Chris Hopson, the longtime Tower Records senior management executive, died Feb. 4, after a 30-year-long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 67.
Hopson, who ultimately rose to the position of executive vice president and chief marketing officer for the superstore chain, began his career at the now defunct Tower Records in 1970, thanks to working in a jeans shop called Bluebeard in 1969, which was next door to the chain’s Watt Avenue store in Sacramento, Calif. Soon he was working at the Watt store and moving up through the ranks, serving as the manager of Tower’s Westwood store, before being assigned to the corporate office in Sacramento to work in the advertising department.
He took over leadership of advertising and marketing in 1982 and would help lead the charge into the chain’s global expansion by insuring the chain’s incursions into new markets got off on the right foot through his well thought-out marketing campaigns and exciting store opening events.
“The cool thing about Chris — he empowered people to empower themselves,” says Carol Mott-Binkley, who worked as Hopson’s assistant for 16 years at Tower before moving over to work in the executive suite at the company. “I was just a punk off the street but he groomed me to be the assistant to the president of Tower.”
Terri Williams, former Tower vp of marketing, tells a similar story about Hopson. “Chris is my lifetime career mentor and friend,” she told Billboard. “I worked in the Tower returns warehouse as a summer job when I was 15 through 18 years old. I was bored one day so I started organizing a messy pile of Tower print ads putting them in order by date. Chris was up visiting from the Westwood store and walked by. I looked up and thought it was Robert Plant. He was wearing clogs, bell bottom jeans, a tight t-shirt tucked in a leather belt and a lot of blonde California sun-kissed hair. He said, ‘Do you want to be in the advertising department?’ I said ‘Sure’ and from there we started the Tower marketing department together and he guided me in my career ever since. A girl/woman could not ask for a better boss/friend. Chris was a smart, funny and fair gentleman. As Lulu sang — from crayons to perfume. RIP my mentor, my friend.”
Stan Goman, who was the chief operating officer of Tower, remembers rising through the company ranks with Hopson until they reached the corporate office and worked together for almost two decades as the chain expanded globally with stores in 13 countries outside of the U.S.
“Chris was responsible for our successful grand opening sales in new markets across the world,” Goman recalls. “Because of him, we were the first to use the then-new Pixar [Animation Studios] technology for advertising when they were still a young company. He was also the author of our famous big promotional months, like the Motown month, the Sony month.”
Fran Aliberti, who was the senior vp of sales for WEA back then, remembers Hopson as a tough negotiator. When Aliberti went to Tower to cut marketing deals for WEA’s labels’ music, Hopson “was one tough mofo to deal with, but he did it in such a way with that nice soft demeanor that you would up giving Tower way more than you should have,” Aliberti says. “Not only that, but you would fall for it every time and after you left there, you would ask yourself ‘What just happened?’”
Hopson left Tower in 2000 and retired. “Chis fought a really long hard fight with Parkinson’s for 30 years,” Mott-Binkley observed. “He was the bravest man I ever met.”
Hopson is survived by his wife Pam, his two children, Lauren and Max, and, of course, his Tower Records family.