Dick Weissman: An interview with Paul Epstein

Dick Weissman: An interview with Paul Epstein

Dick Weissman is an entirely unique mix of historian, musician, teacher, and mensch. He has his curmudgeonly side, but his genuine love of music and understanding of the times in which he lives permeate everything he says.

His self-effacing manner belies a sharp and incisive wit, whether he’s dispensing wisdom to a class full of music-industry hopefuls or picking his way through a complicated banjo piece before a rapt audience.

Weissman is never less than completely honest and authentic. As he speaks his mind, his manner recalls a different America and a different type of American: the type for whom art is an occupation, not an abstract concept, and to whom civic engagement is an obligation, not an antiquated joke.

He is part of a tradition of American folk musicians who helped define the national character at crucial times in our history.  He should be heard and cherished, and he is right here in Colorado.

We spoke on St. Patrick’s Day 2019. As his thoughts unwound in lengthy reminiscences, it felt like the history of modern culture was coming alive. Weissman’s experiences are defining, and trace the development of the now thriving music scene we enjoy in Colorado.

The Early Years

Q : Tell us about your early life and your first introduction to Colorado.

A: I grew up in Philadelphia….My parents had a commuter marriage: my mother was teaching public school in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and my dad was a pharmacist in Philadelphia, had a little drugstore.

It was during the Depression, and my mother didn’t want to quit her job because she was afraid of what happens if this drugstore goes under? So my big hobby was collecting travel booklets.

I had all of these Western booklets. So I had a box full of this stuff and I was pestering my parents — my father took very few vacations, he was kind of an immigrant boy who worked 7 1/2 days a week – and when I was 13, we went to Colorado and New Mexico…

…Driving.

This would have been in 1948. That’s where I met this sort of old railroad worker at the State Capitol who wanted to talk to me: He fascinated me but frightened my parents.

I talked to him for maybe ten minutes, but it was kind of a peak experience for me at that age because everybody I knew was pretty middle class, my parents palled around mostly with medical people. So that was my first interest in Colorado.

I then went to college in Vermont, which is where I first learned how to play the banjo from a person whose name was Lil’ Blos, whose main claim to fame was her father, Peter Blos, who was one of the last living associates of Sigmund Freud.

I had heard Pete Seeger at the age of 13, at the Progressive Party convention, because my brother was very active in unions and politics. So Seeger kind of intrigued me, and I started to buy all these old records, 78 discs.

One of the things about me that is different from most of the folkies is that I got equally country-ish and bluesy things. So I had Seeger and Woody, but I also had Brownie McGhee and Lonnie Johnson. When 78s were phased out, Walgreens would have five for a dollar and I would buy 78s by Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Minnie and people like that.

Q: Based on what? How did you know to go by Big Bill Broonzy?

A: I started doing some reading and also I went to a few Seeger concerts, who was always pretty generous without doing the sort of scholarly schtick that the New Lost City Ramblers did: “I learned this from Blind Paul Epstein who learned this from Deaf Dick Weissman, who learned it from his dog.” Seeger didn’t do that.

He said, “If you like the way I play this, you really should really hear Pete Steele do this.” So I would try to find out who’s this Pete Steele, how do I find this out? Seeger was an evangelist that way; that was very constructive and non-egotistical because there’s nothing in this for him to turn people on to those folks.

My junior year (1954) at Goddard in Vermont and then The New School in New York City was probably my formative musical period, when I took guitar and banjo lessons from Jerry Silverman, who was one of the Hootenanny crowd.

In the fall I met The Reverend Gary Davis: I played banjo with him, but never took lessons. He was very influential in my understanding. He played at Tiny Ledbetter’s house on Thursday nights.

Tiny was Leadbelly’s niece, who lived in the same building that Leadbelly and Martha had lived in. In the spring I had gone to the University of New Mexico and met a guy named Stuart Jamieson.

He had collected banjo music from a guy named Rufus Crisp in Kentucky. Rounder later put out a CD called Black Altamont, and Stuart produced a lot of those recordings.

So I met these two people, and the way they influenced me was Gary created this atmosphere around himself where you were sort of lost in this world of 1920s black evangelicals — you know, you’re gonna go to hell if you don’t straighten out.

Yet there was a schizophrenic kind of thing where he loved to have pretty girls around him, and he’d ask them to hold his hand and do crap. He would sing blues when his wife wasn’t around. After a beer or two and a little coaxing, he would do ragtime stuff.

So he was one level of inspiration, and Stuart had this certainty about what he did…he may have these insecurities, but it’s not apparent. Seeger was not one of those people. I don’t think that what he did came naturally to him.

He had to work to do this, and I would, of course, say the same thing about myself. I didn’t grow up in an environment where blues and banjo music were being played on the predecessors of Dick Clark.

So it was partially through Seeger’s influence, partly through buying these records and the radio. I wasn’t a real happy adolescent, so anything different appealed to me.

Q: So it was cultural osmosis, sort of the natural alternative to the “grey-flannel 50s”?

A: Yeah, exactly. So, when I was a senior at Goddard, I wrote the first lengthy banjo thing that I had ever done.

Q: Which you learned to do…?

A: I made it up. I created a form that, as far as I know, no one else has used. It’s called A Day in the Kentucky Mountains, and there are three instrumental parts and a song.

The song does what instrumental music does in most non-classical music — so instead of a banjo break, there’s a song break.

I don’t know why I did this, and I’ve continued to do it. So I graduated, came to New York, started working on a degree in sociology and started to get calls for sessions.

There was a music store called Eddie Bell’s and all the session guys would hang out there, and none of them knew how to play 5-string banjo — they all played tenor banjo. I remember I did a session for Raymond Scott that was one of my first sessions.

Raymond Scott was this crazy person who wrote experimental music, but he also wrote jingles. On the session are Barry Galbraith and Al Caiola, who are two of the biggest studio guitar players in New York.

They were very curious about what the hell I was doing — they hadn’t really seen anyone playing the finger-style banjo, not bluegrass banjo but sort of like old-timey music.

I would start to get more of these sessions and I took all my credits at Columbia and I wanted to write a thesis on five blind black blues religious artists: Gary Davis, Blind Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell and one more.

I realized that writing this would be like warfare with my advisor. I had this theory that non-literate blind people — and I was ignorant to the fact that McTell was not non-literate, he actually knew how to read and write Braille, and could write music in Braille — who had been blind since birth or an early age were residues of the culture that existed at the time that they went blind.

I ended up writing an article, but that was about it. So that’s sort of where my Colorado thing started. I had hay fever in August for about three weeks, so I tried to get out of New York. The first time I went back to Colorado I was 23.

Dave Van Ronk was a friend of mine in New York; one of my weird sources of income was that I taught Van Ronk a song called “Bamboo,” and it was recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary on a record that sold multi-platinum and we split the copyright, which was a joke because it was a traditional Jamaican song, but that was the game that was being played in the mid-’50s until the mid-’60s.

Dave was in ASCAP and I was in BMI and you were not supposed to work together, so after the first pressing my name was taken off everything after the first pressing, but he continued to pay me my half.

Q: On an informal basis? “Hey, buddy, here’s some more money”?

A: Yeah, and years and years later, he made it into a shoe commercial in Germany and I got an additional ten grand over time. I still get money from it, because after Llewyn Davis (Inside Llewyn Davis), Folkways issued a Van Ronk box set and that song is on it.

Q: What did you think of Llewyn Davis?

A: I hated it! It presented folksingers as being just like pop singers. The story I just told you about Dave Van Ronk — that wasn’t part of Llewyn Davis.

We had personal friendships and relationships.

I’m not saying everybody was honorable, I’m not saying there wasn’t some level of competition, but none of that spirit is in Llewyn Davis. The other thing is that black people are totally invisible. There is no black person in Llewyn Davis.

So, Dave told me I could get a job at Hermosa Beach working at this club. I didn’t know anything about Los Angeles at this point; I didn’t have a car, I didn’t know how to drive. Hitchhiking back to New York, I get stopped in Colorado because it is illegal to hitchhike, and the state cops escort me to the bus station.

So I go to Al’s Loans on Larimer Street, and I bought three cheap guitars, go to the bus station and there’s Tom Paxton.

I don’t know what he’s doing in Denver, but we were both going to New York, so he and I played for about an hour until I realized that people were trying to sleep. He would have kept playing.

There was no stop sign in his vocabulary for that. So that was my first trip to Denver.

Denver in the Late ‘50s and ‘60s

Somewhere in there, I met Walt Conley, who was one of the three best-known folk people in the Denver area, with Harry Tuft and maybe Judy Collins.

A couple of years later, I had a friend who was a guitar student of mine named Art Benjamin, and I said, ‘Why don’t we drive out to Denver?’

The first thing I did was to look up Conley, who lived in a house somewhere between Capitol Hill and Five Points.

His house was a 24-hour-a-day party, and there were friends and girlfriends, whatever. This was ’59 and he was slightly older than I was. I only recently found out that Conley was working for the FBI, reporting on radical folk singers.

Because of the nature of Walt’s house, I met a woman named Karen Dalton, and she and I started a relationship, and my friend Art started a relationship with her sister, who was 17 years old and had been married for ten days to a folksinger named Dave Hamill.

Walt was booking the Satire Lounge and I ended up as the opening act: Walt would do a set, and then The Smothers Brothers would do a set. Dickie Smothers, who was the straight man, his wife was working as a waitress at The Satire — it was so early in their career that his wife had to work as a waitress in the club.

The Satire was a pretty wild and wooly place in those days. That was great fun for me. I can’t remember what I got paid –probably $10 or $15 a night, but I didn’t go out there to make money: I went to avoid hay fever.

Q: You were on stage by yourself? Did you have patter? Were you a showman?

A: I had no patter. I didn’t have any show. That evolved in Los Angeles the next year.

At The Ashgrove, the opening act there was Rene Heredia, who was 17 years old and on fire at that point. He was this kid who had come from Spain, and I guess he had some things to prove, and he just really impressed me. I didn’t see him again for 15 or 20 years when I moved to Denver.

I went back to New York and I lived with Karen for three or four months, and in the course of that time I met John Phillips, who had been part of a band called The Smoothies — I played on a session with them — and it was clear that their label Decca wasn’t interested in them as a folkie-pop thing like The Kingston Trio.

John knew a guy named Scott Mackenzie, who was the lead singer in The Smoothies, and the three of us would form a trio. Because I was living with Karen, I suggested we try and put Karen in the group. John was a lot more worldly than I was, and he knew very well that my relationship with Karen wasn’t going to go very far.

We had two of the very worst rehearsals I’ve ever had in my life, which consisted of Karen arguing about vocal parts with John. John was a great vocal arranger, and his idea of fun was he’d get five people in a room and give each of them apart, and they might sing anything — it might be “The Teddybear’s Picnic,” it might be “Tom Dooley,” whatever, he was really into vocal music.

…I don’t know that I ever became a great showman, but I learned how to tell stories on stage, and that was a revelation to me.

Around this time I met a woman named Barbara Dane, who was a white blues singer and sang with Dixieland bands. She had a tour of the Northwest and she offered me this tour, so I called John Phillips and said, “Are you serious about this band because I just got a chance to play Portland and Seattle.”

He started to laugh and he said he had just turned down a trip to the beach in Ibiza so that he could start a new group.

I said, “Okay John, I’ll be there.”

Q: Before we get too far, give me a couple of sentences more on Karen Dalton and the different sides of her talent and personality.

A: When I met Karen, she used to sing a lot of mountain music, some blues, in fact, I think she was doing “Blues on the Ceiling” by Fred Neil even then, and she sang loud, and not in a lethargic way but in an energetic way.

She was never a really good performer because she had a lot of unresolved hostility. The audiences tended to bring that out in her, and it got a lot worse if she decided she wanted to be drinking.

Years later, when I heard her first records, there was this sort of behind-the-beat, lethargic, pseudo-Billie Holiday type of phrasing, which has turned into, in a small way, a vogue among feminist and music historians who’ve typed her as a white Billie Holiday, which to me was a joke.

I thought, “That’s not what she sounds like.” She was particularly noted for her wild mountain harmonies, not this [he affects a slowed-down, overwrought vocal] “Blues on the Ceiling” type thing, which to me just sounds like a junkie…which she was.

It’s what she’s famous for. This French record producer and another guy in Nashville who are enamored with Karen have issued at least five CDs of Karen, and only one of them has what I’m talking about, which was recorded at Joe Lupe’s place, The Attic, in Boulder.

It has a little bit of that mountain music — open your mouth wide and just let it out — kind of singing.

Q: Did you think she was a genuine talent or…

A: I think she has a talent for doing that. I think she was not a good jazz singer. This need to create Billie Holidays among whiteys is crazy, and it also happened with Judy Roderick.

So, now I’m in New York, and we (now called The Journeymen) rehearse for six weeks, we get a deal with International Talent, which is booking The Brothers Four, Kingston Trio, The Limeliters and later Bob Dylan, and through them, we met these managers in San Francisco.

MGM was willing to see us — they wanted to sign us, they didn’t think we had any hits. Ultimately, we had this scene where we picked up our manager, we went to MGM.

He wanted us to be guaranteed two albums a year and a five-thousand-dollar-a-year promotional budget, and one of the MGM producers looked at me and said, “You’ll never get a deal like that in the record business, and ten minutes later we were signing at Capitol Records and got that exact deal.”

That’s when I became interested in the music business, which really didn’t surface ‘til some years later when I started teaching. I filed that in the back of my mind that this business is not what people say that it is.

Somebody can say no and what they really mean is: I’d rather not.

So, we got the deal with Capitol and we toured for three and a half years. We never played in Colorado, but I would come here periodically because my friend Harry Tuft had moved here and opened The Denver Folklore Center in ’62.

At one point Scott Mckenzie, our lead singer, got nodes in his throat and we were out of work for six weeks. I just came to Colorado and Harry and I did a week at Crested Butte.

So I went from the three of us making $1,500 a night to playing in Crested Butte to Harry and I each got a room and a hundred dollars, and I went from playing for two or three thousand people to twenty to thirty people. Scott rehabbed, we got back together and our price went up to $1,750 a night.

Q: And the biggest record sold?

A: Maybe 15,000. We never got any royalties from Capitol at that point. We never recouped the original advance. Later, Bonnie Raitt got Capitol to tear up all its contracts before 1970, and so Capitol reissued all of our stuff in its Legacy Series, all three of our albums and some of our singles on the CDs.

I probably ended up making $5,000 from these; in fact, I got a check last month for $60 because it still gets streamed.

Scott and I decided to leave at the end of ’64, and I go back to New York — playing on sessions, writing songs and then producing records. I did some sessions with Gram Parsons.

Gram Parsons was a fanatical Journeymen fan. He and his band used to follow us around. Gram recorded a couple of my songs.

I also did a solo album for Capitol three or four months before we broke up because they were looking for a “Dylan,” and I was the only one that, even mildly in their mind, could do a Dylan thing.

I thought it ridiculous because I really was not doing protest songs and at that point, that’s all that Dylan was doing. I had written one song called “Lullaby for Medgar Evers” that later Judy Collins recorded.

So I did that on the album and four others that I wrote, and Gram recorded the one about mining called “They Still Go Down.”

In ’68 and ’69 I worked as a producer, and there’s a big Colorado connection there because I had maintained my friendship with Harry Tuft and he sent me a tape of a band called Frummox, and I ended up producing them in New York.

Those were really, really kinda cool sessions. I had hired Eric Weissberg to play some fiddle and mandolin and pedal steel, and at the end of the sessions he came to me, and he said, “Every five years I do something I like and this was it for the next few years.”

They were really good. Everything kind of clicked. Harry also sent me a tape of a band called Zephyr. I didn’t produce them but I did go to see them, and I took the tape to my boss and we all thought I wasn’t the guy to do it.

Q: Did you recognize anything in Tommy Bolin?

A: No. I thought they were a sellable white, psychedelic blues thing, and I wasn’t a huge fan of that music, but Harry and, in effect, I were partially responsible for them getting a record deal. But in ’69 the entire label group I was working for [ABC/DUNHILL] was fired.

I was still playing on sessions, and more and more of them were jingles. I was studying jazz guitar pretty seriously with Barry Galbraith, who was the studio guitarist I admired the most. He was number one and maybe Bucky Pizzarelli was number two.

I wasn’t playing the banjo very much and began to question why was I even doing this.

Pop Music to Teaching and Writing

Q: So at this point, the world of “pop stardom” exists. It is clear. The Beatles and Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan exist. How did you avoid the pitfalls of that lifestyle that both John Phillips and Scott Mckenzie suffered?

A: John was in effect, my mentor. I saw him destroy himself over a period of years. When I first met him, he was drinking too much and taking uppers and it wasn’t really pleasant to be around him.

Scott didn’t have a particular vice — whatever he did, he would overdo. It seemed to me like childishness. I started growing up. I got married in ’65 and it never quite made sense to me, that whole business of having to lie to people all the time, making everybody unhappy all the time.

We stayed in touch after The Mamas and the Papas got big, and this must’ve been in ’66 or ’67 and he invited me to a concert at Forest Hills. He forgot to put me on the guest list and it was $10, so I left.

I did go to the party at the St. Regis Hotel afterward…there’s a table and on the table, there’s coke, hash, pills, and another table with vodka, gin, whatever you want.

He looks at me and says, “I’m the perfect host, what would you like?”

So I said, “How about a beer?” As I’m saying this, their road manager was stoned out of his brains on acid and walking on the ledge of the sixth-floor balcony.

I’m thinking I don’t really want to witness this. So I had a beer and quickly left. I just didn’t see the point in all this.

By the late ‘60s, I still had my hay fever and came out to Colorado to vacation with my wife. While I’m here I get a call to do a Texaco commercial. I’ve had jingles that end up paying two or three grand for an hour’s work, ‘cause you don’t know how it’s gonna be used when you’re recording it.

So I really couldn’t not do it, plus the fact is that if you turn down people very much, they stop calling you. I had told Harry, “I’m gonna come here.”

He said, “You’ll never come here, you’ll always get these calls from people, and you’ll end up doing this shit-whatever it is.”

By ’72 I was becoming unhappy enough with the music thing that it was also penetrating a lot of aspects of my work and my life. I came out here. The summer before I had seen a brochure from the University of Colorado Denver that they were starting a music business program.

David Baskerville was the guy who started all this. I went down and talked to him, and they liked the idea of someone going to school there who had actually had a lot of experience in the industry, so I came out here and enrolled at UCD.

The first thing that happened when I moved here was I started to play the banjo again, which was just bizarre. It wasn’t really a conscious choice.

Q: You immediately got into a music scene in Denver, such as it was, through Harry?

A: Through Harry.

Q: What was the music scene in Denver like then?

A: Well, The Folklore Center was the center of stuff. Walt was still sorta in and out, but his preeminence had kind of eroded and he had gotten involved with various clubs where he…somehow he got involved with an Irish pub or something.

Harry had a string of people work for him: Kim King, who was in Lothar & The Hand People; Mike Kropp, who was a banjo player and ended up in a bluegrass band in New England; Paul Hofstadter a luthier who was a renowned builder, restorer, and player of folkie instruments.

Those guys had gone by the time I got here, but Harry had a little music school and I taught there about 20 hours a week, going to school and trying to be a family person.

When I stopped teaching lessons there, I pretty much stopped teaching music, except for a very short period at Swallow Hill.

I was in a band called The Main Event that was a mediocre lounge group that played Pueblo, Casper, Cheyenne…mostly conventions.

I played electric guitar and banjo — did all the Doobie Brothers stuff, whatever was popular at the time: some country, some rock, which was basically a paycheck for me, I didn’t enjoy it.

Then I got involved in writing film scores. I wrote two feature film scores, I wrote about five documentary film scores and I did a TV show for Channel Six (Rocky Mountain PBS). Harry was sort of the executive producer on all this stuff, but I wrote all the music.

The main film was called The Edge. It was done by Roger Brown, who did Downhill Racer, and Barry Corbett, a film editor who was an Olympic skier who’d crashed into a mountain while filming and was a paraplegic, and he had a film editing facility on Lookout Mountain.

The documentaries were all done with a guy named Dick Alweiss. I did a number of things for John Deere Tractors; they’d do these little film shows where they’d introduce the new line and you’d come up from Oregon or Missouri in your car, and while we’re trying to convince you to buy a 40 grand tractor, we give you some beer, a few pretzels and show you a couple of short films.

These were three-to-five minute films and they were fun to do; from ’74 to ’80 I was doing that stuff. I was teaching at Colorado Women’s College starting in’75 while still going to school at UCD in music business.

Tom McCluskey was the guy who was the head of the department and was the music critic for The Rocky Mountain News, before Justin Mitchell.

In the meantime, I had met Wesley Westbrooks, who was a black guy who originally was from Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

When he was 10 years old, he was driving a wagon delivering milk and ice cream and the guy who owned the store; his daughter ran a retail outlet and people in the town saw Wesley, who was black, talking to her and she gave him an ice cream cone without charging him.

They came to his father’s house that night and said, “You need to get your kid outta here tonight or he’s gonna get killed.”

He moved to Denver, and he got a job working for United Airlines cleaning airplanes, and he wrote about four songs that The Staple Singers recorded, none of which he’s credited with.

The most famous one is “He Don’t Knock,” which was recorded by The Kingston Trio. He also did a song called “Hear My Song Here,” which Pentangle recorded in a really nice version.

I wrote a grant to the National Endowment for the Humanities to write a biography of him; it’s the only book I have ever written that I couldn’t sell. I got the grant and spent a year.

It was a wonderful experience. I wrote up the whole thing — this was the Reagan years and I still have the manuscript, it’s called A Good Time in Hard Times. I learned a lot of stuff but I couldn’t sell the book.

I had written a book called The Folk Music Source Book in ’76.

That book came about accidentally, where Harry knew somebody who was a writer and she had been at Knopf, which was one of the most prestigious publishing companies, and she started talking with Harry, who’d a written a catalog: The Denver Folklore Company Almanac or whatever.

Knopf said they’d be very interested in talking to this guy. So she came back and talked to him and Harry being Harry, he did nothing.

So one day I said, “Look, you’re a moron: Here’s one of the best publishers in the whole goddamned world, and they’re asking you to write this book. What can I do to help you to do this?”

He said, “Why don’t you do it? You know how to write, you know how to do this stuff.”

At that point, I hadn’t written any books, but I’d written instruction books for banjo and guitar – a lot of them. The book was reviewed everywhere. It was reviewed in Rolling Stone, The New York Times, The L.A. Times.

Basically, that’s how I got into the book-writing game. That book won the ASCAP Music Critics Award.

Q: That’s about the time I started to know who you were because you really started to get a name in Denver as an academic.

A: I had worked for 14 months at The Grammys as their educational director. That was pretty horrible. I thought I would be some kind of huge hick there, but it turned out everybody there was a huge Streisand or Neil Diamond fan and that I was like a left-wing hippie.

In the middle of that, I taught at Colorado Mountain College, which had a songwriting workshop for ten years in Breckenridge. It was great! You got a condo. I brought Steven Fromholz from Frummox in.

I was doing the musician juggling act: I was writing instruction books, I was writing books, for a couple of years I taught at Swallow Hill, I did gigs with The Main Event, and I did what gigs that I could get. I ended up playing at Winnipeg three times, which was great. And I taught at Colorado Institute of Art for a year.

I started teaching at UCD in 1990. While I was there, there was a union called the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, and I ended up doing music for two of their conventions and a CD, and some of the music led to a play about Karen Silkwood. And I did music for a play by a professor named Larry Bograd who was then at Metro about the Ludlow Massacre. So that was all going on.

At UCD I taught music business mostly, and I created a lot of classes; my favorite was Social and Political Implications of Music. A lot of the stuff I taught about –contracts and stuff – after 12 years of it, it wasn’t that interesting to me, honestly.

Ultimately, I was head of the department for two years and the turf wars and the politics just drove me crazy. During this time, for some reason, I got good at writing grants, and I brought Peggy Seeger here with a grant, I brought Len Chandler, who was a black protest singer who was arrested like 50 times.

I brought a Native American guy, Vince Two Eagles from Montana, and there was no King Center, no performance space, so they were mostly playing in classrooms.

I got a grant and we set up a label, CAM Records. The last thing I did at UCD was a class on Advanced Record Production. I brought three kids in from Jamaica; I had taught at a Jamaican governmental trade show and then at two songwriting boot camps while I was at UCD.

So we selected three writers, they came here, the orchestra was a combination of UCD students and faculty, and the producers were students. It’s a good experience for people.

Back to Denver

In 2003 Dick moved to Oregon, where he stayed until 2012 when he returned to Denver.

Q: You were happy to come back here and…it’s different from the place it was one you first came here.

A: The congestion and traffic are troublesome. There have been a lot of generational changes that I don’t especially appreciate. There’s no point in getting upset about it because that is the world.

That’s not Denver, that’s everywhere.

There are other changes that are not Denver, as the demise of the recording medium. I’m very into albums.

When I do an album it’s not just 12 songs, there’s some relation between the songs, and I’m not really interested in having people pop off one tune in a four-part suite, when in fact, it makes no sense.

It would be like taking a Hemingway novel, and you’ve read the first quarter and you just throw it away, because “Well, I read the first quarter, what more do I need?” That’s the way kids consume music.

Q: That’s exactly where I wanted to come back to, because we talked early on about how you discovered music, that process, how there seems to be something of value in that archaeological process or the organic process that you did of buying the 78s and going to see Pete Seeger, listening to what he said. It seems that the way people gather information and art now has fundamentally changed the role of art.

A: I think it’s changed the role of art. And another thing that happened is, as a musician at the age of 22, I could work at Folk City for a week or two weeks. Where do you work in Denver for a week? Nowhere. You work one day.

There’s no money, and worse than that, there’s no development. I was at The Ashgrove for three weeks. During that time I basically learned some performance skills. If I had been there one night, what would I have learned?

Right now I’m doing a paper on the musician’s union, which I’m presenting at The Music Business Educators Conference. Go to Nathaniel Rateliff, who is a pretty big success.

In 2019, someone like the young Nate (let’s make him 22) is here now and he’s making his own records, he’s booking his gigs, he’s managing his career: What does he need the union for? So, the union has not been able to…what can they do for him? There are things they could actually do.

Suppose they bought a new building and make it into rehearsal studios and if you’re a member of the union, the rent is $20 an hour. That would save him a lot of money. But it’s not available to you if you’re not a member of the union.

For the hip-hip people, you have classes on this is what ASCAP does, this is what BMI does, this is what CSAC does. Nobody’s ever done that. The union has no contact with managers. Managers run the game now.

Managers often confiscate or own, depending on your degree of cynicism, half or all of the acts’ publishing. He’s making more money, and then he probably turns ‘round and commissions our songwriting money. Kids don’t know that.

The Fray went to UCD, two of them in the music business, but they had to sue to get out of their management contract. What if the union actually negotiated with managers? There are things they could do.

Q: So is there a bit of positive that you can see in the modern landscape to give hope?

A: There are a couple of dozen musicians around like Bill Frisell, like Ron Miles, and there’s a niche for these people who are doing something new. The challenge is to create, whether it’s radio, whether it’s streaming, whether it’s the union sponsoring some concerts of music for music’s sake, and I think the university has abrogated its role in that regard. Okay, let them teach tech and music business, but what about music? How do we make that bridge? The musicians are out there. There is good stuff around.

Q: How do you find young musicians that you like specifically, and do you have hope for this next generation? Or will it keep going at all? If there’s no skin in the game because the internet has accelerated everything so much that nobody actually has to learn anything, what is the incentive to become a great musician?

A: With the explosion of Dylan and The Beatles, we had this explosion of a generation that grew up thinking, “I could do this, I could make two-to-three million dollars a year, own two or three houses, have four cars, go through multiple wives, multiple drugs, whatever. Maybe what we’re coming down to in a way is a world where we’re going back to the musician in the loft. The people who are going to do significant work are just going to say, “I don’t buy into this, and anyway I can’t win this game. What I’m going to do is what I always wanted to do, which is to do music.”

I think the music is there. The question is, how do we create the mechanism for the music to be heard?

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Trying to label Dick Weissman as just a musician, teacher, author, philosopher or historian is simply inadequate. He’s an incredibly rare bird in the world of music. He is an adult, someone who made his way in the music business by exploring and mastering it, then being the smartest guy in the room about nearly any facet of his chosen field. He did what he wanted at the same time he was doing what he had to do to keep home and hearth together. In a world of tarnished myths and rampant bullshit artists, Dick Weissman is a breath of fresh air.

Photo Cred: northstarmedia.com

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The Mission Ballroom

What may be the best live music club in Colorado will have its grand opening on August 7. During its opening weeks, the Mission Ballroom will host everyone from George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelia to 2019 multi-Grammy-winning country songstress Brandi Carlile. As the focal point of the new North Wynkoop development in Denver, the Mission Ballroom will feature a unique stage and layout where music fans can experience some of the best sightlines and one of the best sound systems in the country.

Where Is the Mission Ballroom?

AEG took eight years to find the perfect location for a concert venue that would cater to both fans and the touring artists who frequent venues with the capacity of the Beacon Theater in New York City or Austin City Limits’ Moody Theater in Texas. It ended up being in the RiNo neighborhood, in the North Wynkoop development that will include a mixed-use hotel, restaurants, retail and office space, as well as residential units. Once completed, the project will also boast an open pedestrian plaza envisioned as a place for outdoor festivals. But for music lovers, the Mission Ballroom, located at 4242 Wynkoop Street, is the attraction that will hold it all together.

Just a five-minute walk away from RTD light rail’s 38th & Blake Station, it’s also minutes away from access to I-25 and I-70; once completed, the development will have 240 parking spaces in an underground garage as well as abundant bike parking. The entire area will be an exciting destination for locals and out-of-town visitors to Denver.

What Makes It the Place to Be

The Mission Ballroom and its surroundings will be the place to be in late 2019, whether you’re enjoying a concert, a meal or one of the outdoor events that organizers are planning for the future. Inside the Mission Ballroom, performing artists and audience members alike will experience a state-of-the art venue with flexible staging configurations, world-class sound and production, and a house setup that allows anywhere from 2,200 to 3,950 guests. The venue is designed with a tiered layout so that every fan will have an unobstructed view of the stage,

Speaking of the stage, it moves and transforms to create a perfect experience no matter who is playing, and is the first of its kind in Colorado. The Mission Ballroom will allow every artist and act to connect with their audiences on a more personal level because of the tailored stage setup.

Who You Can Expect to See There

The Mission Ballroom will open with a bang, with The Lumineers on August 7. Trey Anastasio Band (founder of the band Phish), Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, and the Steve Miller Band will take the stage in the days following. Also currently scheduled:

  • George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic – August 15
  • King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – August 21
  • Highly Suspect – August 24
  • Flux Pavilion – September 1
  • The National – September 6
  • Maggie Rogers – September 23
  • The Tallest Man on Earth – September 25
  • Brandi Carlile – September 27-29

In addition to hosting a lineup of international artists, the Mission Ballroom’s open layout will provide a perfect space for weddings, trade shows, private events, awards shows, receptions and other special occasions requiring a large space. The dance floor can accommodate displays, exhibits and trade-show tables and booths, as well as decorations that will turn it into a unique space for multiple-use events.

Get Tickets to Your Favorite Events

To learn about all types of music events coming to the state in 2019, contact the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. Colorado has some of the best concerts and festivals in the world, with more than 150 shows planned for Red Rocks this summer, as well as other special events ranging from the Five Points Jazz Festival to the Levitt Pavilion Denver concert series. Don’t miss some of the greats that consider Colorado the best place to perform in the country.

Photo Credit: Kenzie Bruce

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Who Is Joe Walsh?

If you’ve ever listened to “Hotel California” and marveled at the incredible guitar solos, you have heard the genius of Joe Walsh and Don Felder improvising together on the iconic 1976 recording. But while Walsh’s time with the Eagles was his longest stint with any one band, his musical career started much earlier.

Joseph Fidler Walsh was born November 20, 1947, in Wichita, Kansas. His mother was a classical pianist who filled their home with music. After his father died in a plane crash, Walsh kept his memory alive by taking his father’s name as his middle name.

Joe Walsh Band Beginnings

Walsh’s family moved around frequently when he was young, landing in such places as Chicago, New York City and Montclair, New Jersey, where he played oboe in high school. Finally ending up in Ohio in his late teens, he attended Kent State University for a short time. He was there at the time of the Kent State Massacre; that and other events prompted him to leave college and focus on music. Walsh soon joined a garage band called The Measles, singing such tunes as “And It’s True” and “I Find I Think of You” as the lead vocalist.

Early in 1968, Walsh auditioned for and got a gig with a four-piece Ohio rock band named James Gang. At a show in Detroit at the Grande Ballroom opening for Eric Clapton’s Cream, the other James Gang guitar player missed the gig.The  three-piece James Gang took the stage and impressed Mark Barger, a local artist manager who connected the band with ABC Records staff producer Bill Szymczyk. That started a long collaboration between Walsh and Szymczyk, who worked with Walsh on James Gang’s hits “Walk Away” and “Funk #49. Shortly after the release of James Gang Live at Carnegie Hall, though, Walsh left the band and headed to Colorado.

Joe Walsh in Colorado

In 1971, Walsh moved to an old mining town in Colorado. He helped organize a new studio near Nederland, and made a deal to record there for almost nothing (it later became the iconic Caribou Ranch Studio). Using revolutionary guitar sounds and recording techniques, including running his guitar through a Leslie organ speaker, Walsh joined with legendary drummer and multi-instrumentalist Joe Vitale and bassist Kenny Passarelli to form Barnstorm. Their 1973 second album under the name Joe Walsh and Barnstorm was titled The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get; it contained the song “Rocky Mountain Way,” which reached #23 on the US Top 40 chart. (Szymczyk worked on that, too.) Some of the other hits recorded and released by Barnstorm include “Mother Says” and “Here We Go.” At Caribou Studios, Walsh also produced Dan Fogelberg’s Souvenirs album, bringing in Graham Nash to sing harmony vocals on “Part of the Plan,” which reached #17 on the 1975 Billboard album chart.

Walsh and his wife, Stefany, had a daughter, Emma, in 1971. When she was three years old, Emma was injured in a car wreck as they were taking her to nursery school, and she eventually passed away from her injuries. The tragedy prompted Walsh to write “Song for Emma,” which he included on his So What album. The title for that album reflected Walsh’s depression over the loss of his daughter. A memorial plaque honoring Emma sits next to a water fountain in North Boulder Park in Boulder, Colorado.

Joe Walsh Leaving Colorado

After his years in Colorado, Walsh joined the Eagles when founding member Bernie Leadon left the band in 1975. During his many years with the Eagles, he recorded such hits as “Hotel California,” “I Can’t Tell You Why” and “Life in the Fast Lane,” built off of a Walsh guitar riff. Walsh toured with the band until its first breakup in 1980, then rejoined the Eagles in 1994 when the band returned for the “Long Run” era.

Though the Eagles were a huge success, Walsh also produced solo albums during this time. In 1978, his solo Life’s Been Good reached #12 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Other hits during his solo career included “All Night Long,” “Ordinary Average Guy” and “A Life of Illusion.” Along the way, Walsh made many guest appearances. He appeared on Sonic Highways, the Foo Fighters’ eighth album, and also played a Colorado-inspired “Rocky Mountain Way” on The Voice with Laith Al-Saadi in 2016.

In 1998, the Eagles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2011, Rolling Stone named Joe Walsh one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” recognizing his incredible music career.

Learn More

To learn more about Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” and to find out when he’ll be in Colorado next, check the Colorado Music Hall of Fame calendar.

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History of the Colorado Music Hall of Fame

Before 2011, efforts to remember and immortalize influential musicians from Colorado in a single music history museum had all failed. Then, in collaboration with former Denver Post journalist Gary “G” Brown, Chuck Morris took on the task of bringing the Colorado Music Hall of Fame to life. Morris’s career as a concert promoter and artist manager had started in 1969; over the years, he’d watched countless musicians from all over the state rise to fame. Morris and Brown envisioned creating an organization that would recognize more than one style or aspect of music. They created the Hall as a nonprofit with the mission of celebrating musicians working in all genres, as well as individuals and organizations that have impacted the scene. For these music enthusiasts, the only limitations were the Colorado state lines.

From a Modest Start to a Permanent Home

With a board of dedicated industry and community leaders and a list of future inductees, Morris reached out to Comfort Dental, a Colorado-based company serving communities throughout the state. With its financial support, the Colorado Music Hall of Fame presented by Comfort Dental began the work of preserving and displaying the stories and artifacts of this state’s musical legacy. The Hall presented induction events that celebrated the artists and inductees and educated fans about Colorado’s rich musical heritage. Early Hall exhibits were housed in the 1stBank Center in Broomfield and then, thanks to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Governor John Hickenlooper, the Hall moved to its permanent home at the Trading Post at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, a Denver Mountain Park and one of the world’s best music venues.

Honoring Musicians of Colorado

In 2011, its first year, the Colorado Music Hall of Fame presented by Comfort Dental inducted just one musician, Grammy Award-winner John Denver. The other inductee was the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Since then, the Hall has inducted more than 25 individuals, organizations and musicians, including Judy Collins; Firefall; Colorado’s successful surf-rock band, The Astronauts; Flash Cadillac, which appeared in the George Lucas/Francis Ford Coppola movie American Graffiti; the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; Poco; Glen Miller; five-time Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves; Charles Burrell, the classical bassist known as the “Jackie Robinson of classical music” for his work as the first African-American musician to be hired by a national symphony in 1949; and many more. In 2018 the Hall added inductees 97.3 KBCO, the legendary Boulder radio station that is celebrating over forty years on the air and helped create “album-oriented” Triple A radio, and Chuck Morris himself, who is responsible for the success of such artists as Lyle Lovett, Big Head Todd & The Monsters and who, along with Bill Graham’s company, opened the Fillmore Ballroom in Denver. During that celebration, Governor John Hickenlooper received the Barry Fey Visionary Award for his unwavering support for Colorado-based music and musicians.

Exhibits in the Trading Post tell stories about much of the state’s music history in such displays as Jazz Masters, Live and on the Air, 20th Century Pioneers and Rockin’ the 60s. Others are devoted to individual inductees, supported by the artists themselves or their families. For example, John Denver’s wife made generous donations of clothing, instruments and other items from Denver’s personal belongings. The Judy Collins exhibit includes a beautiful dress from the singer and the original lyrics to some of her songs.

Come Celebrate Colorado Music History

With a mission to educate, empower and inspire future musicians in this great state, the Colorado Music Hall of Fame presented by Comfort Dental offers an important educational experience. Schools and other organizations can tour the self-explanatory exhibits for free from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; on concert dates during the Red Rocks summer season, the Hall, which is located in the Trading Post just to the east of the main stage, often stays open until 7 p.m. The exhibits, films, and artifacts make learning about Colorado’s musical influences simple and engaging for everyone. Simply drop by the Hall or contact us to schedule a guided visit.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Hisotry and Future of Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Over the past century, Red Rocks Amphitheatre has become one of the most storied venues not just in the United States, but around the world. Now it’s getting ready to open another chapter as the summer concert season kicks off in April.

Garden of the Angels

Back at the turn of the last century, John Brisben Walker realized that the 200-million-year-old formation of red rocks southwest of Denver provided the ideal acoustic environment for live performances, and began producing concerts there in addition to offering a thrill ride. In 1911, opera singer Mary Garden became the first nationally-recognized act to perform on a makeshift stage at what was then known as the Garden of the Angels. It was not long before the natural amphitheater was recognized as a Natural Wonder of the World.

Construction of The Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Later, the City of Denver purchased the property for just over $50,000. With the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps Works Progress Administration created by then-President Franklin Roosevelt, in 1936 the city began constructing a formal amphitheater in the rocks, along with other buildings.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre was officially dedicated on June 15, 1941. Into the ‘50s, orchestras and opera companies typically performedat Red Rocks. But soon solo artists began appearing more frequently.

The Beatles at Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Concert Ban

The earliest rock performance at Red Rocks? The Beatles in 1964. It was the only venue on the band’s first U.S. tour that did not sell out. Many legendary acts followed. But during a Jethro Tull performance in 1971, an incident between concertgoers and police resulted in a five-year ban on any rock acts performing at Red Rocks.

U2 and Lifting of the Concert Ban Red Rocks Amphitheatre

That ban was lifted well before U2’s renowned show at Red Rocks in 1983. The performance was filmed, and later released as the band’s concert film U2 Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky.

Live CDs and DVDs Recorded at Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Other acts that have produced CD and DVD material at Red Rocks include the Dave Matthews Band, The Samples, The Moody Blues, Incubus, Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic, Boukman Eksperyans and Neil Young. B.o.B., the Zac Brown Band and Train have all filmed music videos at the venue.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre’s Cultural Influence

Red Rocks’ influence on pop culture extends well beyond music, too. The venue has been featured on episodes of The Simpsons, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, The Amazing Race and South Park. And with only a few exceptions for weather, Red Rocks has hosted a sunrise service every Easter since 1947.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre as a Right of Passage

For Colorado-based acts, performing at Red Rocks has become a rite of passage. John Denver; Earth, Wind & Fire; The Lumineers; OneRepublic; 3OH!3 and Judy Collins have all done shows there.

Shows at Red Rocks Amphitheatre for Summer 2019

Over the past decade, the number of shows booked at Red Rocks has tripled, to over 2019 slated for 2019. The season opens on April 13 with Flabbush Zombies/Joey Bada$$; go to redrocksonline.com for the complete schedule.

 

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Colorado Has Inspired Many Famous Musicians and Artists

If you happened to venture out to Herman’s Hideaway in the 1980s, you might have caught Big Head Todd & The Monsters before their big break with Giant Records. Similarly, if you had found your way to the Meadowlark on “open mic night” around 2010, you might have caught The Lumineers debuting their new song, “Ho Hey.” Over the years, Colorado’s been the proving ground for acts ranging from Leftover Salmon and String Cheese Incident, which started out in the mountain bars of Crested Butte and Telluride, to Dianne Reeves and Charles Burrell, her uncle, who played late-night gigs at El Chapultepec. And members of The Fray wrote songs while they were attending the University of Colorado Denver.

Here are just a few examples of Colorado-based music makers.

Earth, Wind & Fire

Earth, Wind & Fire is considered one of the greatest pop-funk bands of all time. From its origins in the 1970s, when Denver’s Philip Bailey, Andre Woolfolk and Larry Dunn (all graduates of East High School) joined the act, to its continued success touring the world with Bailey leading the band after Maurice White passed away, EW&F has won nine Grammys and recorded some of the biggest hits that continue in rotation on pop and soul radio stations today. Known for its costumes, dancing, positive vibes and incredible vocals (Bailey has a five-octave range), EW&F brought funk to the forefront of pop music with songs like “Sweetback’s Theme,” “Shining Star,” “Devotion,” “That’s the Way of the World” and “September.”

The Lumineers

One of the hottest acts to come out of the folk-rock tradition of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and The Band with Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm is The Lumineers. Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites began playing together in their hometown of Ramsey, New Jersey, then moved to New York in what proved to be a frustrating attempt to carve a niche in the Brooklyn music scene. The two came to Colorado in 2010 and began playing “open mics” and “basket houses” for tips. As their focus and songwriting moved towards the emerging Americana sound and radio format, they added Neyla Pekarek on cello. With songs like “Ho Hey,” from the band’s first widely successful album, to hits like “Ophelia,” from the second album, Cleopatra, The Lumineers earned two Grammy nominations, five Billboard award nominations and both Song of the Year and Group of the Year from the Americana Music and Awards organization. And The Lumineers have only just begun. At the 2018 induction of 97.3 KBCO, The Lumineers debuted their new lineup and new songs for an upcoming third album.

OneRepublic

OneRepublic may be the most successful pop band to come out of Colorado. It formed in Colorado Springs in 2002 with lead vocalist and songwriter Ryan Tedder, guitarist Zach Filkins, guitarist Drew Brown, bassist and cellist Brent Kutzle, and drummer Eddie Fisher. This was one of the first acts to exploit the power of social media to build an online following: In 2006, OneRepublic released its first single, “Apologize,” through the MySpace platform; it went to #1 on the MySpace chart and helped the band secure a 2007 release of its first album, Dreaming Out Loud. The musicians remixed “Apologize,” and it went to #1 in sixteen countries and was nominated for a Grammy. The second album, Waking Up, reached the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart; the third album, Native, became the band’s biggest-selling album and reached top ten on the American charts. OneRepublic has sold more than 10 million albums so far, and the act continues to evolve. In 2016 and 2017 it moved away from the album/touring model and focused on releasing singles through the internet; future plans include a more traditional album release and international tour.

India.Arie

India.Arie, who was born in Denver, has sold over 3.3 million albums in the United States alone; around the globe, she has sold over 10 million records. She has also won four Grammys and accumulated 21 nominations. The first of eight albums, Acoustic Soul, came out in 2001 and the latest album, Worthy, was released in February 2019 to critical raves and worldwide radio and internet airplay. India.Arie is one the most successful and prolific artists to come from Denver.

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The band’s members are natives of Boulder, and took the group’s name from Colorado’s original area code. The band’s hits include “Don’t Trust Me,” “Want” and “My First Kiss.”

Breathe Carolina

This electronic act may have “Carolina” in its name, but the members hail from Denver. Since 2007, they have released nine EPs and four albums, all in the electronic dance music genre. Although the group has gone through various members over the years, David Schmitt remains a constant.

Flobots

Most people know Flobots for its 2007 hit “Handlebars,” which was played on modern rock stations around the country. Over the years, the band has proven incredibly successful at merging rock and hip-hop… and it all began in Denver.

If you want to learn more about the history of Colorado music and musicians, or see who’s playing where,  Colorado Music Hall of Fame has stories and lists of upcoming events.

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Glen Millerprobably the most commercial and famous of the ‘swing era’ composers and bandleaders – he won the first Grammy ever presented. The Glen Miller band is still touring.

Firefall before there were the Eagles, Firefal defined that genera. And, by using a distinctive combination of sax and lead guitar for harmonized created songs like “Just Remember I Love You” and “You A The Woman.”

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band who took ‘jug band music’ from LA and then Aspen and turned it into “Fishing In The Dark” and Mr. Bojangles that launched their “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” album that is now in the Smithsonian

Dianne Reeves 5-time Grammy winner known for her Ella Fitzgerald/Sarah Vaughn like vocal virtuosity with a hint of Caribbean rhythm and melodies from her years with Harry Bellefonte.

Pretty Lightsthe genera-bending electronic dance music composer and performer who came out of Ft. Collins and changed the way DJs and live musicians interact.

Hot Rizewho brought traditional bluegrass virtuosity plus humor (see their alter-ego Red Knuckles and The Trail Blazers) and superb songwriting to a audiences around the world.

A short list of some of the other famous musicians with Colorado roots include: John Denver – those two words pretty much cover it all – as do the names of Joe Walsh, Dan Fogelberg, Judy Collins, Big Head Todd & The Monsters,  Devotchka, Elephant Revival, Five Iron Frenzy, Poco and Richie Furay, Stephen Stills and Manassas, The Fray, Bill Frisell, Lannie Garrett, Dave Grusin,  Leftover Salmon, Ron Miles, Michael Martin Murphy, Navarro, Gretchen Peters, Chuck Pyle, The Samples, Magic Music, The Subdudes, Serendipity Singers, Jill Soubel, Sugarloaf, Otis Taylor,  Tennis, Chuck E. Weise, Winger, Yonder Mountain String Band, String Cheese Incident, Zephyr, Judy Roderick and 60 Million Buffalo, Mollie O’Brien and Rich and Rich Moore, Harry Tuft, Dick Weisman . And the story keeps building from Nathaniel Ratliff to Grammy nominated Tia Fuller, Colorado has a legacy that rivals any other music market in the country.

 

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Hickenlooper Has a Winning Soundtrack for his Campaign

On March 4, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper made it official: He’s running for president. He joined an already crowded Democratic field, but as Hickenlooper’s March 7 kickoff rally at Denver’s Civic Center Park showed, he’s got a winning soundtrack for his campaign.

The rally included performances by local singers SuCh and Mary Louise Lee, and ended with a three-song set by Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. 

Hickenlooper was a music fan long before he became a successful brewpub owner, much less a popular politician. And as mayor of Denver and then governor of Colorado, no one did more to support this state’s music scene than John Hickenlooper. 

“I have never known a politician so involved and caring of the Colorado music community as John,” said promoter Chuck Morris, who had to miss the rally because he was at a concert in Uganda with Michael Franti. “When tragedies like the Boulder floods and fires hit, John was there, helping us reach out to artists to come and perform, helping get donations from corporations and literally emceeing and partaking in the events themselves.” At the rally, the former mayor of Jamestown lauded Hickenlooper’s work dealing with the 2013 floods.

In his push to elevate Colorado’s music industry, Hickenlooper did not just respond to emergency requests, though. As mayor of Denver, he helped propel Red Rocks Amphitheatre to its top-tier status, tripling the number of shows at this legendary venue to more than 100 a year. He used property tax discounts to encourage live music downtown, and today Denver rivals Nashville and Austin for the number of spots booking music. He also worked with established organizations like the Colorado Symphony and Swallow Hill so that they landed on solid footing. And certainly, one of his lasting legacies as governor is Take Note Colorado, a statewide initiative he introduced to provide access to musical instruments and instruction to every K-12 student in Colorado.

Hickenlooper’s support of the scene has earned him many fans, including musicians themselves. “Old Crow Medicine Show, The Lumineers, One Republic, The Fray, Bonnie Raitt and Dave Matthews are only a few of the acts that he calls friends, and he is usually seen when they appear in our great city,” Morris added. “My favorite story is when the Denver Art Museum called me to get a band to surprise him when John was awarded the Man of the Year at its 2019 gala. It took five seconds of asking The Avetts to fly all the way from North Carolina and surprise John with a beautiful show to end the evening. The look on John’s face was priceless.  If there is one person who personifies the greatness of Colorado music for the last 25 years, it would be hard to top John Hickenlooper.”

Hickenlooper was honored with the Barry Fey Visionary Award at the December 2018 induction ceremony for the Colorado Music Hall of Fame presented by Comfort Dental. How to top that? Running for president, of course, backed by a winning soundtrack.

 

Zephyr

Zephyr: The True Story of a Colorado Legend

Anyone who ever saw Candy Givens perform with Zephyr in 1969, or through the band’s years when it released albums on ABC, Warner Bros., Red Sneakers, BGO, and One Way-Casablanca Records all the way into the 1980s, never forgot the vocal power and sheer energy of her presence.  She was simply “a force of nature,” says Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, Animal Planet veterinarian-comedian and a former bodyguard for the Rolling Stones. Whether Zephyr was opening for Jimi Hendrix at the legendary Denver Pop Festival, playing Mammoth Gardens or tearing the roof off Art’s Bar & Grill in Boulder, this was the band to see in that incredible era that produced artists like The Who, Buffalo Springfield and Janis Joplin and the Holding Company.

Candy Ramey and the Origins of Zephyr

Candy Ramey was born in 1946 into a family that’s been described as “gamblers and small-time outlaws” living in a log house overlooking the lake near Evergreen, just west of Denver.  When she was eleven, they moved out of the mountains to Applewood, near Golden. Candy’s love of music and her powerful voice got her voted the “most likely to become a famous singer” in her senior year at Golden High School. She attended Northern Colorado University in Greeley, intending to become a teacher.  But music was her focus, and she and her high school buddy, Doug Lubahn, hitchhiked to California. Lubahn looked for jobs as a bass player and ended up playing bass on the first two Doors albums. Candy moved on to San Francisco to join friend Connie Kay there; she made her radio debut playing guitar and singing “Greensleeves” on a Chinese language station.  After a year on the coast, she returned to Colorado and moved to Aspen, joining another high school friend, Doug Whitney, in the Piltdown Philharmonic Jug Band. It was there that she met David Givens, a songwriter, guitar and bass player; they moved to Boulder and were married in October 1968. Their band, Brown Sugar, played from Denver to Salt Lake City, California and back to Boulder that fall. Brown Sugar would eventually transform into Zephyr.

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At the time, Boulder was a gathering place for great musicians and had an incredibly diverse music scene. Rick Roberts from The Flying Burrito Brothers and Firefall; Jock Bartley from Graham Parsons and Firefall; Poco; Freddi Henchie & the Soulsetters; Flash Cadillac; Joe Walsh & Barnstorm and Steve Stills were all drawn to the mountains and Caribou Ranch recording studios.  After a monumental jam with guitar wizard Tommy Bolin at The Buff Room on the hill, Candy and David Givens joined keyboard and flutist John Faris and Bolin, the leaders of the band Ethereal Zephyr. With the addition of Robbie Chamberlin on drums, the band members began composing and arranging music drawing from their experience playing pop, blues, jazz, country, and folk music.  They burst onto the Colorado music scene with several explosive shows starting at The Sink in Boulder, where they worked with Chuck Morris to promote a Barry Fey-style buzz about the band, and then at the University of Colorado’s Glenn Miller Ballroom, opening for John Mayall; Mackie Auditorium with Tim Leary; Reed’s Ranch with the Grateful Dead; and various free concerts at the Boulder Band Shell and other locations in the mountains around Boulder.  

After playing in Phoenix, where they met musicians like Steve Miller, Vanilla Fudge and David Lindley’s band, Kaleidoscope, they moved on to New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, where they played the Avalon Ballroom, The Whisky A-Go-Go, and The Boston Tea Party.  Everywhere they went, their no-holds-barred shows earned new fans, especially at the Denver Pop Festival, where they played on two memorable evenings. Through these shows, they spent time in Boulder, preparing to record their first album in the fall of 1969 in Los Angeles. Their self-titled debut album was released on ABC Probe, a division of ABC Records, in February 1970. With Candy’s stage presence, songwriting, vocals and harp; Bolin’s magical guitar solos and the power of the Zephyr rhythm section, plus the band’s blues/jazz/rock performances on shows with Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Leslie West’s Mountain, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Spirit, Fleetwood Mac, and pretty much every top group of the era, the band established a fan base across the U.S., Canada and internationally in Europe, Japan, and Australia.  

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The stage was set for Zephyr with Candy Givens to become the logical heir to the Janis Joplin, Grace Slick dynasty of powerful, women-fronted bands in the late 1960s.

But logic and destiny rarely unfold in a way that confirms inevitability. Zephyr’s second album was recorded for Warner Brothers with famed producer/engineer Eddie Kramer in New York at Electric Lady studios with Bobby Berge on drums.  Carly Simon, who was recording her first album at Electric Lady with Kramer, invited David Givens to play bass on several tunes, including her first hit, “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be.” Sadly, Jimi Hendrix died the day before he was to return to New York to complete the legendary album Cry of Love.  While Eddie Kramer and drummer Mitch Mitchell finished the album, the Zephyr sessions were put on the back burner – never to be properly finished.  Going Back to Colorado came out in 1971 on Warner Brothers Records.  It was favorably reviewed in Rolling Stone by famed critic Lester Bangs; Colorado writer Gil Asakawa wrote, “She had a powerful throaty voice that could scream the highest rock and roll notes but swoop down to the lowest moaning blues.” Despite slow album sales, Billboard chose Zephyr, along with Eric Clapton, as most likely to succeed. The magazine was half-right.

Record labels of that era chose favorites, and they did not promote Zephyr’s album the way it should have been pushed. Whether because of half-hearted promotion by Warner Brothers or mismanagement, Zephyr did not achieve the commercial success that fans thought the band deserved. “Warner Brothers released Tommy and Bobby when they quit the band,” recalls David Given. “And Barry Fey turned his attention to Tommy after a dispute we had over failed promises and life insurance. Eventually, our band was blackballed out of the big-time music business. We were consigned to a career of playing ski towns and along the Front Range, up into Wyoming and down into New Mexico, as we beat our heads against the wall that our management erected around us.”

Bolin would go on to replace Joe Walsh in Barnstorm and then record and tour with Deep Purple, a legendary psychedelic-rock band of the ‘70s. He eventually launched a solo career, but that was cut short just as Bolin began to gain the recognition he truly deserved. He died in Miami on December 4, 1976, of a drug overdose.

David and Candy Givens formed a new band and recorded Sunset Ride, which may be the album most remembered by their fans. Candy’s songwriting, vocals, and harp were at their apex. On guitar, Bolin was replaced by Jock Bartley, who would later go on to co-found Firefall with Rick Roberts. They also added Michael Wooten on drums, who subsequently toured and recorded with Carol King and Leftover Salmon.  The album was produced by David Givens, and he wrote the majority of the songs for this second Warner Brothers release.

For the next ten years, Zephyr’s lineup continued to evolve with Otis Taylor (award-winning trans-blues artist), Eddie Turner (blues guitar great), boogie-woogie piano legend Rob Rio, Bobby Berge on drums and a host of other local and national luminaries. The band produced one more album in 1982, Heartbeat, and the video for that release used elements of animation combined with performance footage that was groundbreaking for its time.  Zephyr disbanded shortly after, though, and all the players went on to successful careers with other projects. Candy and David Givens were planning a blues album when Candy died in Boulder of a drug-related accidental drowning on January 27, 1984.

There are hundreds of stories in the annals of any community about musicians who never got a fair shake. Whether you are talking about New Jersey’s South Side Johnny being eclipsed by the career of Bruce Springsteen or Livingston Taylor being overshadowed by his more famous older brother James, the music business is not fair, nor just. In a perfect world, Warner Brothers would have capitalized on the remarkable talent of Candy Givens, and Zephyr would have received the attention it deserved.

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But thanks to David Givens, the music and the legacy live on. In 2014, Greg Hampton and David Givens remastered and repackaged the band’s first album, Bathtub Album, on Purple Pyramid Records and then gave the same treatment to “Going Back to Colorado,” adding previously unreleased live and studio recordings in a boxed set titled Leaving Colorado for Sunset Boulevard Records (both of which are still available).  David is currently remixing “Sunset Ride” and “Heartbeat” from the original multi-track recordings for release this year.  And there is still several albums’ worth of unreleased studio recordings that he intends to release in the future.

In 2019, The Colorado Music Hall of Fame presented by Comfort Dental will induct Candy Ramey Givens and Zephyr into the Hall of Fame. While it’s impossible to turn back time to give Zephyr its due, this band deserves to be recognized as one of the country’s most incredible, female-fronted groups that, while rooted in blues-rock, transcended that genre to create its own unique niche in Colorado music history.

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Who Was John Denver?

A legendary artist whose love for the state of Colorado shines through the lyrics of his music, John Denver was a creative visionary and one of the most beloved singer-songwriters of his time. His imaginative mind and peaceful spirit still influence millions today through the legacy of his music.

Starting Out in the Music Industry

John Denver was born on New Year’s Eve 1943 in Roswell, New Mexico, as Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr.  His father, “Dutch,” was a record-breaking pilot in the United States Air Force, and because he was born into a military family, young John lived in a number of places while growing up. His grandmother gave him his first guitar, and he got his first major break during an audition for the popular Chad Mitchell Trio. Chad Mitchell was leaving the group, and he was chosen as the new lead singer over 250 other hopefuls. Young Deutschendorf started writing songs at an early age and made demos of some of them, including a 1967 song he called “Babe, I Hate to Go.” In 1969, Peter, Paul & Mary, the most popular folk group of that decade, had their first and only No. 1 hit with a cover of Denver’s renamed “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” By then, Deutschendorf had chosen the new professional name of John Denver to honor what he said was his “favorite state, Colorado” and also because the newly named Mitchell Trio could not fit Deutschendorf on the marque. The Mitchell Trio morphed into Denver, Boise and Johnson (Michael Johnson, who wrote “Bluer Than Blue”) and disbanded in 1969.

Success as a Solo Artist

Less than two years later, Denver was zooming up the pop charts with “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” the first of many hits. He soon became a household name with “Rocky Mountain High,” “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” “Annie’s Song,” “Back Home Again” and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” The strength of Denver’s popularity was measured in record sales that few other artists have achieved, including eight platinum albums in the U.S. alone.

A cheerfully optimistic image marked Denver’s 1970s heyday, when he emerged as one of the five top-selling recording artists in the history of the music industry. Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert, the couple who co-wrote Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” created the Starland Vocal Band, and the clean-cut, all-American group became the first act signed to Denver’s new Windsong label in 1975; “Afternoon Delight” was Windsong’s first and only No. 1 single.

Collaborations with Other Artists

Denver starred alongside celebrities as diverse as opera singer Beverly Sills, violinist Itzhak Perlman and flautist James Galway. Frank Sinatra was the “Friend” in Denver’s John Denver and Friend television special, and their back-to-back co-billing at Harrah’s Tahoe was one of the most sought-after tickets in the casino hotel’s history. Denver and Placido Domingo recorded “Perhaps Love,” a song written by Denver, as a duet, earning the Spanish tenor considerable recognition outside of the opera world.

Environmentalism and Humanitarianism 

Due to his popularity, John Denver was given a platform to pursue his passions for environmental and humanitarian causes. He founded the Windstar Foundation in 1976 as an education and demonstration center dedicated to the creation of a sustainable future. He was known for his close friendship with Jacques Cousteau, the most famous underseas explorer of the 20th century; he wrote “Calypso” in 1975 as a tribute to Cousteau and his research boat of the same name, which sailed around the world for oceanic conservation.

Denver took his music beyond American shores, traveling to mainland China (where he was the first Western artist to do a multi-city tour) and the Soviet Union (the first time an artist had been invited to give public performances since the cultural exchange agreement expired in 1980), as well as Europe, the Far East, Australia, New Zealand and Latin America. His charitable activities included a trip to Africa to publicize the food crisis there, and act as spokesman for UNICEF’s fundraising drive.

Movies and the Muppets

When Denver guest-starred on The Muppet Show, he began a life-long friendship with Jim Henson that spawned two television specials with the Muppets ensemble. Denver’s movie debut alongside George Burns in the comedy Oh God! was a solid hit. He also starred and guest-starred in many television productions, including the seasonal special A Christmas Gift, filmed in the Rocky Mountains in 1986. He guest-hosted The Tonight Show on multiple occasions and hosted the Grammy Awards five times.

Denver was a photography buff for three decades, taking picture of people and places during his many tours around the country and abroad. Denver’s father had taught him how to fly, and their shared passion for flying brought them closer together.  Denver, a licensed pilot, died at the age of 53 when his experimental aircraft crashed into the Pacific Ocean in October 1997.

John Denver & Colorado Tourism

John Denver’s effect on the world of music is felt the strongest in Colorado, where “Rocky Mountain High” is one of two official state songs. People from all over the world have fallen in love with the images he portrayed of the mountains and countryside surrounding his adopted state, and want to experience some of that beauty in person. John Denver fans can enjoy a variety of landmarks celebrating his life and career, including the Colorado Music Hall of Fame presented by Comfort Dental; Denver was the Hall’s first inductee in 2011.

Visit our website to learn more about the John Denver music exhibit and the musician’s inspiring life, as well as to see upcoming events on the CMHOF schedule for 2019. 

 

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The Lumineers Play at the Colorado Music Hall of Fame

With their rootsy blend of Americana and indie rock, The Lumineers deliver foot-stomping, dynamic live performances that draw crowds to sold-out shows. Their message and authentic passion for the music resonates with audiences around the world, making them one of today’s most beloved, inspiring bands.

Passionate Storytelling

New Jersey natives Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites began collaborating and playing gigs in New York City in 2005. Moving from covers to writing original music, they experimented with various styles while working several jobs just to pay rent. In doing so, they discovered that while New York was a fantastic place to grow creatively, they couldn’t make the time to focus on their music. They moved to Denver in 2006 to explore a more affordable market.

As it turned out, the move to Denver and teaming up with classically trained cellist Neyla Pekarek was the change they needed to kickstart their professional music career. A recent college graduate, Pekarek was planning a career in music education when she took a chance and answered a Craigslist ad for a cellist. Open mic nights allowed the lineup to test new material at such Denver venues as the Meadowlark and Larimer Lounge. In the process, The Lumineers attracted the interest of Onto Entertainment and signed with the management company, which funded the band’s first recording. The eponymous album was produced by Ryan Hadlock at Bear Creek Studio in Seattle, and “Ho Hey” was released as the first single. It was part of the CW’s Hart of Dixie season finale, and a Seattle morning show DJ began playing it twice in a row daily, declaring it the best song of 2012 and fueling a national buzz. The song went on to reach #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Triple A Radio Charts for eight straight weeks, culminating in two Grammy Award nominations in 2013.

In 2016 the band released Cleopatra, and the single “Ophelia” went to #1 on the Triple A Charts for thirteen weeks. After that, The Lumineers embarked on a world tour that included shows with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and U2. Now Schultz and Fraites are working on their third album with new members and an exciting new sound, and the band is poised to become one of Colorado’s most successful acts.

Colorado’s Deep Musical Roots

For more than a century, Colorado has been a mecca for musicians.

Denver’s love affair with music blossomed in the 1920s, at the height of the jazz age with Paul Whiteman. Musicians such as Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker played at the Rossonian Hotel in Five Points, and artists as diverse as Charlie Burrell, guitarist Bill Frisell, Chet Baker, and Frank Sinatra hung out in establishments ranging from El Chapultepec to the Roxy. In the 1960s, bluegrass and folk took center stage, with Judy Collins and the Denver Folklore Center moving into the spotlight. John Denver

found a home in Aspen and artists from Townes Van Zante to Little Feat found an audience at venues like Chuck Morris’s Ebbets Field. Through the years, everything from hip-hop to punk, funk, and country have found a place here. Denver audiences have always been full of passionate, adventurous music lovers. No single style or sound dominates the scene, unlike at many other urban music centers. Artists come to Denver to make great music, so it’s no surprise that The Lumineers found their voice here.

Earning Their Place in the Spotlight

After spending years in local venues, The Lumineers have gone from a hardworking Denver act with incredible talent to an international headliner. On December 3, 2018, the band played at the Colorado Music Hall of Fame presented by Comfort Dental induction ceremony for longtime Colorado promoter and artist manager Chuck Morris and 97.3 KBCO. The gala also included performances by Isaac Slade and Ben Wysocki of The Fray, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Billy Nershi from String Cheese Incident, Amos Lee, Leo Kottke, Vince Herman and Drew Emmett from Leftover Salmon, and Big Head Todd & The Monsters with Hazel Miller and Chris Daniels and the Kings. Such diversity is at the heart of Colorado’s music scene. To learn more, visit our website to read about everyone from John Denver to Dianne Reeves, as well as events and inductions coming in 2019.