-Danny Hooper just took up kickboxing. For your average 65-year-old, that may sound like a lot, but not for this high-energy Albertan, whose zest for life and go-getter attitude means it's just the latest in a list of accomplishments. This is one Edmontonian who does not let the grass grow under his feet.
"I want to keep up with my wife, Barb. She's been kickboxing for 15 years, so I'm taking lessons to protect myself (from her!)," laughed Hooper, whose wife has also brought several new grandchildren into his life in recent years. "Plus, I always need to have a project on the go."
Hooper isn't kidding about that. Write a book? Open a country night club? Tour with a band and play the Grand Ole Opry? Get a pilot's license? Become a top realtor? Produce about a dozen CDs and nab a Juno nomination? Co-host a popular morning radio show? Work as a top auctioneer for corporate and non-profit events? It's an exhausting list to even consider for most but, yes, this Renaissance man has done all that and more.
Hooper recognizes it's been a fortunate journey, though one with a few challenges, including losing it all with his Edmonton country bar in the 1980s and having the fact splashed onto the front page of the Edmonton Sun. Then there was the time he ran his band's tour bus into the ditch during a spring snow storm driving back after a Calgary gig.
"When I went into the ditch, I was in the country music business, and when we got the bus out a couple days later, that was it--I knew it was time to move on."
Hooper traces much of his can-do attitude back to the early years and support he got from family on their cattle ranch near Tomahawk, AB.
"I knew farm life was not for me--I wanted to go into law or aviation, but I couldn't afford university," remembered Hooper, who instead found music early on when his dad would "bring back half of the bar home with him and wake me and my brother up to play guitar--in-house entertainment. I learned early on I just loved to entertain."
"God gives us innate gifts and talents, and dad always encouraged those things in us--to find your passion and pursue it, and believe you can make a living at it," said Hooper, pointing to his place as a finalist in the 1975 country star search through country radio CFCW that became the source for everything else that followed in his career. That, and a sense of humour. "The second prize was a recording contract. Within a couple years I was nominated for a Juno award as best new male vocalist. I thought, 'this seems easy. I think I can make a go of this music business'."
Soon on the road making music most of the year, Hooper says another 'pinch me' moment happened when he was recording an album at country legend Porter Wagoner's studio in Nashville in 1980. He remembers Wagoner saying, 'You're pretty good kid. How'd you like to play on the Opry this weekend?' Another dream to cross off the bucket list for the young musician.
Danny Hooper & Country Spunk criss-crossed the prairies through the late 70s, playing from Prince Albert, SK to Taber, AB and every 'hotel with a bar' in between, Hooper says. "We made a good living then, but the music business is far from glamorous: there's pitfalls like drink and drugs. We opened our own club during those years, bringing in Merle Haggard and Tammy Wynette and other big names to the Stockyard in Edmonton, but within a few years, it all came crashing down and we went broke too."
"Some things seem to be the end of the world, but they're just turning points," he added. "I have a strong faith so I feel there' a master plan that has guided my life and career."
Taking a new path
Hooper says failing at one business venture didn't dissuade him; it just redirected his energies toward something new: this time; real estate. And in Hooper fashion, he didn't just sell homes, but rather became a top seller for ReMax, eventually becoming a sales trainer and motivational speaker for the company. That led to the next natural thing for Hooper--becoming emcee for the Big Valley Jamboree--it's now his 27th year in that position, where he's introduced 486 acts--and to his ongoing work as a fundraising auctioneer for corporate and non-profit clients.
"Way back, one of my dad's buddies, who was also an auctioneer, told me, "You're a good entertainer, you could learn to be a good auctioneer, so I took his advice." Using skills honed during decades as an entertainer, Hooper now takes the auction stage with confidence and humour, helping non-profits raise funds by engaging and entertaining auction-goers. Hooper has helped organizations raise more than $250 million which has led to the entrepreneur penning the best-selling book 'Easy Money: How to Generate Record Profits at Your Next Fundraising Auction Event'. (The book is available free for download at dannyhooper.com)
If the appreciative Hooper has a 'mini' regret, it's that his dad didn't live to see him enjoy what he says are 'seven of the best years of my career', co-hosting the morning show on CFCW country radio from 2006-13.
"We pushed the envelope with humour and had really good ratings," he said. "We were awarded radio personality of the year too. Our family had listened to that station growing up, and I know dad would've been so thrilled I had that job."
After a quiet couple of years (by Hooper's standards), the fundraising auction work is amping back up again. "Things are booking up, after the pandemic," said Hooper, adding with his good health and new wife, Barb, it's a blessed time in his life. "We've even started a YouTube cooking channel (called Danny Hooper Edibles). Barb does the camera, I do the cooking and editing--usually barbecue, open fire cooking."
"Mom used to ask me when I was going to slow down, but my dream is to drop dead while I'm doing something I love," Hooper said. "I think about dad, who was always my biggest cheerleader, and that's my message to everyone: support your kids in whatever they want to do."