with the performance footage. Filmed live at Colorado Sound Studio W in Denver, there are also brief interview bits with Hopkins as he explains some of his songs. Even the setting is cool — a lava lap and a vintage four-track unit are continuously churning in the background.
Both Amedee and Palmer are also featured throughout the “Songs of Love and Death” CD and the video is an excellent opportunity to see these guys play together.
That’s not all, either. Hopkins’ archives are rich in other materials that he is re-posting, helping to create an avalanche of fresh stuff. That includes some of Hopkins’ documentary work involving Jungian psychoanalyst and author Dr. Robert A Johnson.
“Robert’s India” is a collection of sounds and images from India collected by Johnson, Hopkins, and Steve Wong. “In Search of the Holy Grail” is a re-release of the entire 1991 video filmed at Johnson’s home on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Subjects include the power of myth in modern times, visions of God and the power of dreams.
There are also some other vintage video releases on Hopkins’ YouTube channel. Those include “The Light in Your Eyes”, a love song for his wife, and “Creation”, a live track from a 2008 show at Avogadro’s Number featuring Hopkins, a super band of NOCO musicians, and Hopkins’ three-year-old son.
It’s easy to say — in 2023, Hopkins has achieved a new creative peak. Check out www.russhopkins.com for more details.
Tune in to “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt” on YouTube.