about robin hopkins––Plectrum banjo and guitar (Carl Kress tuning)
Born in Greencastle, Indiana– acquired a passion for music at an early age.
My neighbor was a piano teacher, so I had to take lessons. However, with my tap dancing lessons and general desire to just be a kid, I soon lost interest. I was six years old at the time, but after the recital performance– the applause in the back of my mind, I took lessons on and off until the age of ten. There was always music in our house. My father, a funeral director, played drums while going through school and had a set at home, as well as a xylophone which he also played. He was sure that my older sister would become the perfect candidate to play the harmony tenor banjo that he had purchased. My little brother was chosen to play drums. Having finally found a piano teacher who would guide me through “The Alley Cat Song”, the Hopkins kids trio was now complete and ready to hit the fair circuit. We were destined to come in second
place at the county fair talent contests around west central Indiana. The four year old female twirler, of course, always placed first.At age twelve, the garage band craze struck and I now had an electric guitar. It was tuned to a major chord (“E” I think) so that an extensive knowledge of chordal structure wasn't necessary to join a band. The next four years were spent playing for numerous fraternity and sorority parties on the Depauw campus, high school dances, and community pool parties, and teen clubs, etc. I did manage to begin to use traditional guitar tuning and learn a few chords.
Though my musical experience began at an early age, I would not be put into that prestigious category of child prodigy. In fact, after musical aptitude testing in grade school, I wasn't even allow to hold a tambourine, let alone shake it.
The rock band I was in broke up, when I was sixteen. I believe that could be attributed to hormonal dictates – or rather more important things to do on Saturday night. That was the end of my musical career until college.
While at Indiana University, the folk craze was gaining momentum. Everyone it seemed played guitar and sat around singing and probably drinking some kind of beverage. I didn't have an acoustic guitar, so I decided to bring the tenor banjo from home. In the spring of 1971, I attended Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I had the opportunity to hear Pete Fountain at his club and my life was forever changed. I went back home – left college – bought a plectrum (actually, it was a five string) banjo – teamed up with fellow Greencastlian, Dick Hardwick, that fall – played local service clubs and moved to New Orleans in the fall of 1972, thus began a life long love of the plectrum style banjo and the music of the “Jazz Age” the roaring twenties as well as the thirties and forties.
Beginning with engagements in the “French Quarter” Vieux Carre in New Orleans, the Hardwick & Hopkins Dixie Duo then spent the better part of a year south of Washington D.C. in the Potomac river resort town of Colonial Beach. Those engagements led to performances in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and upstate New York working for the agency of Bruce “Bubbles” Becker.
On our first stint in New Orleans, I met banjoist extraordinaire, Doug Mattocks. After Doug heard me, He offered some artistic advise– to learn my chord forms the correct way. His mastery of the instrument opened my ears to the true musicality of the banjo.
I returned to New Orleans again in 1974. This time, aboard the Steamer Delta Queen and the duo was now a trio. The Delta Queen home port at that time was in Cincinnati, Ohio. Entertainer Vic Tooker had taken the 1974 season off. He was working the Terrace Hilton in Cincinnati. Vic returned to the DQ and we had the choice of staying or taking his gig at the Hilton. We opted for something different and chose the Hilton. We spent most of the year at the hotel, then the trio split at that time. I went back to the Hilton in 1976 and again in 1980. The room at the hotel was called “Joe's Bar”. It was the second most profitable room in the entire Hilton corporate chain. We performed six nights a week, five hours a night. It was not unusual for there to be an hour wait to get in. During my engagement there, I was entertaining the visiting baseball players and celebrities who were in town for their own shows. I had guest artists sitting in, most notably Liebert Lombardo would bring in his trumpet and; I recall that Maury Wills had just gone from baseball to Vegas nightclub act. He played plectrum banjo and sang. Baseball fans got a real kick out of Don Sutton singing “ Won't you come home Red Adams” to the tune of “ Bill Bailey”. I found myself playing for people such as Guy Lombardo, Jack Jones, Roy Eldridge, Eddie “Popeye” Egan, “Radar” Gary Burghoff, Erich Kunzel, Cab Calloway, & Benny Goodman. Also during that time period, I had the honor of performing at the Midwest Governors Conference, Jimmy Carter, Linda and Lady Bird Johnson. I also appeared on The Nick Clooney Show and local feed of Jerry Lewis Telethon.
I moved back to Indianapolis and joined Tom Mullinix and the Naptown Strutters dixieland jazz band. The band was kept busy with a steady engagement and society parties and functions throughout the Midwest. My association with that organization gave me the opportunity to play with legends Wild Bill Davidson, Yank Lawson, Tony Bellson, Dave McKenna, and Barrett Deems ( Louis Armstrong's drummer for many years).
Next came a move to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and a two and a half year stint strumming as part of the “Emmber Lean & Tender All-Meat Band. This was a coast to coast twenty plus days a month singing the praises of deli meat products. The gig also called for recording the corporate jingle and lots of local radio plugs across the country.
Again returning to Indianapolis in 1989 and six months at The Jam Cellar at Union Station and then eighteen months at the Boggstown Inn. While at Boggstown I teamed up with Kathleen Miller, one of the regular singers. During that time period, I saw that dixie and ragtime in clubs was becoming a thing of the past. Kathleen and I left Boggstown and spent the next year working at the world renowned Indianapolis Motor Speedway Motel. We began to put together a show for theatrical venues and also started a company (ROBKA PRODUCTIONS, Inc.) to promote shows for tour groups. Our artist highlights page summarizes our credits, however I must say that one of my most memorable experiences was an exciting weekend at the Grand Hotel - being featured with the Grand Hotel Orchestra- on the bill with Pete Fountain and Herbie Hancock.
In the fall of 2002, I was invited to play guitar with The Mid-Coast Swing Orchestra a ten piece (now twelve) swing band. I also wanted to learn the Django rhythm styles. I got a Selmer style guitar and then chose to learn the Carl Kress tuning. The guitar choice gave me a good acoustic sound for both styles of music. The fruits of that decision have been many. The first instance is the call to play guitar with impressionist Rich Little on several occasions. The gypsy jazz acquaintances led to my performing excerpts from “Porgy and Bess” and the “Afro-American Suite”, with the Indianapolis Philharmonic under the direction of Jackson Wiley. I have also performed the London concert version of the musical “Ragtime” conducted by Chris Ludwa. I was also asked to play on a 2007 Christmas album by the seventeen piece Buselli-Wallarab big band. The CD is titled “Carol Of The Bells” on the Owl Records Label. However, I think one of my most satisfying moments to date came in the fall of 2006. Jose Valencia, conductor of “The Orkestra Project” invited me to perform the original banjo part as written by Ferde Grofe for Paul Whiteman's 1924 performance of “Rhapsody In Blue”. In the spring of 2009, I joined the Bloomington Symphony for "Rhapsody" featuring Dr. Luke Gillespie at the piano.I have also perfomed the string parts for "RAGTIME" (the London Concert Version) and most recently, the banjo book with The Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra's performance of "The General" ,a silent film by Buster Keaton, score by Carl Davis. I have been invited to lead apre-concert discussion at Clowes Memorial Hall at Butler University, leading up to to Bela Fleck's African Project concert, on February 19, 2010.