Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

April 4, 2012

Finger Pickin’ Good: Guitar virtuoso Shaun Hopper returns home for weekend show

VALDOSTA — Shaun Hopper has come a long way from the nights he’d lock himself in a motel bathroom so he could practice his guitar after playing bass with a South Georgia band.

He has a manager and an attorney. He plays shows in venues throughout the nation. Described as an “acoustic fingerstyle guitar wizard,” Hopper has won numerous awards. Playing mostly original works, he has a virtuoso ability to move from Celtic to classical, soul to jazz, country to pop, letting his fingers walk the spectrum of musical styles along the frets of his guitar’s neck.

Martin Guitars sponsors Hopper and is building him a signature-model guitar. His Facebook fan page has more than 55,000 likes. He has opened for B.B. King and performed Stevie Wonder songs for Stevie Wonder.

Asked about the era when he played bass for South Georgia band Wilson Empire then had to find a bathroom or somewhere to spend additional hours practicing his beloved guitar, Hopper laughs through the phone. He awoke the morning of this interview in San Francisco.

“I woke up, got up and started playing, looking out a large window onto a gorgeous view,” Hopper says.

This week, he will see the nation as he drives from California to his native South Georgia to play a weekend show with veteran Valdosta musicians Joe Smothers and Tim Teasley.

Hopper lists Smothers as a friend and an influence along with Chet Atkins, Andre Segovia, Tommy Emmanuel, Michael Hedges, George Benson and Martin Taylor. Before being part of Skannyardle and performing Valdosta clubs, Smothers traveled many years performing with the legendary Doc Watson. Hopper says Smothers’ advice and friendship have been invaluable to his career. Joe and wife Marghy Smothers have shown him great friendship through the years.

“I will never miss a chance to play with Joe Smothers and Tim Teasley,” Hopper says. He even credits Smothers for his latest musical endeavor. One that surprises long-time followers of Hopper’s acoustic sets and recordings.

Shaun Hopper sings.

“Joe told me, You’ve got to do it. No patting yourself on the back about it. Just do it. You’ve got to start singing,” Hopper says. So, he has.

He may play four or five acoustic songs then sing a song.

“The first time I sang, the audience stood up for me,” Hopper says. “... I don’t think it’s because I’m a great singer. I think they did it because I’m actually singing and it’s such a departure for me.”

This weekend, Smothers and Teasley will play their set. Hopper will likely sing a few songs and play several original songs during his set. Then Hopper imagines the show will include a set of him performing with Smothers and Teasley.

Hopper has learned to perform his solo sets but he has also enjoyed experiences joining others.

During January’s National Association of Music Merchants show, Hopper was a featured headliner as a guitar virtuoso. During his set, he performed the music of Stevie Wonder, who was also attending NAMM. Wonder heard of Hopper’s performance and sent word that he would like to meet Hopper.

The meeting occurred on the convention floor. Several hundred people followed Stevie Wonder. Wonder’s entourage managed to get Hopper close to the star. Hopper performed some of Stevie Wonder’s music for him. Wonder thought Hopper was two musicians performing until an assistant said, only one person is performing. Hopper and Wonder spoke a few minutes.

“It was kind of a euphoric feeling,” Hopper says. “Stevie Wonder’s right there in front of me and he’s applauding me. This is a crazy moment for me.”

The son of Max and Diana Hopper of Adel, Shaun started playing guitar and bass at the age of 12. In addition to Smothers, Hopper has mentioned regional teachers and influences such as Bill Brown, Valdosta State University Music’s guitar virtuoso Nephtali Santiago and Sam Pacetti, a St. Augustine, Fla., guitarist who played several Valdosta shows in the mid-2000s.

Through it all, Hopper has never tired of performing, rehearsing, playing guitar. Left with no other alternative, he would still lock himself away in a bathroom if that’s the only place he could play.

“I am always rehearsing,” Hopper says. “I worked for years on technique and the ability to play. Now, I work to capture the emotion.”

Shaun Hopper, along with Joe Smothers and Tim Teasley play 8 p.m. Saturday, April 7, Take Five, 1407 W. Hill Ave. Admission: $10. Advanced reservations suggested; call (229) 375-4873.

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