By blending contemporary power pop with elements of the post-grunge era, Gin Blossoms briefly emerged as torchbearers of the lighter side of alternative rock. Bassist Bill Leen and guitarist Doug Hopkins formed the band in 1987 in Tempe, AZ, rounding out the initial lineup with vocalist Jesse Valenzuela, guitarist Richard Taylor, and drummer Chris McCann. The following year saw several personnel shifts as the band struggled to solidify -- McCann was replaced by Dan Henzerling (and, shortly thereafter, Phillip Rhodes), while Taylor was fired and replaced by guitarist Robin Wilson. Wilson and Valenzuela subsequently switched roles, and the band recorded a self-released album, Dusted, in 1989. A&M signed them the following year.
After an impressive debut EP, 1991's Up & Crumbling, the Gin Blossoms rocketed out of the college pop charts and into the mainstream with their 1993 hit single "Hey Jealousy." Combining the ringing guitar hooks of the Byrds and R.E.M. with a solid, rootsy drive, the band's breakthrough full-length album, New Miserable Experience (which had actually been released the previous year), was filled with songs equally as strong as "Hey Jealousy," including the second hit single, "Found Out About You." New Miserable Experience and its assorted singles dominated radio and MTV for the following year -- "Hey Jealousy" and "Found Out About You," both penned by Hopkins, remained in heavy radio rotation nearly a year after their initial release -- and such success pushed the sales of their debut album to over one million copies.
All was not well within the group's ranks, however. Hopkins' battle with alcoholism and depression had taken its toll on the band during the sessions for New Miserable Experience, and he was fired shortly after the record's release, with guitarist Scott Johnson taking his place. Speculation abounded as to whether the band would be able to maintain its success without Hopkins' melancholy songwriting voice. Tragically, on December 5, 1993, Hopkins shot and killed himself, even as the songs he had written were blanketing the airwaves.
In the summer of 1995, the Gin Blossoms contributed "'Till I Hear It from You," a song they co-wrote with Marshall Crenshaw, to the soundtrack of the film Empire Records. "'Till I Hear It from You" became a major radio hit, but was never released as an official single until it was featured as the B-side of "Follow You Down," the first single from the group's second album, Congratulations...I'm Sorry. Upon its release in February of 1996, Congratulations...I'm Sorry charted well, but within six months, it had disappeared from the charts. Following the supporting tour, the Gin Blossoms disbanded in 1997.
Strangely enough, the group reunited (sans Rhodes) for a 2001 New Year's Eve concert. The Gin Blossoms hit the road several months later for a summer tour, drumming up renewed interest with the release of Dusted -- originally issued in 1989 as the band's debut cassette tape -- as well as a live DVD, Just South of Nowhere. Four years later, the band unveiled its first batch of new material since the mid-'90s. Major Lodge Victory proved to be sonically similar to the band's earlier efforts, and the album earned warm critical reviews. Signing with 429 Records, the Blossoms released another collection of new material, No Chocolate Cake, in 2010.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine