Remembering Country Legend Gene Hooper 

Maine lost a legend Tuesday when country musician Gene Hooper died in Machias after a long illness.Born and raised in Machias Gene Hooper got an early start on stage. He was 6-years-old when he began performing on the top of some old blueberry boxes in his hometown. “His sister used to hold a megaphone in front of him and that’s how he got started,” recalls his widow Florence Hooper. “He used to love to entertain even at that age.”From there a career in music was born. One that lasted around 70 years. Hooper crossed paths with some legendary country stars like Johnny Cash, Ricky Scaggs, and Reba McEntire. His music took him all over New England and throughout Canada but his wife says there’s no doubt what his favorite venue was. “Right here in Maine. He just loved to play grange halls. He loved his grange halls and he played every one here in Maine I think.”Known as “Genial Gene” and the “Kennebec Cowboy Hooper always had a close connection to his audience. “This was my favorite part about my father, on stage, was his approach,” says his daughter Joline Hooper-Sprague. “When he walked on stage to face his audience and the mic it was quite an awesome thing to see.”He was able to combine his performances with his family bringing the Gene Hooper Family Show to life. His daughter Sharlene performed with her parents at the shows. “I had a heck of a good time from 9-years-old to 59 playing with my mom and dad on the road and I love him dearly. He’s my daddy.”Hooper’s other passion was his family. “My finest memories of him aren’t necessarily of him being on stage,” says daughter Joline Hooper-Sprague. “It’s how he cared for us and how he loved us.” His son Wayne was never interested in performing on stage. While he attended many of his family’s shows he and his father bonded on the golf course. “A lot of funny things happened during golf,” says Wayne Hooper. “That was really my connection. And of course I would come down here and visit with him every morning before I go to work.”Hooper loved his country music but he would be the first to tell you, there is a distinct difference between the country music he played, and what can be heard on the radio these days. “Well he didn’t really like the new country music,” says his youngest daughter Zita Wood. “Kind of rock. He used to complain about that. That’s not country. That doesn’t even tell a story.” Fans all around New England and Canada will remember him as an entertainer but his impact is felt far beyond the stage. Hooper was a recovered alcoholic. He took his last drink in 1968 and through the years has sponsored more than 50 other recovering alcoholics. Known for his passion for country music around the Hooper home he’ll be remembered as Dad. He leaves behind his wife of 61 years Florence, 4 children, 9 grandchildren and his 19th great grandchild, Scarlett, is expected any day now.”We’re sorry he’s gone but he’s on a different stage right now.”