“I’m blown away. I just can’t fathom this.” Gary Beck is the midday radio host at Jazz 88.3. “Kenny and I were real close. I’d known him almost 30 years. I talked to him just a week ago. And two weeks ago, I saw him playing with Delta Heat. They were at Patrick’s.”
At 1:45 p.m. on August 31, Ken Schoppmeyer, 62, founder of the King Biscuit Blues Band, was found dead after police responded to a call at the Motel 6 on the Coast Highway in Oceanside. Cause of death was not given, but police say there were no signs of foul play and are not treating the death as a homicide.
According to film documentarian Mike Sosebee, Schoppmeyer had been staying with a friend in Vista named Joey Fields for about three months. “I got this frantic email from Fields [on the morning of August 31] saying that he’d disappeared on [the previous] Friday and to call her. I did. She told me that he’d left in a cab and he gave her 5000 dollars, and he said, ‘If anything happens to me, get this to my daughter.’” Sosebee pauses. “He planned it out. It wasn’t anything spontaneous.”
Schoppmeyer’s roots in the local scene run deep. Music journalist Michael Kinsman says Schoppmeyer was a harmonica virtuoso. He remembers that the King Biscuit Blues Band, founded in the late 1960s, was the first band to play at the first Street Scene in 1984. Scottie Blinn of the Mississippi Mudsharks recorded Schoppmeyer as part of the latest Delta Heat band CD in 2009. “He was the consummate professional musician in the studio. He dialed in his tone, and he got everything on the first take. He was into it, and he was upbeat and funny. When he came back and recorded his vocals, same thing. One take.”
In recent years, Schoppmeyer had been living in Ecuador with his latest wife. “He’d sold everything to move to South America,” says Blinn. “His new wife took him to a remote village that barely had electricity somewhere in the foothills,” says Kinsman. “He tried to teach Ecuadorians the blues.” For whatever reasons, Schoppmeyer returned to the U.S. and lived for a while in central Washington with guitarist and King Biscuit cofounder Paul Cowie.
Sosebee says Schoppmeyer had returned to San Diego only months ago and was hoping to restart his music career. “A couple of things happened. He’d applied for his pension from UPS [Schoppmeyer held down a day-job as a delivery driver for years] and his claim was denied. With the music situation, the gigs are few and far between, the gigs that pay are paying very little. With the prospect of having no real skills and being in your 60s and wondering who would hire him to do anything, he kind of hit the wall.”
Schoppmeyer’s family is planning to hold a public memorial in the next two or three weeks.