John Driskell Hopkins, bass player with the Zac Brown Band, has teamed up with Balsam Range to record an album of his original music, Daylight, which will be independently released on January 22, 2013.
The bulk of the music is performed with Hopkins on guitar and vocals, with Balsam Range providing accompaniment. Several guest artists are featured as well. Tony Trischka and Jerry Douglas appear on one track each, and Zac Brown lends his chart-topping lead vocals to a song, as does Brown protege Levi Lowrey. Joey and Rory Feek (Joey + Rory) sing a lovely duet on another.
Though his career has been in country music, John claims a life-long fascination with bluegrass and says that when his plans for a solo project solidified, he reached out to Balsam Range to assist.
BR banjo picker Marc Pruett tells us that the call came out of the blue.
“Hopkins contacted us through our web site a couple of years ago about the possibility of doing a CD. He had heard us do Blue Mountain on Sirius-XM. Evidently, it moved him to find us and, at first, we were not sure what might happen.
But we met him one night for a practice session. He drove up to Clyde from Marietta, and we all had a good time, saw that he is a real, sincere person, and that he is a great picker, singer and family man. (My son is an Eagle Scout, and John is as well! So we had that as common ground for conversation.)”
It took a full year to find sufficient down time in both the Balsam Range schedule and in Hopkins’ commitments with Brown, but they rehearsed when they could, and did some shows togethers to get the material down in front of an audience.
Sessions were tracked alternately at the Crossroads Music studio in North Carolina, and John’s home studio in Atlanta. Final production and mixing were completed at Zac’s Southern Ground Studios in Nashville.
Pruett feels like he’s made a friend in the process.
“John Hopkins is a serious student of all kinds of music, and I think it comes through well in the songs he writes. He really runs the gambit from soft, Gospel-sounding acoustic, to hard, driving rock-swing things. John is a ‘power singer,’ and man he can deliver.
The most satisfying thing for me is in the fact that he invited us to write with him, and I guess I pushed into it enthusiastically enough that he wrote one with just me. I hope it can find a home sometime on a disc, and I learned a lot writing with him.
I consider him a friend, mentor, and fellow ‘music-warrior’ on this adventure of life. I’m glad I met him, and I treasure his friendship. “
Buddy Melton, vocalist and fiddler with Balsam Range, says that working with a musician who appreciates bluegrass, but works outside the boundaries of the style was a valuable artistic opportunity.
“We love to listen to bluegrass as we travel but also like to listen to other genres. The same is true for artists in those different genres. John and the guys with the Zac Brown Band often listen to bluegrass as they travel. Funny how good music seems to find a path to those we think aren’t listening and even inspires them.
The John Driskell Hopkins project was a lot of fun to create. John is an extremely talented guy and his song writing and production took us in directions we might not have otherwise gone. It is rewarding as an artist to have the opportunity to expand our minds and musical approach.
There are some great songs on this project and along with Balsam Range there are some special guest like Zac Brown and Jerry Douglas that make for a fun collaborative musical project.”
And Hopkins himself gave the band an oddly-phrased thumbs up.
“Being on stage with Balsam Range is like body-surfing in warm butter-cream icing with hillbilly cherubs. Smooth…..”
The CD won’t be available to ship until January 22, but it appears that MP3 downloads can be purchased now from John’s web site, where you can also stream the entire album.