Cleveland Comhrá: Brent Hopper
By Bob Carney
Music is a language, universal, but with different dialects, some extreme, others very subtle. Texas guitarist Jimmie Vaughn put it best when he said, “There’s only two types of music, the kind ya like and the kind ya don’t.”
Multi-instumentalist and vocalist Brent Hopper is well versed in many dialects and performs in the Cleveland area with a number of locally based groups. He is also called on to join many of the artists playing in Cleveland from other parts of the U.S. and Ireland.
It took a few meetings with Brent before I was able to get him to talk a little about himself. He is much more eager to talk about other musicians and groups he has played with or thinks highly of. It’s also the way he performs; his job, he told me, is to make the band or the artist he’s with even better. For Brent, it’s all about the music.
OhioIANews: Where did you grow up?
Brent: I was born in Greensboro, North Carolina. My parents divorced when I was three years old, and I went to kindergarten there. They both remarried, and my mom and step-dad took me to Florida to a very small beach town about a half hour south of Daytona where nothing much was ever going on. My dad stayed in North Carolina, so I would kind of go back and forth. I left home on my sixteenth birthday with my guitar on my back to pursue music. I travelled all over the country, wherever the wind took me.
My parents remarried when I was eighteen and now they’re living in Ashville, in the mountains.
I never graduated from high school, but did study and get my G.E.D. I wound up playing music in a Grateful Dead cover band in South Florida when I was seventeen. I was playing six nights a week. That was the introduction to my musical career.
OhioIANews: You’re still playing Grateful Dead music, aren’t you?
Brent: Yeah, even with Marys Lane, we try to do some pop tunes in our sets; it keeps things interesting.
We had another Dead tribute band called “The Grass is Dead” in ’97. We took tunes and redid them with more of a bluegrass feel and tempo. Brittany joined that band in 2005 and toured around the country for about a year.
That’s how Brittany and I got together, her playing on the mandolin blew me away. Her band started that year and we came to Cleveland and played all over the Cleveland area. In February the following year our daughter was two months old and we all went on our first east coast tour, North Carolina, Viginia, Georgia, Florida.
That became a pretty solid thing for us for about five years, till our daughter started kindergarten. We were doing about two-hundred shows a year, a lot of honky-tonk music. Brittany’s Irish roots came through and that’s how I got into Irish music, her family came here from Achill.
OhioIANews: Is that how you became part of Marys Lane?
Brent: Brittany’s best friend is Christy, bandmate Pat Mulloy’s wife. They were saying how back in high school, they would talk about marrying a couple of musicians and raising their kids together. Now, we live about a mile away from one another and Pat and I both play in Marys Lane.
Brittany had told me “You’re going to love this band, they’re really good.” They were remarkable! That’s how my being in Marys Lane came about.
OhioIANews: The sound of the band has evolved since you joined.
Brent: Tessa and I joined at the same time, hopefully I’ve been a benefit to the band.
OhioIANews: How do you like living in Cleveland?
Brent: We’ve been in the house in Bay Village since 2011, it’s the longest I’ve ever lived in one spot. I like it; Brittany’s family is amazing, very supportive. Hopefully, now that our son is getting older, he just turned two, she’ll be able to get back out and play more often.
OhioIANews: When did you start playing music?
Brent: I was about three when I started on piano, I’m self taught for the most part and play by ear. Even then if I heard something alot, Christmas music or melodies, I could play them, my daughter can do this too.
By the time I was nine, I wanted to play guitar. My first guitar came out of a comic book store, my mom had taken me there to look at comic books, but I saw this busted up old guitar for sale, I think it was thirty dollars. The action was horrible on it!
But, I told my mom I really wanted to learn how to play, I have to have this. She was like, “That’s a lot more than a comic book!” but I persisted and she bought it for me. I slept with that thing in my bed, I played it till my fingers bled! Every second that I was home I was picking out melodies.
We lived on a two lane road on a peninsula, there was nothing for me except music. About a mile from our house was this place called JP’s Seafood, a restaurant, right on the river. They had blues bands and other bands on the weekends. I was enamored with those guys.
By this point, I think I was eleven or twelve, one of my jobs at home was to take the trash out. I would leave the garage door open a couple of feet and when my parents fell asleep, I would roll out the door with my guitar and walk to the fish shack. I’d get there just as the bands were finishing up, around midnight. The guys would show me a couple of licks on the guitar.
Every week, I would learn something new, new chords and so forth. Today I try to do that for young musicians I encounter.
My parents eventually caught on to what I’d been doing and showed up one night. They talked to me and told me to go before the shows and quit sneaking out. That became a regular thing for me, I learned a lot on the guitar from those guys.
OhioIANews: Who else influenced you as far as music?
Brent: Early on blues and roots music, my mom listened to a lot of folk, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary. My stepdad was into acid rock. Bluegrass was always around in North Carolina. I saw David Grisman play when I was eighteen and I had to have a mandolin. Reggae and Irish trad, I like a lot of different things.
OhioIANews: Who are some of the other artists you work with?
Brent: Marys Lane of course, with Brittany in Achill Crossing, West Awake. Pat Sheperd, Andrew McManus. Guys from Ireland, I’m honored to be touring with Derek Warfield and the Young Wolfetones.
Recently I played with Siobhán O’Brien, I’m not leaving Cleveland, but I’m moving forward. I love the Irish community here and I support as many bands that I can that come here.
Live music needs our support to continue to thrive in Cleveland. Follow Brent on Facebook @BrentHopperMusic