Monday, March 17, 2014

DJ Doc Hopkins

Born in 1900 (or maybe 1894, 1899, or 1901), Howard "Doc" Hopkins was a barber, a musician, a machinist and disk jockey. His career peaked in the 1930s and 1940s singing and playing banjo on both the WLS National Barn Dance with the Prairie Ramblers while also appearing on the WJJD Supper Time Frolic program. He appears in both the canonical  The Encyclopedia of Country Music and it's predecessor, the  History and Encyclopedia of Country Western, and Gospel Music.  The latter edition only notes his time on WJJD and WLS, but his radio resume is much longer indeed. Having also played with the Cumberland Ridge Runners, the UCLA Folk Festival in the early 1960s and even founded his own record label, DH in 1948 you might guess he got around.  More here.

The Encyclopedia of Country Music called him a "smooth-voiced balladeer with a storehouse of traditional material." He formed his first professional band in 1929 in Mount Vernon along with Karl Davis and Hartford Taylor. By 1943 he was playing the Smile-A-While program with the Prairie ramblers, a 30 minute slot on WLS-AM. In the book Smile when You Call Me a Hillbilly author Jeffrey Lange even goes as far as to credit the popularization of the mandolin as a country music instrument to Hopkins bands. Strangely  this popularity on air didn't translate to record sales. He cut a few sides for Broadcay Records in 1931, Then a couple for The American Recording Co in 1936 with the Carolina ridge Runners. In 1941 Decca tried and failed as well.

With the Krazy Kats he spent a year playing a regular spot on WHAS-AM in Louisville, KY. He relocated at the end of 1930 to Chicago and joined the Cumberland Ridge Runners and played regularly on the WLS-AM National Barn Dance. In 1935 he reappeared on WJJD's Suppertime Frolic. In 1942 he returned to WLS-AM.  In 1949 he quit the record biz and became a machinist again. In 1955 Billboard Magazine announced his return and the following year published a note that Alma records would be releasing a few sides of his Sacred recordings. In the 1960s with credit to the UCLA folk festivals he cut his first and only LP. He died in 1988. He might have been as old as 94 or as young as 87... nobody knows.