If you were still hung up on the Kevin Bacon game, then here's one worthy of your addiction. What do Stevie Nicks, Marshall Crenshaw, J.D. Souther, The Rembrandts, Tommy Keane, Judy Collins, Wayne's World, Empire Records and the Gin Blossoms all have in common? Don't hurt yourself. They've all had songs co-written by Jesse Valenzuela.
It all started innocently enough. Every new band plays their first gig on Christmas Night, don't they? Well if you were the Gin Blossoms, that's how you spent a near balmy Tempe, AZ night in the winter of 1987. The original line-up that night featured Jesse Valenzuela on vocals, Doug Hopkins and Richard Taylor handling guitars, Bill Leen on Bass and Chris McCann as the band's drummer.
By 1988 the band solidified under the more familiar line-up, with Robin Wilson taking over as lead vocalist, Jesse moving over to guitar and vocals, Hopkins & Leen reprising their roles and Phillip Rhodes joining as the band's new drummer. A relentless touring schedule quickly earned them Best Rock Band honors in a Phoenix New Times Reader's Poll. That award in turn, landed them a much-coveted spot at the South By Southwest Music Conference in March of 1989. Interest in the band increased after they independently released, 'Dusted'. The twelve-song tape featured early versions of "Hey Jealousy" and "Found Out About You" and soon earned them a review from the College Media Journal that dubbed the band, The Best Unsigned Band in America. The spring of 1990 saw the Gin Blossoms sign with A&M Records, where they would begin work on their debut album.
The first sessions resulted in half an album being scrapped and the band wondering if they still had a label to call home. After the failed attempt, A&M let the band cut an EP on their own in hopes of rekindling the spark on 'Dusted', that had been missing from the recent recordings. The 'Up And Crumbling' EP was released in 1991 and was followed by an extensive tour. Once again the band was ready to tackle their first album, only this time with veteran Memphis producer, John Hampton. The band fared better their second time around except for Hopkins. Doug left the band before the album's completion when his bouts with depression and alcoholism worsened. Once again thrown into turmoil, Valenzuela and the band found themselves at the crossroads.
The result was 1992's,'New Miserable Experience'. The record struggled to find its place in the market but refused to go away. Nine months after the initial release, "Hey Jealousy" was finally a legitimate Top 10 hit. Four more singles followed it: "Mrs. Rita", "Found Out About You", "Allison Road" and "Until I Fall Away". By the time the dust settled, 'New Miserable Experience' had sold nearly 3 million copies in the U.S. and the Gin Blossoms were a band to be reckoned with. The enjoyment of their success was short-lived however, when they found out in December of 1993 that founding member Doug Hopkins had committed suicide.
The Gin Blossoms took some time off to recover from their 24-month roller coaster ride and to examine where they would go from here. The band was adamant against co-writes, especially being under the microscope from their series of triumphs and tragedies of the previous two years. However, Jesse couldn't turn down the offer of writing with Marshall Crenshaw. If nothing else it would be fun and maybe they would end up with a song perfect for Kelly Willis, who had just signed to A&M and was looking for some material. The collaborators clicked and three quarters of the way through the co-write Jesse confessed that, "it might be too good to give away." His instincts proved correct. The song he then passed onto singer, Robin Wilson to finish became the band's first #1 hit, "Til I Hear It From You", which appeared in the film, 'Empire Records'. The strength of the track landed the band in unofficial history books because never before had a movie not made it to wide release, yet spawned a soundtrack certified Gold (sales of over 500,000 units) that featured a # 1 single.
The band's next album, 'Congratulations I'm Sorry' was released in 1996 and yielded two more Valenzuela co-written hits: "Follow You Down" and "As Long As It Matters". The album made it into Billboard's Top Ten and another year on the road help push the record past 1,500,000 units sold but the whispers of a Sophomore Slump had already begun.
Early in '97, Jesse found himself back in Los Angeles to receive two awards from ASCAP (American Society of Composers and Publishers). These were in recognition for having two of the most played songs from the previous year, "Til I Hear It From You" and "Follow You Down". The irony of collecting such honors, as the band entered its final days was not lost on Valenzuela.
There was no great fanfare heralding the end of the band. It was one of those things where one day they just realized that they all wanted different things. To a certain degree, success had made them strangers to one another. So, after ten years together they began to drift their separate ways.
From the ashes of the Gin Blossoms two new bands formed. Robin Wilson started the Gas Giants, while Jesse formed The Low/Watts. Valenzuela built his new band based on a loose and comfortable environment that he had been missing since the early days of the Blossoms. In 1998, Lo-watts made their recording debut by contributing Valenzuela's, "It's Christmas Time", to the 'A Christmas To Remember' compilation.
The following two years Jesse Valenzuela found himself expanding his creative horizons. A 1999 Gin Blossoms Greatest Hits CD, 'Outside Looking In', started to bring some attention to Valenzuela as a songwriter. When people looked at the Gin Blossoms body of work it was hard to deny Valenzuela's prowess as a craftsman of great pop songs. Jesse's songwriting and session work found a home with a wide array of artists including Judy Collins, The Rembrandts and Stevie Nicks, among others. He also began a new career as a record producer. The progression was a natural one for Jesse.
"One day I was writing with someone and the next day they were asking me for ideas on these other songs they were thinking about recording. A week later they called me out of the blue and asked if I would produce the session. I had never really thought about it before. It just sort of found me."
The year 2000 was ushered in with a Gin Blossoms reunion show in Tempe, AZ. Clearly, the band hadn't missed a step and it left fans wondering if they would soon be joining forces again. Valenzuela remains somewhat cryptic when asked about the future of the band, "I think that show proved that you can never say never. So, anything is possible - I just don't know if it's likely."
In the meantime, Valenzuela splits his time between Los Angeles, Nashville and Scottsdale, staying busy on various projects. He just completed producing a record for Minneapolis singer/songwriter, Sue Sandberg and he's slated to start recording his first solo CD in the fall.