Sip Session with Ricky Hopkins

Music, like wine, is filled with subtle notes that paint a picture and takes listeners on a unique journey. The back label of our Chardonnay tells a story of two lovers who are drawn to each other while listening to music under the stars and enjoying a glass of wine.

“Leaning back in your chair as a smooth jazz band plays beneath the stars, you take a sip from your glass. The only thing standing between you and the person across from you is candlelight and a bottle of Julian Chardonnay. They realize it as well, so you smile and slowly take another sip. Suddenly the stars align and you are guided into a slow jazz mamba with a sweetheart.This is a perfect night for love.”

It’s unknown what song was playing in the background that brought these two lovers together, but it might have been “Skin Deep” from Ricky Hopkins’ 2015 album, “Untold Stories”.  

We had the opportunity to work with Ricky Hopkins on a music video project in 2010 while he was a member of an OC rock band. It was great to sit down and catch up with him about his career as a solo saxophonist during our debut Sip Session.

What inspired you to become a musician?

Getting a sense of how music made me feel and realizing that it was something that I wanted to share with as many people as I could, if I was lucky enough. Some of my earliest memories are sitting in this little rocking chair I had as a kid and just closing my eyes and listening. to musicians play that made me feel like I could escape my world and entered theirs. The feeling is similar to reading a good book, or getting lost in a beautiful piece of art. I was a pretty quiet kid, but as soon as I picked up a saxophone, I felt like I became someone else and I loved i!. It was also a way to express my emotions without ever saying a word.

What’s your most memorable moment?

There’s been a lot of them. I’ve been really fortunate to have already worked with some pretty great musicians. I can also say that after 20 years, I’m still here. I’ve faced a lot of adversity, and a LOT of heartaches over the years. My most memorable moment was when I was 17 years old. I went to the Hamilton High School Academy of Music in Los Angeles, which is one of the best high school music programs around. We had an amazing jazz program as well. Many of the musicians are well known professional musicians today. The group I was in, Jazz Ensemble A, got to perform in this huge national high school competition in Monterey, which is home to one of the largest jazz festivals in the country. We entered this competition for a chance to perform at the actual festival. The judges were critically acclaimed musicians and educators, so the stakes were really high. I was surrounded by ridiculously talented musicians in the other bands and I honestly felt that I didn’t belong there. Long story short, I ended up winning an award as the “best tenor saxophone soloist”. They gave me trophy and all. I was so excited that I ran on stage, snatched the trophy and ran off. They had to call me back up for a picture….haha. That was probably the point when I realized that maybe if I stick to this saxophone thing, I might have a chance. I’ll never forget that day.

What was your favorite album to record?

My last album, “Voices”. I actually unexpectedly wrote that entire album in a month. I had a very rough start of the year. I lost a good friend of mine, ended up breaking up with someone I had been with, and fell very ill. To deal with all of that, I decided that I wanted to record a bunch of cover songs and one original, “Lone Light”, which was the last track and my way of saying goodbye to a friend and a relationship. It was a totally different experience taking someone else’s work and making it my own. I enjoyed it immensely and it made my situation a lot easier to deal with.

Which album was the most challenging to record?

Definitely “The Quarter Life”, which was my first solo album in 2014. I left a previous group in 2012, which was a pretty horrific experience,  and at that timelife in general was a mess. I felt like my best years were already behind me at 27 (That’s how the title, “The Quarter Life” came along). I stopped performing and playing saxophone that same year. However, I did pick up guitar and piano and started practicing them both.. As I was playing, I started getting ideas, and realized that the only way I was going to get the ideas I wanted out was through recording. The hard part was figuring out how to record my own material and show proficiency in composition, performance, and production, which I had never done before. It took almost a year to record, with many sleepless nights. I did learn a lot from the experience, and I’m happy that the production value of my material has dramatically increased since those days.

What advice would you give to an up and coming artists?

There’s really no right way to do this, but from my own experiences and watching great musicians, there’s several different things to consider. First,  you have to really love it and be willing to make sacrifices for it: money, friends, relationships, and a LOT of time. Second, you have to believe in yourself. Teachers, musicians, and fans can tell you that you’re great, but you have to believe that you have something to say and to not be afraid to say it! Third, have few expectations; hard work doesn’t guarantee success, but it DOES put you in position to get better and find opportunities. I’ve only learned that one in recent years. Fourth, listen to and study the greats and lesser known artists of the genre and instrument you play. Play along with records and read as much sheet music as you can. In order to push forward, you have to have a great respect and understanding of the music. This part never stops. You can always learn new things. Fifth, make connections. Meet as many different people as you can. Most of the calls I get for gigs are people who saw, heard, or played with me decades ago. Versatility goes a long way and makes you a much better musician. Finally, understand that in order to succeed, you will fail many times in this industry. At the same time, you’ll also learn from those experiences and build on them. It takes many years to be successful.

One more question; what’s next? 

Right now I’m hard at work on my next album that is set to release Spring 2017. After that, I’m going to be heading back on stage and playing some shows in support of the new album. I’m also stepping into the producer role, working on writing songs for a vocalist who is looking to record her first album.