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Jim Grote, Rick Sanders and Matt Denman are members of the Hoppers, who met as Yellow Springs High School students and still play classic rock music together. The band plays the Emporium this Friday night.

YS band rocks through ages

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The abundance of musicians and music lovers is part of what makes the village unique, and among those bands, one stands out, not only for its music, but also because of its history. The Hoppers, one of the few area bands that plays ’50s and ’60s era rock and roll, have been performing together since 1974. Back then they were just teens in love with muscle cars and an early rock resurgence led by groups like Sha-Na-Na. Now more than 30 years later, they are husbands and fathers still rocking into their middle-age with no plans to stop.

This Friday they will play their first show at the Emporium, from 7 to 10 p.m. coinciding with the monthly Third Friday Fling wine tasting.

“In the early ’70s we were into a movie called American Graffiti and that was how we got hooked into ’50s music,” said original band member Scott Hammond, referring to George Lucas’ memorable coming-of-age film, which was set in 1960s California. “We were a gang of guys, and that movie was about a gang of guys.”

Shortly thereafter, Hammond and friends Kurt Semler and Jim Grote decided to start a band. “Scott, Jim and I have been together since kindergarten,” said Semler, explaining the affinity between the three, who joined with other Yellow Springs High School classmates to form the first incarnation of The Hoppers.

The band had a strong following and often played at school dances and talent shows. In spite of their growing popularity, graduation soon forced them to disband. Various members left to pursue higher education at colleges and universities around the country. They did not play together again until they received a request to perform at their class’s 10-year reunion. “We played at the reunion and had so much fun that we said ‘let’s keep doing it,’” Hammond said.

They worked steadily over the next eight years, booking gigs at country clubs and other local venues, but were finally forced to a halt when it became clear that the rock and roll lifestyle (albeit a small scale one) was not conducive to productive personal lives.

“Back in ’92, we just got kind of tired of dragging in at one and two in the morning,” said Hammond. “That gets old.”

That hiatus lasted until a hog roast two years ago brought them back together. The idea was just to reunite for that event, but now at a stage where they feel confident that they are not as needed at home, several of the members suggested that they keep the momentum going. “It was so much work for us to get together for that [performance] that we just decided to keep doing it,” Grote said.

The group’s current members include Kurt Semler (vocals), Brandon Semler (guitar and vocals), Hammond (guitar and vocals), Grote (guitar and vocals), Matt Denman (drums) and Rick Sanders (bass guitar). They rehearse every two weeks on Sunday nights (after dinner) on Hammond’s farm. They keep their schedule light, although the five fathers do have the time to play more now.

“Now our kids don’t want anything to do with us, so we had to find something to do with ourselves,” Hammond said.

And yet, not all of their children are hesitant to spend time with their fathers. Brandon Semler is Kurt’s 18-year-old son and one of the more recent additions to the band. The young guitar player jams with the Hoppers as well as a rock/funk fusion band with some of his own high school classmates. When asked if he finds it odd that he plays music that is often older than his father and that dates backs to several decades before his birth, he shakes his head. “When I was growing up, that was all that was on his radio,” Semler said, gesturing toward his father. “I’m pretty familiar with it.”

The Hoppers are regulars at events like the Street Fair and have maintained a strong fan base in the village by making small overtures, such as starting an e-mail list to update fans about shows. As one of the oldest bands in Yellow Springs, they are, perhaps, more acutely aware of the passage of time and the need to stay fresh.

“When we were in our 20s, the 50-year-olds were really hooked into our music. Now we’re the same age as the people we were playing for.”

Of course, there are some things that have not changed. For example, the band members say that many of their mothers still attend their performances, often sitting at the front of the crowd beaming at their boys. “Our moms show up and think we’re wonderful,” Hammond said.

And, of course, leaving behind their beloved classic rock is not even an option. “We just like that music because it makes you feel good,” said Grote. “It’s still fun and people like it.”

Semler concurs. “We’re going to give them the ’50s and ’60s whether they like it or not.”

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