I was pleasantly surprised by an opening act at a recent concert in San Francisco, a young singer out of Milwaukee named Trapper Schoepp performing with his brother. The songwriter has been on the road for months promoting his indie magnum opus album “Primetime Illusion“, one he’s put his heart soul and life on the line to get the word out about, which is what you have to do as a rapscallion road troubadour.
Liking what I heard, but still settling into the venue, I quickly jolted up, when I heard him announce his next song was to be a cover our the late great beloved San Francisco bluesy hard rock act Sister Double Happiness that was fronted by Dicks’ vocalist Gary Floyd. The 21st century hipster audience of early arrivals seemed somewhat nonplused as they’d probably never heard of this largely forgotten local group.
I’ll have to interject, and hereby attest that SDH were likely the best band in town when I moved to San Francisco in 1987, a hard rocking band with pedigreed punk roots but moving quickly past that generic genre cage and into their own threnodious turf. Just before disbanding in 1988, they’d released a searing, smokin’ debut on Greg Ginn‘s SST label featuring a fierce tune called “Freight Train” that poignantly documented the fear, loss, despair and confusion of the AIDS era that stole so many lives before any sort of viable medical treatments were available.
Somewhere along the line, this maverick millennial Milwaukee songster was taught a decades old and out-of-print dirge called “Freight Train” backstage at a Jayhawks show or something, and has resurrected this beautiful abandoned beast of a song out of the blue to share with a new generation of listeners.
Trapper, who seems like a very hopeful, talented and earnest young man has included a supple studio version on his new album “Primetime Illusion” that is awash in electric guitar and piano played by Wilco‘s Pat Sansone, but this stream below is video of the raw stripped down acoustic duo arrangement delivered live in a big room full of strangers. I commend the Schoepp brothers here for their excellent taste and sincere commitment to the material.
I caught this surprising performance on a cell phone camera at The Chapel in San Francisco in October 2019. The song’s poetic stanzas were written by Gary Floyd circa 1986, who put this epic cry for understanding onto tape, and his heart and soul into every performance he gave at the peak of the AIDS epidemic, which was ravaging through our city and a whole generation at that time.
An intense hard driving live band that I saw dozens of times, Sister Double Happiness never failed to kill onstage, giving headliners like Nirvana and Soundgarden a run for their money when on tour opening for them, yet never quite fit into any music industry category or achieve any radio or solid video support from any of their numerous labels, and they just slowly lost momentum and petered out in the mid 90’s. From the looks of him, I doubt Trapper Schoepp coulda even been born when any of this happened.
Sister Double Happiness haven’t played together in probably twenty years, and their debut record with the song “Freight Train” on it is long out of print. Their incredible musical energy and legacy has been dissipating into time much like a hazy puff of faint incense smoke.
It was strange seeing a young man this in 2019, choose to deliver such a relatively obscure Reagan era song dealing with death, despair, confusion and need for support and love, who was not born at the time it was composed.
Some good news on the Sister Double Happiness front is that I heard recently from the song’s co-writer, guitarist Ben Cohen that he has secured the rights and masters, and is on the road to re-releasing the long lost album on all the formats both hard plastic and streaming. Stay Tuned!