Remembering the life and times of ‘Chico’s Oldest Teenager’
Matthew Champion Hogan
June 22, 1953-Jan. 13, 2008
About a year ago Matt Hogan and I started a band. Our plan was to play mostly ballads, his originals and mine, with some obscure covers thrown in. Within a few months we had a sizeable set list, but we were having one hell of a time choosing a name.
A few times a week, Matt would call me up and leave long messages explaining the significance of each new band name. For example, he suggested Murmur of the Heart when he came back from a doctor’s appointment last spring, mentioning that his recent exam had a few peculiarities.
Our band finally settled on the name Enoughrope—one word and loads of meaning. We spent a few months practicing faithfully. Sometimes Matt would surprise me by coming early, songbook in hand and full of enthusiasm. The songs we played told of tragic heartache and lonely lives. Matt would tear up and demand that we record an album together. But we never got that chance, not even to play outside our practice room.
He looked strong as usual when he pulled his vintage bicycle onto my front porch the last time I saw him. I had no inkling that I would never see him again. Matt’s death at the age of 54 was so sudden—I didn’t even have a chance to thank him for everything he taught me.
Matthew Champion Hogan was born in Red Bluff in the summer of 1953, and was raised in nearby Hamilton City. He was the second youngest of four children, which included his brothers Michael and Timothy, and his sister Mary. Their parents, June and Francis, owned a small grocery store in town, and the family fell on hard times after his father had a stroke when Matt was a young boy.
Matt worked in the nearby orchards, harvesting prunes and peaches alongside mostly Latino workers. He learned Spanish and throughout his life maintained a strong connection with the Latino community and his Hamilton City origins. He would later write a song called “Miss Kitty From Hamilton City” in honor of his hometown.
He taught himself to play guitar when he was 12, playing along to his favorite songs. Matt grew up idolizing his older brother Michael, who was frequently in trouble with the law, and identified with the outlaw.
Despite Matt’s tough appearance—worn leather jacket, impeccable vintage shirts, the gold chain bearing a cross around his neck, his slicked back hair, tight blue jeans and boots—he was spiritual and cared about people.
“He was a completely social animal,” says Dave “12 Pack” Sorensen, Matt’s sidekick for years. “He was horribly sensitive. But he stood on his own two feet as far as what he said and did.”
The deaths of Matt’s mother and father, both last year within a short period of one another, were a terrible blow to him. For years Matt had played at the convalescent home where his father lived. He spoke frequently about his mother and his sadness over her illness.
When his parents died, a part of Matt died, too. Family was extremely important to him. He was so proud that his nieces, Shelby, 19, and Haley, 13, were learning guitar. Matt made sure Shelby got her musical education early when he gave her an autographed copy of The Sex Pistols’ record.
I was 17 when I met Matt Hogan. He was barely 30, but in my eyes he was much older and intimidating and looked like a ‘50s icon. Many of the older Chico musicians at the time wouldn’t give a young band like mine the time of day, but Matt would perch on the side of the stage and offer to change strings and help with typical mishaps we had each show.
With his own music Matt valued friendship as a primary skill, and would pull his friends onto the stage to sing with him, or thrust instruments into their hands and teach them to play. He eventually created a rotating pool of musicians whom he could call up for a gig at a moment’s notice.
Local musician and attorney Michael Erpino was 19 and just getting his drummer’s chops when Matt invited him to join his punk/new wave band The Agentz and The Incredible Diamonds in 1982. Erpino’s drumming improved through heavy gigging, and he felt he belonged to a large brotherhood that Matt nurtured.
Sorensen was actually a drummer when he met Matt. But when The Incredible Diamonds suddenly needed a bassist, Matt handed him a bass with a Budweiser logo and a handful of his favorite records to learn from in time for the weekend gig. The two bonded over a Dwight Twilley album, and Sorensen said Matt became like a big brother. “We were inseparable for a while. It was nice.”
Matt played in a few notable bands over the years, including The Agentz and the audaciously crude funk/soul/disco band Brutillicus Maximus.
Of course, he was best known for The Incredible Diamonds, crooning and growling rousing renditions of rock ‘n’ roll milestones and little-known gems, and tearing it up on lead as he walked atop bars and tables.
In 1999 attorney Philip Heithecker hired The Incredible Diamonds to play at his wedding. They discovered they shared a love of country music, and Matt started showing up at Heithecker’s house with his guitar.
“I only knew a few chords at the time, but Matt slowly showed me the secret Matt Hogan changes and turnarounds,” Heithecker remembers.
By 2001 Heithecker was invited to be The Incredible Diamonds’ lead guitarist.
Countless weddings and birthdays were celebrated and an infinite number of beer kegs were emptied while The Incredible Diamonds played. Matt supported local causes with his music for decades, including playing the Chico Free Dinner program, benefits for KCSC Radio and Hamilton City’s Levee Festival. He even played in the band for the summer performances of Shakespeare in the Park.
“We played at the Veterans Hall in Redding quite a bit,” Heithecker recalls. “Matt would find a veteran to talk to about his dad, who served in the Marines during World War II. If we played in an orchard he’d find a farmer and find some common ground about harvesting or tractors. Matt was able to reach out to everybody and find a common denominator.”
Matt was accepting of everyone. He owned Mr. Lucky nightclub in downtown Chico from 1999 to 2006, and would host dance nights (which turned out to be a popular, and safe, destination for Chico’s gay community) as well as hip-hop nights even though they went against the norm in town.
Even in his 50s Matt was referred to as “Chico’s Oldest Teenager.” He hung out with the Skate Rats and knew all the musicians in town, and he couldn’t get across a crowded barroom without someone wanting to buy him a Budweiser.
Matt Hogan never released an album of his own, but thankfully he left tons of recorded material. One night I went over to his little studio in Chapmantown to coax him to play me his home recordings. Sitting in the glow of a blacklight lamp in his cluttered but tidy apartment, we listened.
He had a natural ear for good songwriting. The songs, mostly originals, are complexly layered with backing vocals and warm-toned guitars. His influences are apparent: psychedelic, classic ‘50s and punk rock.
Now I look around my music room at the lyric sheets that Matt wrote out for me. I see our band name, written out in his precise handwriting that resembles the kind of script you’d see on a prison tattoo.
I think sadly of how I would interrupt Matt in order to continue playing during practice when he would launch into another story. He would give me one of those “don’t rush me” looks and languorously open another beer. All I could do was laugh and wait for him. He was a master at making you wait for him.
Matt was such a presence in Chico—his booming voice, his wit and his ability to discuss any subject with his idiosyncratic humor.
Duffy’s co-owner Roger Montalbano says he keeps expecting to see Matt walk through the door of the tavern as usual. It’s strange to walk downtown and know that he isn’t here anymore.
There were so many people in attendance at his Jan. 27 memorial at the Women’s Club that mourners spilled onto the sidewalk for the Episcopalian service. The rock memorial for Matt, which will be held Feb. 16, is bound to be densely populated by people of all ages and from all walks of life who respected him.
It seems everyone has a story to tell about Matt, and every musician he befriended has a song they learned from him. Matt was the real deal and can’t be replaced. By playing his songs, we keep him with us.