It's not unusual for a group to toss a member prior to the recording of their debut album. Whether it's due to a lack of talent, personality conflict, drug abuse or an aversion to touring, line-up changes are fairly common. What is unusual in the Gin Blossom's case is the one bounced, guitarist Doug Hopkins, was not only a founding member but also responsible for composing the group's first two hit singles, "Hey Jealousy" and "Found Out About You."
Veterans of the Tempe, AZ, music scene and friends, Hopkins and bassist Bill Leen formed the Gin Blossoms in '87. The name was taken from a caption under a W.C. photo, "W.C. Fields and his gin blossoms." The 30s-40s movie comedian was a notorious drinker and gin blossoms, facial blemishes resulting from the alcohol abuse over an extended period, scared Fields' nose turning it red and bulbous. The alcohol reference would prove telling.
Guitarist/vocalist Jesse Valenzuela and drummer Phillip Rhodes were added. But the arrival of guitarist/vocalist Robin Wilson was probably the most significant development. He took over the lead vocal responsibilities from Valenzuela. His plaintive voice becoming a key element in the band's sound.
Following the group's debut EP ("Up And Crumbling") Hopkins' drinking became a major issue. He'd become unreliable, as drinkers often do. And there was simply too much at stake. Scott Johnson was Hopkins' replacement as the Gin Blossoms recorded their '92 release, the full-length, "New Miserable Experience." Sadly, Hopkins committed suicide the following year. He'd checked into a detox center in Phoenix. On December 3rd, '93 he walked out. The next day he was found dead from a gun shot wound.
"New Miserable Experience" was anything but. Aside from Hopkins' contributions, the album contained "Mrs. Rita," "Allison Road" and another hit, "Until I Fall Away." But initially it was slow going. It would take months before "Hey Jealousy" gained any traction. Through '94 and '95, singles from the album hit the charts as the group toured.
In early '96, "Congratulations, I'm Sorry" was issued with "Til I Here It From You" and "Follow You Down." These songs proved the group could generate hits without Hopkins. While "New Miserable Experience" sold over four million copies, "Congratulations, I'm Sorry" was only single platinum (one million sales). Still, very respectable. But accumulated baggage, including Hopkins departure and death, took its toll. The band announced their break up in December of '97.
Wilson and Rhodes launched the Gas Giants. Valenzuela fronted a short-lived outfit called the Low Watts and released a solo album. Both Wilson and Valenzuela tried their hand at producing. Leen left music to operate a rare book store. Not finding these ventures to be entirely rewarding, the group re-formed in '02. They toured and released "Major Lodge Victory" in '06.
Owing more to the Byrds and Tom Petty than Heavy Metal and Punk, the Gin Blossoms were a direct contrast to the prevailing Grunge sound. Their songs have a far lighter touch with jangling electric guitars and acoustic guitar underpinnings. Attention is paid to melody and harmonies. The Gin Blossoms never blow the doors off but their tuneful songs resonate.
The place to start with the Gin Blossoms is near the beginning. "New Miserable Experience" is their best and most appealing effort. The deluxe edition is a bit much with outtakes, live tracks and remixes. It's for the major fan. "Congratulations, I'm Sorry" is just a notch below.
It can be argued that the Gin Blossoms were more than a singles band. But it's the songs mentioned above that really count. There are a couple "best of" packages available. "20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: The Best Of Gin Blossoms," and the more complete (and pricier), "Outside Looking In: Best Of The Gin Blossoms" include the group's signature songs and essential album material.