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Chris Hawpe’s Side Hustle: Yum! video producer by day, ‘Jimmy Fallon’ guest by night
When Hawpe asked off work to perform on ‘The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,’ some of his coworkers realized that he wasn’t just playing in cover bands on the weekends.
Image provided by Yum! Brands.
Published on January 07, 2019
On Jan. 10, Yum! Brands video producer Chris Hawpe will appear on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon alongside Brian Cranston and Lana Condor. Those who know Hawpe well aren’t surprised. After all, this is the guy who counts Friends actor David Schwimmer as an actual friend and whose band, Love Jones, appeared on the Swingers soundtrack. But the news comes as a shock to company newcomers who know him as the video editor and producer, who’s always behind the camera at corporate events.
“I knew that Chris played in bands on the weekends and that Love Jones had some success in the ‘90s, but I had no idea of just how talented he is,” said coworker Aisha Woodford.
But Fallon did. The late night host counts Love Jones as one of his all-time favorite bands and personally asked them to perform on his show.
“He’s a father of two who lives in Louisville, Ky., so I can understand why people don’t immediately equate that to Jimmy Fallon, but Chris is a rock star, literally and figuratively,” his coach Whitney Forrester said.
Here’s how Hawpe came to be on a first-name basis with Hollywood’s elite and landed a spot on The Tonight Show.
Five guys and a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles
After graduating college, Hawpe (vocals and guitar) and his four friends — Ben Daughtrey (conga drums and vocals), Jonathan Palmer (vocals), Barry Thomas (bass) and Scott Lankford (drums) — decided that they would move from Kentucky to Los Angeles and try and make it as professional musicians. They’d had local success with their band Love Jones, playing in Louisville-based clubs on the weekends, and now, they were going to see if California music labels would take a chance on five guys dressed in red, 1950s-era suits at a time when flannel-clad grunge rock was in vogue.
At first, they didn’t. Love Jones, whose sound is comparable to the Barenaked Ladies, passed out demo CDs to nearly every record house in town and got rejected by all of them.
But they eventually secured the Thursday night gig at Largo, which was, and still is, an influential place for comedians and artists like Elvis Costello and Jack Black. Now-celebrities like Fallon, Schwimmer, Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn and the rock band Tool became Thursday night regulars (and the band’s first real fans), but back in 1992, they, too, were just trying to make a name for themselves. Still, the band’s friendship with Tool led to the band’s first big break: Tool producer Lou Maglia signing them to his new label Zoo Entertainment.
From touring to “real jobs”
After the kismet meeting with Maglia (also known for signing Bob Marley and U2), Hawpe and Love Jones created their first record, “Here’s to the Losers,” and started to tour, visiting the U.S., Canada, Europe and Japan. Soon, bookers from Late Night With Conan O’Brien, The Jon Stewart Show and Entertainment Tonight called, and their friend Favreau asked them to play on the soundtrack of his new movie Swingers.
“We were good,” Hawpe said. “A lot of people don’t make it in this business, but our talent is the one thing we were confident about. We were actually pretty good.”
By 1995, it was time to stop touring and record a sophomore album, which they did in the same studio that Fleetwood Mac cut “Rumors” and Nirvana recorded “Nevermind.” The record, “Powerful Pain Relief,” led to a U.S. tour opening for the Presidents of the United States of America, but the record “bombed commercially.”
At this point, Maglia had removed himself from the label, and his replacement “just didn’t get us at all.” With a flop record, no mentor and band members getting married and having kids, Love Jones eventually stopped touring.
“We all had to get real jobs. We did it as long as we could, but we were tired of touring,” he said. “You get burned out.”
From “we never broke up” to Jimmy Fallon
In the early 2000s, most of the band had moved back to Kentucky and reunited as Love Jones to play an annual, Louisville-based show during Kentucky Derby week. They even recorded and self-released a third album, “Forever,” in 2011.
“We’ve always been friends,” Hawpe said. “We never broke up.”
But to late night host Fallon, Love Jones might as well have disbanded. The band he loved from the ‘90s wasn’t playing every Thursday night at the Largo anymore, nor were they touring, so when a video of Hawpe and his buddies performing at Louisville’s Headliners Music Hall hit Facebook in 2018, Fallon, who considers Love Jones one of his “top five of all-time favorite bands,” came calling.
“The difference between now and when we used to perform is that social media was invented,” Hawpe said. “Someone put a clip of our Headliners show online, and the next day, we get a private message from Jimmy’s talent booker.’”
Why Hawpe keeps his day job
Since word got out that Love Jones would play on The Tonight Show, coworkers have treated Hawpe as if he won the lottery, some even asking if he’d quit his day job and go back to his rock-star lifestyle.
“No, I really like my job at Yum!,” he said. “One of the best things about coming to work for Yum! is that my schedule suddenly went from being completely chaotic — covering hurricanes, murders, child abductions, coal mine disasters and hurricanes for news stations [Hawpe worked in local media when he moved back from L.A.] — to having a place to go every day and reliably getting home at a reasonable hour. Yum! gave me that.”
But Yum! does give Hawpe opportunities to use his artistic talent at work. He wrote and sang a rejiggered version of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” for a KFC franchise convention, and he’s been the voiceover in many company videos, even emceeing a fictitious game show that showcased a new corporate dress code where employees could wear jeans. Plus, he still plays in various cover bands on the weekends and with Love Jones on occasion.
“I wouldn’t trade it. I got to tour the world and play music with my friends and get paid for it. That was magical,” Hawpe said. “I had a nice run for nearly a decade.”
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