Gin Blossoms - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
Widely known for infectious alternative power-pop, the story of the Gin Blossoms is anything but the stuff of innocuous pop music. While the world of the mid-’90s bathed in Gin Blossoms radio-friendly hits like “Hey Jealousy” and “Til I Hear It From You,” the band existed in a constant state of flux caused by chronic alcoholism, the loss of their principal songwriter, aborted albums and the fickle whims of the mainstream public.
Founded in Tempe, Arizona in 1987 by mutual friends Jesse Valenzuela (guitars, vocals), Richard Taylor (guitars), Scott McCann (drums), Bill Leen (bass), and principle songwriter Doug Hopkins (guitars), the band took their name from a photograph of filmmaker (and notorious boozer) W.C. Fields featuring a caption that read, “W.C. Fields with gin blossoms.” The term was referring to his splotchy red nose, caused by an addiction to gin. After gaining notoriety for their live shows throughout the greater Phoenix-area, the band underwent line-up changes with Phillip Rhodes taking over drum duties, Scott Johnson replacing guitarist Richard Taylor, and the addition of vocalist Robin Wilson.
Gin Blossoms recorded and self-released their debut full-length, Dusted, in 1989, and college stations picked it up and added it to their rotations. Eventually Gin Blossoms lighter pop sensibilities stood out enough in the post-grunge era that A&M Records caught wind and signed the band to a contract.
The recording sessions for their sophomore follow-up were riddled with set-backs, so many that the record nearly never came off. A first version of the album was shelved indefinitely after both the band and A&M Records found themselves disappointed with the results. As Gin Blossoms re-entered the studio to start from scratch, Hopkins escalating alcoholism began to put a strain on band. The sessions stretched out for more than a year, before they finally released the EP, Up & Crumbling (1991 A&M). It became a college radio hit on the strength of the track, “Allison Road.”
Gin Blossoms’ official debut full-length with A&M—New Miserable Experience (1992)—gained momentum on the strength of the catchy pop single, “Hey Jealousy.” As the popularity of the single increased throughout the United States, the album was re-released with new packaging and a more aggressive publicity campaign. This time New Miserable Experience shot to the top of the charts, and spawned the additional hit singles, “Found Out About You” and “Until I Fall Away.”
Founding member and principle songwriter Hopkins had always harbored dreams of making a gold record, which he did with “Hey Jealousy.” But just as his songs were becoming mainstream radio staples, he was dismissed from band when he could no longer control his alcohol addiction—a problem exacerbated by a long struggle with chronic depression. Scott Johnson was added as lead guitarist to take his place.
Hopkins tragic suicide in December of 1993, only a year after he was terminated from Gin Blossoms, raised questions about the band’s ability to write good songs without him. In turn, they answered those questions with the massive hit single, “Til I Hear It From You,” from the Empire Records Soundtrack (1995 A&M), proving there was still plenty of creativity and prowess in the band.
Congratulations . . . I’m Sorry (1996 A&M) followed a similar vein to its predecessor, yet although the collaborative single “Follow You Down” broke the Top 10 on the pop charts, the album failed to produce any follow-up hits and slipped from the charts without much fanfare.
Gin Blossoms officially broke up in 1997, with each member splintering into side projects. In 2002, the band embarked on a few successful reunion shows when their debut album, Dusted, was re-issued by Bakman Records. After losing Phillip Rhodes to alcoholism, the band recruited drummer Scott Kusmirek and released Major Lodge Victory (2006 Hybid). Though the record came a decade after Congratulations, it was as if the Gin Blossoms never took a hiatus from recording as a unit—the familiar pop blueprints are in evidence throughout.