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There's a new guitar slinger in town

The thread that runs through Jack Hopfinger’s musical life moves in a circular pattern. While growing up in California's San Fernando Valley he met a guitar instructor named Derol Caraco, who ended up becoming a good friend. This experience forged Hopfinger's belief that he would in turn become a good teacher.

Being a guitar player and teacher are part of the circle. He tells a story of a recent event at Guitar Center in Medford when a mother and her 11-year-old son came in for a lesson. With the regular teacher out sick, it was suggested Hopfinger would be a good substitute. The student had only days to audition for his high school's jazz band.

“We went to the acoustic room and studied the chart provided for the audition together, practicing all the key elements and particularly difficult chords,” Hopfinger says. Turns out, the chart was for "Bandstand Boogie" by Barry Manilow, a song he had learned for Dick Clark's "Rockin' New Years Eve" and "American Bandstand" years earlier. The day after the audition, Hopfinger got a call from the boy’s mother who put her son on the phone. The high-pitched young voice on the other end said “I passed the audition and couldn’t have done it without you.” 

Earlier in his musical quest, Hopfinger attended University of California at San Diego, where he studied music performance with the school's jazz director, Jimmy Cheatham. Along the way he paid his dues in the Southern California club scene and multiple recording projects.

Hopfinger has a musical mission: “Everything comes together in time,” he says. “The goal is making the song beautiful.” Although versed in music theory and able to read music he quotes another player he respects as saying, “I don’t read music because I’m too busy playing.”

In 1996, Hopfinger says he decided to “escape the rat race and move to Salem.” There, he taught guitar and played with classic rock band The Flextones and jam band You Don't Know Jack.

He hired on in 2012 at Guitar Center, teaching guitar, bass and ukulele instructor, later transferring to the Medford store as a sales associate. News that a capable new guitarist had come to town rippled through the music scene, and he quickly picked up side work with various bands and projects.

The desire to continue to give back as a teacher remains a driving force in his life. Hopfinger eagerly points out that he is proud of a group of guys over in Jackson County's Community Justice Juvenile Detention. With a Southern Oregon Music Festival grant for a small stipend and guitars, the program provides him with “a meaningful way to make a positive impact on personal skills,” he says.

William Eckart is a freelance writer and musician living in Phoenix. Reach him at wceckart@charter.net.

Multi-instrumentalist Jack Hopfinger teaches at Guitar Center in Medford and works with various musicians around the Rogue Valley. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell