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Praying for Success - Will the Psalms make it to the big time?

Bruce Trethewy

Tempe Daily News, January 08, 1983

The way they talk about their high school days, no one at McClintock would have considered the foursome "Most Likely to Succeed."

Ironically, Doug Hopkins, Bill Leen, Jim Swofford [sic] and Alan Long didn't even know each other well when they spent their time struggling over algebra, English and Arizona government.

"We weren't best of friends," Leen recalled.

Today the quartet makes up the Psalms, one of the most popular modern rock bands in the Valley.

The Psalms began playing about a year ago in Long's garage. The band rehearsed songs written by Hopkins for three months before venturing into the world of smoke-filled bars, booze and young people dancing the night away.

"The Jetzons knew who we were," Hopkins said. "We were sort of friends, and they invited us to open for them."

In March 1981, the Psalms warmed up the crowd at the Mason Jar bar in Phoenix. Then they played at the DevilHouse, again as the opening act for the Jetzons, then at the peak of its popularity.

The band's limited repertoire made it unprepared to do more than a few songs, Hopkins and Long agreed.

"We had decided we were not going to do anyone else's songs," Hopkins said.

Hopkins cited Gentlemen After Dark, a group from Tucson, and the Jetzons as the only other bands that play all original modern rock in the Valley.

Considering Hopkins was the only Psalms' member who wrote music, the one-set openings were understandable. He has written 20 of the Psalms' 22 songs and co-wrote the others with Leen.

As a band, the musicianship is questionable because none of the members has played an instrument for more than five years. Swofford, the band's lead singer and guitarist, has been playing for about six months.

Hopkins, 21, began with an acoustic guitar when he was a senior at McClintock. Because he has large hands, his instructor suggested he switch to bass.

Hopkins began studying music at Mesa Community College but became disenchanted.

"I didn't want to be part of a Lawrence Welk orchestra," Hopkins said. "What they were teaching just wasn't relevant to what I wanted to do. They thought classical music is the only relevant music."

After Leen, 20, got a bass for Christmas, Hopkins began tutoring him. That's all it took. The formula of two young people fiddling around with musical instruments equals dreams of stardom. They decided to form a band.

Hopkins laid down the bass and picked up his guitar.

The duet recruited Swofford, 20, to sing.

"The only reason he (Hopkins) has me is because he can't play drums," 20-year-old Long said.

Six months after the band began, Swofford wanted to do more. The band needed to boost its sound, so it bought a synthesizer and keyboards. Hopkins taught Swofford to play the guitar, and he began to concentrate on the new toys.

Unlike musicians who believe they have conquered their field after a few gigs, the Psalms know they have limitations.

"When punk rock was big, I realized you didn't have to be a virtuoso," Hopkins said. "The songs I write are written around what we can do. The songs really aren't that complicated."

The music is full of surprises however. "I like pop songs but without the typical arrangements. I try to stay away from the obvious, or what you might expect the song to do," he said.

Music is more important than lyrics, said Hopkins, who writes words to fit the tunes. "I try to write about things that a lot of people can relate to on a personal basis," he said. "some of the things are obscure, but most are pretty obvious. I make a point never to write about a girl or a love song."

On the other hand, Leen's lyrics precede the music. Hopkins takes the words and wraps music around them.

"Some day I'll write a whole song by myself," Leen said.

Because lyrics are written by others, Swofford sometimes has to huddle with Hopkins over melodies and interpretations. But he never has had to change the lyrics to fit his own speech.

As for drumming, Hopkins suggests what the beat and rhythm should sound like, and Long develops it.

When hearing the band's name, one immediately thinks of the Old Testament. But the name was chosen because of its literal translation of the Greek word psalmos, meaning a twanging with the fingers. In English, the word means a sacred song or poem.

"We liked it because of the literal translation, because we are based around guitars and bass, and it looks good written," Hopkins said.

Young, local rock'n'roll singers have to struggle for jobs, the Psalms found out. The DevilHouse, the Mason Jar and Merlins were the only clubs that seemed willing to give modern rock a chance.

But things are changing. The DevilHouse has reduced live entertainment bookings, and Merlins' popularity has fallen since it sold.

"Merlins was the best place to play for a long time because it catered to one style, modern music or whatever you want to call it," Hopkins said. You could go in there any night of the week and know that's what you were going to hear."

Now the Mason Jar is the favorite for modern rock fans. But it also books other forms of music, so it doesn't have the consistency that Merlins had, Hopkins said.

That means other jobs for two members. Swofford, who with Leen attends MCC, works at Mervyns. Long has two jobs, Mervyns and GTE.

Hopkins is studying sociology at Arizona State University.

Their schedules limit the band's rehearsal time. That, in turn retards the group's progress in incorporating new material for shows.

"We would like to play and rehearse as much as possible," Leen said. "But it's hard to get all together."

The struggle goes beyond rehearsals however. Lack of a manager has caused somewhat erratic bookings and publicity, Hopkins said.

The Psalms overcome these problems with a desire to leave a mar. So they recorded a single.

"So many local bands get together and break up, but we wanted to have something to let people know we exist," Hopkins said. "We also are going to continue making records, hopefully about every three months."

Leen added: "We're not that concerned with making money off the records."

And Swofford said, "We just want to leave our mark."

The record was made possible with the help of Ed Reilly, the man who used to book bands into the DevilHouse. He arranged 10 hours of free recording time at Bleu Studios.

The single features "A Story I Was Told" and "Christmas Island." It's available at Tower Records, Roads to Mosco and Zia Records. The band also plans to sell the recording during club dates.

The record, the surge of popularity and the hectic life has changed each member of the band."

"It has given me something to work on," Hopkins said. "If it wasn't for the band, I'd probably have joined a frat and would be getting drunk out of my mind all week.

This gives me something to concentrate on."

Leen and Swofford said the band helped them to build confidence.

"The myths about rock'n'roll aren't all true, either," Leen said. "The myth like there is an endless flow of drugs and loose women isn't true. Oh, it's around if you want it, but you get tired of it fast."

Swofford added, "None of the Psalms takes drugs. We don't have to be on drugs to do a good show."

All the band's activities and his other pursuits has kept Swofford busy.

"With the band, school and the job, I have so much to do, I can't find time to do anything," he said.

Long agreed. But he also recognized another aspect of being in a rock band.

"All of a sudden people from high school want to be your friend," he said. "They sort of look up to us now."

Long and Leen graduated in 1980. Swofford in 1981.

In high school, those who aren't out rooting for the team seem to be outcasts, said Hopkins, who graduated in 1979. He remembers because he spent his Friday nights at home playing the guitar.

Now, the Psalms' fans include some who would have nothing to do with the four. And others want to know if they can help by being body guards or stage hands.

Some of the Psalms' supporters include high school athletes "who used to push you around," Leen added.

"They don't see us yelling at each other or the hours of setting up and taking down," Long said.

"People only see two hours of fun," Hopkins added. "For every two hours of fun, there are 20 hours of B.S."

He doesn't use initials.

Despite the hectic pace, scheduling hassles and hard work, the group's music and parent's support helps keep the quartet together.