Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Deeper Dish with Twinn Connexion's Jerry Hopkins
Jerry and his identical gay twin brother, Jay, grew up singing in Helena, Montana, before making their way to New York City, where they were eventually discovered by Decca Records and became the group, Twinn Connexion. They released their self-titled debut album in 1968 filled with "sunshine pop" - catchy songs that just make you smile ("Oh What A Lovely Day" and "Turn Down Day" are great remedies for a bad mood). Unfortunately, their recording career soon came to an end, and a second album of Twinn Connexion tunes - Songs From The Heart - was not released until 2009. And then last April, Now Sounds Records reissued their first album on CD for new fans (like myself) to discover them all over again.
Jay died in September 2001, but Jerry now lives in Woodstock, New York, where he's a visual artist - and I am delighted to have him here on the Dish to discuss Twinn Connexion and answer a few pop culture questions.
We really didn't talk about it much until we realized - when we were about 12 - that we were both in love with our 14-year-old cousin Johnny.
What kind of jobs did you and Jay do after moving to New York City in 1963?
When we arrived in New York, we knew two people who lived in Manhattan, Rosemary Brady and Rex Reed, whom we had met in summer stock. Rex helped us with navigating the subways, while Rosemary let us sleep on her living room floor. She, bless her heart, introduced us to Bill Davidson of Employer's Temp Service, and for the first six months, we found office work in various companies. We were employed within the first week of our arrival, and this was very fortunate indeed since we only had about $100 between us when we got there.
One of the most memorable jobs we had was as co-masters of ceremonies of a drag show. Jay and I had gotten jobs as waiters at a coffee house called The Crazy Horse, and the owner had a drag show as entertainment. He thought because we were twins that it would be fun to have us introduce the impersonators. One of the drag queens, Tish, who is mentioned in Martin Duberman's book Stonewall, was there the night of the raid. They dressed me up one night, and I looked like a cross between Martha Hyer and Peggy Lee.
How were you and Jay discovered by Decca Records?
We were trying out our act in various places in Greenwich Village. Monday night was usually talent night at such clubs as The Duplex, The Bitter End and The Champagne Gallery. The owner of The Champagne Gallery liked our act and asked us if we would play in her club for the month of July 1967. Then on the night of July 31, Bill Downer from Northern Publishing saw these two bobbing blond heads from the window of the club and came in. It was his secretary’s birthday, and they just happened to be strolling by after dinner. We were at the right place at the right time.
Who came up with the name Twinn Connexion?
In the beginning we called ourselves “The Twinn Brothers”. But one evening in rehearsal I came up with "Connection", and Bob Cessna - our manager and my life partner - came up with the "x" in "Connexion".
What is your favorite song on your debut album?
"I Think I Know Him" because this was the first song that Jay and I recorded for Decca and Northern Publishing. After Bill Downer caught our act at The Champagne Gallery, he first asked us if we would be interested in doing demo acetates for songwriters. He then gave us "I Think I Know Him" as the first demo written by Jerry Keller and Dave Blume. We took the song home, rehearsed it and worked on the lyrics with our coach Ron Claremont before we went into the studio and cut it. When Bill took it to Jerry and Dave, they liked it so much that Decca contracted us to do an album of their music. "I Think I know Him" survives as we first recorded it.
What is you fondest memory of your record release party at Manhattan’s Playboy Club?
I was so thrilled to see such a wonderful turnout, especially actor Hugh Marlowe with his future wife Rosemary Tory [he was Lloyd Richards in All About Eve]. I was the assistant stage manager for Norman Mailer’s Off-Broadway production of The Deer Park, and Hugh and Rosemary were starring in the play. We became fast friends in the six-month run. For them to come gave me wonderful support.
What brought about the end of your relationship with Decca Records? And did you and Jay continue to perform together?
When my brother and I were in Cincinnati plugging our single on The Bob Braun Show, we ran into some trouble at the motel. We were at the pool after the show, and some rednecks started making remarks about us - heckling us, calling us queers and fairy twins. Upon leaving the pool area and going upstairs to our room, one of the guys grabbed Jay’s leg and pulled him down the stairs. I was able to grab him and we made it back to our room, locking the door. Remarks went on from the room next door through the night. When news of this got back to the higher-ups, Jay and I felt the gay chill - even though we had a number 1 song on the charts in Mexico City and 23 on the charts in Pittsburgh for “Sixth Avenue Stroll”. We were also getting lots of fan mail with a write-up in the March issue of Teen World and other publications like Eye, Sixteen, Teen Life, Spec and After Dark as well as television appearances on Bob Braun, Swingin' Time in Detroit, Come Alive in Pittsburgh and Upbeat in Cleveland.
When we stopped getting any financial help from the label to keep our momentum going, Jay and I became disheartened. However, this didn’t stop us from writing and recording music. In fact, the four bonus tracks on the Now Sounds reissue come from this period after we made the decision to leave Decca. We were nominated for a NARAS (Grammy) in 1969 - and had we stuck it out, Bill Downer later told us we could have made another album. “Orfeon” MCA label in Mexico did do another pressing of the album, which was titled Caminando Por La Sexto Avenida (Sixth Avenue Stroll). But Jay was offered a great opportunity with a company that was training him for a trading position on the exchange on Wall Street. He loved this job and became very skilled, so his decision to go another direction probably did become the broken link to a performing future for us. Jay excelled in this profession, working many years for Merrill Lynch and becoming one of the Vice Presidents.
When Bobby [Cessna] died in August 2008, I was so shook up. He was my life - and I didn't believe there was any kind of future without him. Our relationship was over a 44-year period. How could I continue? My heart was broken. After Jay died in 2001, I'd found tapes in his apartment of songs that we were working on in the late sixties and early seventies - vocals mostly - and I decided that if I could re-master them, what a joy it would be to relive those precious years when Jay, Bobby and I developed this act and became the Twinn Connexion. So I did it. I took these songs into Natural Recording Studio with Jim Barbaro here in Woodstock. We started in January 2009 and completed the 16 tracks for Songs From The Heart - dedicated to Bob Cessna - in September 2009. And I have just signed an agreement with Jake Lee of Big Pink Music in Korea for a release later this month for the territories of Korea and Japan.
How did Now Sounds end up reissuing your debut album on CD 42 years later?
While searching for a label for Songs From The Heart, I happened upon an e-mail address of Bryan Thomas, who had written a review of us several years ago in All Music Guide. I sent him the new CD and he immediately got back to me to recommend Steve Stanley of Now Sounds. It turns out that Steve had been trying to get the license from The Universal Music Group for our original album for sometime and was unsuccessful. I told him to try again now that we were getting renewed interest on the internet. Three days later, bingo, he got permission. This is surely serendipity.
How long have you been a visual artist? And what do you enjoy painting?
My understanding of the world and myself in it is more a visual place. It probably is because I am nearsighted and I've always worn glasses. Jay and I were sent home by our first grade teacher because we couldn't read the blackboard. I remember walking home from the ophthalmologist at six and really seeing my mother for the first time. She had a red coat with a black beaver collar.
I love to get into color and paints. As children, Jay and I would sit for hours doing finger-painting. Visual arts come naturally to me. I've always been able to draw and paint. I guess I was born with the artist gene.
If you could go back and give your 19-year old self a wise piece of advice, what would it be?
I think I would tell myself not to be so sensitive to what other people think and say. I would be more in touch with myself and my own feelings and self-worth. Listen to criticism, take it at face value and either accept it, use it or reject it.
In high school I was:
Constantly called either a "fairy" or a "homo". There wasn't a day that went by that I wasn't confronted with some obnoxious jerk. I pretended not to hear and I brushed it aside but it was very painful.
My favorite comfort food is:
Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy.
I really grew up with radio. I loved The Shadow. I was in high school when Montana received TV. I think my favorite show was The Judy Garland Show. I don't think I missed one episode.
The very first record album I purchased with my own money was:
Gypsy with Ethel Merman.
If I was stranded on a desert island for a year, I would listen to:
Barbara Streisand, Judy Garland, Doris Day, Maria Callas and Rosemary Clooney.
If I was asked to choose the sexiest man alive, it would be:
David Williams, the Australian rugby player.
If I could have anyone in the world, living or dead, be a guest at my dinner party, I would invite the following three people:
Andy Warhol, Gore Vidal and David Williams.
What's next for Jerry Hopkins?
I am doing a very exciting art project. I have purchased an abandoned church from the city of Kingston, New York, which is eight miles from Woodstock. I closed on the property last month, and I can hardly believe I own this remarkable structure. It has been vacant for a long time, and now I am turning it into a space for music and art.
Thank you, Jerry, for getting Deeper with us here on the Dish. To learn more about Jerry Hopkins, check out the official Twinn Connexion fan site at www.twinnconnexion.com. You can also become a friend on Facebook. And click here to purchase Twinn Connexion's debut album or go to www.last.fm to get Songs From The Heart as a free download.