Jim Hopkins and The Significance of The San Francisco Disco Preservation Society Project

Steff Meldgaard

Starting his DJ career in 1978 at the age of 13, DJ and producer Jim Hopkins has been an integral part of the Bay Area music scene for almost four decades. Fascinated by the art of editing and remixing since he was young, Hopkins spent hours playing with reel-to-reel recorders. After deciding to pursue a career in DJing, this passion evolved into meticulously editing disco 45s with a tape deck. Over the course of his prolific career, he has released over 140 remixes and edits in various formats.

Hopkins is also recognized for converting and digitizing rare and forgotten tapes spanning from the ‘70s to the ‘90s. His latest project, The San Francisco Disco Preservation Society, seeks to preserve anything related to late SF ‘70s disco and early ‘80s Hi-NRG scenes.

We got a chance to chat with Hopkins about his DJ history, his tape-converting process, and some of his favorite discoveries thus far. He headlines Go BANG! this Saturday, [09/03] for the Sylvester Tribute party at The Stud.

Give us a brief history of how you got into DJing.
I first got interested in DJing when I would go to a disco in Roseville, CA called Marmalade Max. This was in 1978, at the age of 13. I was very interested in how the DJ kept the music flowing nonstop. The DJ was located in a mirrored, octagon shaped DJ booth that was up near the ceiling. I wanted to go up in the booth to see how the DJ was working his magic. I made friends with one of the bartenders and asked if I could climb the ladder to meet the DJ. She took me up, and introduced me to him. I got to watch him mix records and decided that’s what I wanted to learn how to do. I then talked my Dad into buying me a RadioShack DJ mixer and two turntables. I remember him saying, “You only need one turntable to play a record!” He ended up buying me two, and I taught myself how to DJ.

What did your first ever DJ gig look like?
My very first DJ gig was at an 8th grade dance, in the school cafeteria. I talked the principle into letting me be the DJ since I had a pretty nice 45RPM record collection. They would plug one of the record players from the audiovisual department into the cafeteria PA system. I told the principal that I needed two record players for the gig, so that I could keep the music flowing nonstop. He hooked me up, and I became addicted to DJing. I also became popular with my peers after that. I was hooked, and decided to check into the DJing professionally.

In your opinion, what makes disco such a rich part of San Francisco’s musical history?
The disco scene in San Francisco was thriving in the mid-late ’70s.  Clubs such as The Trocadero Transfer, Dreamland, City Disco, and The I-beam were “the places” to hear the best disco music.  Back then, San Francisco always maintained a tradition of high-energy dance places.  Dancers in San Francisco were strongly devoted to their clubs, the process of the dance, and the ritual of coming together.  Those things still hold true today with disco music in San Francisco.  It’s nice to see the current San Francisco disco revival parties bringing that energy back to San Francisco. The current dancers are getting just as excited as they did back in the day.

Tell us about what inspired you start your latest project, the SF Disco Preservation Society, and how you managed to inherit the tapes to start the collection.
I have always had a fascination with reel-to-reel tape decks. It started at the age of 5 when my dad gave me his dad’s old reel-to-reel tape recorder. I spent countless hours playing with it. About 7 years ago, I was feeling nostalgic and wanted to own one again. I got on Craigslist and bought one. Since reel-to reel tape isn’t readily available anymore, I got on Craigslist again to see if I could find used tape. I came across an ad for a woman looking to have some reel tapes converted to digital. I thought I could help her out and make some cash on the side. It turns out she had over 60 reels of tape and couldn’t afford to pay to have them all converted. She told me that the reels contained her dad’s live disco DJ recordings from clubs that he played for in San Francisco. We worked out a deal that I could keep the reels after I converted them to digital for her.

I decided that these rare recordings needed to be shared with the world, and started up my SF Disco Preservation Society page on Facebook. The page took off like wildfire and I now have 2,196 followers. I was then contacted by Rod Roderick (The David Mancuso of the West Coast) who was a major player in throwing warehouse parties, and other dance events, in San Francisco in the ‘80s. He gave me over 480 reel-to-reel DJ mixtapes plus a large collection of DJ cassettes and six-hour DJ recordings on VHS HI-FI tapes. Since then, I’ve been contacted by numerous people who have given me their DJ tape collections that were buried in closets and garages gathering dust. I’m also contacting people that were major players in the ’80s and’ 90s nightclub scene to tap into their tape collections.

Take us through the conversion process of a mixtape to digital.
I have three setups for converting tapes. Reel-to-Reel, Cassette, and DAT. I digitize tapes to a handheld Tascam digital recorder (basically a hard drive with recording capability. I roll the tapes in real time and record them with the digital recorder. I then dump the file in to ProTools to clean them up (re-EQ them, adjust the audio levels, and remove any tape hiss). Once they are re-mastered, I upload them to my HearThis pages (a streaming audio site). I also keep a WAV audio file to archive on hard drives.

What has been one of the most fascinating finds you’ve encountered?
The most fascinating find that has me really ecstatic is DJ Mark Watkins’ tape archives. Joe Yeary, Mark’s old partner, recently gave me Mark’s entire, extensive tape collection. The collection included a ton of Mark’s live recordings, as well as his original unreleased music productions, and tape edits that he made to play exclusively in his own DJ sets. Mark is no longer with us, so it’s an honor to be able to preserve his DJ/music producing legacy.

Since you also convert ’90s tapes, share with us one of your favorite mixtapes from the ’90s.
Currently, with the tapes that I have digitized and posted to my nineties DJ archives page, I’d have to say DJ Pete Avila – Live At Osmosis 1992.

With over 36 years of DJing, what remains one of your favorite club experiences?
The beginning of my DJ career, in a real club, at the age of 16.

This Saturday, you’ll be playing GO BANG!’s annual Sylvester party. What track are you definitely gonna drop?
That’s a tough one. Since the night is a tribute to Sylvester, I’m definitely going to be playing a lot of Sylvester’s highly charged tracks.

Of course there are the standards like “Dance Disco Heat and “Do You Wanna Funk”, but I’m looking to dig deeper, and play some other great overlooked Sylvester tracks.

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