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Even in the Not-So-Quietest Moments…

Caribou Ranch’s Legendary Roots

The legendary Caribou Ranch recording studio will be inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in August 2017. A veritable who’s who of rock music’s elite was lured to Caribou, located near Nederland, in the 1970s—America, Jeff Beck, Rick Derringer, Earth, Wind & Fire, Dan Fogelberg, Michael Murphey, the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, Rod Stewart, Stephen Stills, War, Frank Zappa, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Joe Walsh, Chicago, Eddie Rabbitt, Sheena Easton…

…and Supertramp. The English rock band’s fifth album, Even in the Quietest Moments..., was released 40 years ago this month and reached #16 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. The band’s crew dragged a grand piano up to a mountaintop at Eldora Mountain Resort (a ski area near Caribou Ranch), covered it with snow and photographed it for the album cover (the sheet music on the piano, though titled “Fool’s Overture,” is actually “The Star-Spangled Banner”).


Frank the cat at Caribou Ranch - CMHOFRoger Hodgson’s opening song, “Give a Little Bit,” became an international hit single for Supertramp. He had written it at age 19 before introducing it to the band years later. And it nearly became the recording debut of Frank, the huge black and white cat that lived at Caribou.

According to engineering assistant Tom Likes (many of his Caribou tales can be read on musicbizsecrets.com), when Hodgson was recording the acoustic guitars for “Give a Little Bit,” he wanted to get a “special” sound. He had the idea to record them in the elevator, which was a hydraulic lift similar to the ones garages use to raise cars. It had a hardwood floor, rather than a huge metal plate, to match the décor of the studio. “There were walls on three sides of it with the front being open,” Likes notes. “Brass gates kept someone from accidentally falling from the second-floor studio to the first floor.”

Hodgson put a chair on the platform, and engineer Peter Henderson ran cables out of the studio onto the platform for microphones and a headset. The elevator was lowered halfway between the floors. “This way the guitars sounded fuller than they did in the acoustically dampened studio. After some experimenting with microphone placement and such, everyone was happy with the sound and we began recording.”

Just as Hodgson was playing the final rhythm for the end of the song, Frank the cat gave out a loud howl that was recorded on the guitar track. When it came time to do the final mixing, there was an argument about whether to include it or not. “Not won out, and that’s why the song fades rather quickly,” Likes explains.

Both “Fool’s Overture” and the title track also got a fair amount of FM album-rock play. Even in the Quietest Moments… was Supertramp’s first album to use Henderson, who would work with the band for their next three albums as well. Frank’s services were not retained.

G. Brown

CMHOF Executive Director

Find more information on Colorado’s music history and visit our inductee page for the legends who have made their mark. Even better, visit us near Denver, CO today!

Remembering Chuck Berry

R.I.P. Chuck Berry, the revolutionary guitarist-songwriter who passed away at 90 on March 18. Berry stood head and shoulders above rock ‘n’ roll’s early stars. The majority of his output was self-penned, and during the second half of the 1950s he added new hits to his repertoire with almost every tour—compositions that gave the explosive new music genre a good deal of its potential and attitude.

Several tunes were written from true-life experiences. “Sweet Little Sixteen,” Berry’s highest-ranking hit of the decade, was inspired after a Denver concert at the Auditorium Arena.

“I wasn’t sweet little sixteen when I wrote it, of course,” Berry recalled when I interviewed him years later.

Berry had embarked on impresario Irving Feld’s “Biggest Show of Stars for ’57” package tour, with Fats Domino, Clyde McPhatter, the Crickets, LaVern Baker and others. The event went through every region of the United States, including some—such as the northern Rocky Mountain states—which had never witnessed live rock ‘n’ roll.

“I happened to open the show this particular date in Denver, and while the other acts were performing, I walked around and signed autographs,” Berry said.

“I noticed that there was this little girl wearing a big, flowery yellow dress running around and around the oval-shaped auditorium. I passed her six or seven times—she was searching for autographs a mile a minute, waving her wallet high in her hand.”

“She never saw one complete act fully, and she didn’t seem to care about who was on stage—she only cared about when they came off so she could get her autographs. And this made me think that she wanted things to remember.”

Berry never got around to speaking with the girl who would serve as his muse for his classic celebration of everything beautiful about fandom. “I wish I could have gotten her name,” he said. “I was writing as I was looking at this kid, and I got several lines of ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ that night.”

“Sweet Little Sixteen,” with pianist Johnny Johnson rocking at top form, sold more than one million copies. It reached No. 2 on the Billboard pop charts in March 1958 and topped the R&B chart for three weeks.

G. Brown

CMHOF Executive Director

A WILD PITCH

Baseball season is upon us, and this fan learned long ago to accept music as a big part of seeing the Colorado Rockies play at Coors Field.

During the 1996 season, whenever a Blake Street Bomber would step into the batters box, a snippet of a classic rock song was blared over the P.A. system—how many times did Dante Bichette “go yard” after being pumped up to the strains of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” or George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone?”

I watched pitching coach Frank Funk make his way to the mound for a conference with a member of his beleaguered staff. He wore No. 45, so the back of his uniform read “Funk 45.”

And it dawned on me—shouldn’t it be “Funk 49,” as in the James Gang’s hit “Funk #49?” Wouldn’t it be great if fans could hear Joe Walsh’s satisfyingly heavy rhythmed guitar riff whenever Coach Funk left the dugout?

So, as part of my duties as the popular music writer for The Denver Post, I tracked down Funk and asked him if he’d consider switching his number.

“It wouldn’t make any difference to me,” he said. “I don’t have an attachment to numbers of any kind.”

Sweet! But Funk had never heard the James Gang’s “Funk #49.”

“I like the mellow jazz—the Grover Washingtons, the George Bensons, the Earl Klughs,” he explained.

“I’ll think I’ll pass. I’ve already got everything marked No. 45. I don’t want to have to do it again.”

So the impetus for change had to come from a Joe Walsh devotee. Chico, the Rockies’ equipment manager, was a huge classic rock fan. He read my column and changed Funk’s number to 49 without telling him! That’s right, I changed the culture of our national pastime.

I don’t think the team ever played the song, though

G. Brown

CMHOF Executive Director

Remembering Overend Watts and his Time in Denver

I was saddened to hear about Overend Watts’ passing on January 22.  The original bassist for Mott the Hoople, he provided one of my most vivid visual/musical memories.

In 1972, the cult band was about to break up when David Bowie offered to supply the members with a song—“All the Young Dudes.” The defining anthem transformed Mott the Hoople into glam-rock heroes.

I saw the group perform on April 12, 1974, when an American tour began at Regis College in Denver. Folks in the audience weren’t too sure of the opening act, whose frontman wore satin and nail polish, but Queen would go on to international stardom.

Overend Watts managed to stand out even following Queen’s glittering extravagance, performing in towering thigh-high platform boots. There was only one issue—he couldn’t walk at all, only pivot left or right by swinging on the balls of his feet. By the end of the set, the crowd was won over by this new standard for rock showmanship.

When this impressionable 19-year-old wondered what an English glam bass player should look like, Overend provided an indelible insight. R.I.P., good sir.

G. Brown

CMHOF Executive Director

The Best Music of 2016 by Artists with Ties to Colorado

Year-end lists are so ridiculous that they’re irresistible. Here’s one man’s picks for the top albums of 2016 by artists with ties to Colorado, in no particular order.

John McEuen, Made in Brooklyn

A founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (CMHOF class of 2014), string wizard McEuen has assembled an ensemble of musical masters—David Bromberg, John Cowan, John Carter Cash, Steve Martin, David Amram and many more—to ramble through various forms of American roots music.  And the spatial quality of this acoustic sound—the friends circled before one binaural microphone at an old church and recorded live—is amazing.

Bill Frisell, When You Wish Upon a Star

The versatile and inventive guitarist interprets the classic television and film themes (“Bonanza,” “You Only Live Twice” with Petra Haden on vocals) that gave him fond memories as a kid growing up in Denver.

Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, The Commandments According to SCAC

SCAC are the masters of the alt-country “Gothic Americana” style unique to the Denver scene, and the band’s sixth studio release is balanced with a subtle undercurrent of hope and fun.

Magic Music, Magic Music

Dubbed Colorado’s first “jam band,” Magic Music became popular from 1970-1976 but never recorded an album… until this year.  Glistening production by Tim Goodman enhances the blissed-out songs.

The Lumineers, Cleopatra

Four years since their fast rise to fame, the Denver-based band came back with a sophomore album that prizes the polished songwriting of Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites more than the foot-stomping folk-pop of “Ho Hey.”

 
G. Brown
CMHOF Executive Director

Russell, Cohen and Allison – Honoring those lost but not forgotten.

The music world lost three icons in November, and I’m grateful to have had the privilege of seeing them perform in Colorado.

When Leon Russell (d. Nov. 13) was recording Hank Wilson’s Back in 1973, he decided he wanted kindred spirits New Grass Revival to back him up. The veteran rocker made his Telluride Bluegrass Festival debut in 1980, teaming up with New Grass to shake the San Juan Mountains in Southwestern Colorado. Russell looked radiant in the spotlight, his sly rasp “converting” hushed fans to gospel grass with “Jesus Will Take Me Home” and “Amazing Grace.” I remember a second encore of “Roll Over Beethoven” went well beyond the curfew. It then took the emcee, Pastor Mustard, 20 minutes to convince the crowd that the magic had come to an end.

Leonard Cohen (d. Nov. 7) was experiencing a creative upsurge late in life when he performed at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in 2009 and 1stBank Center in 2012, two of the strongest, most confident shows I witnessed in the past decade. In his seventies by that time, the elegiac poet was returning to the stage after he discovered that his former business manager had embezzled millions from him; he never managed to collect the awarded damages. Cohen sang his heart out—even getting down on his knees to emphasize his dedication—serving up his catalog accompanied by a full complement of meticulously rehearsed musicians and singers.

Mose Allison (d. Nov. 15), who bridged sophisticated jazz and the Delta country blues of his childhood with pointedly observant lyrics, released 31 albums and toured for 65 years before retiring in 2012. Born in Mississippi, Allison attended Ole Miss for a year before joining the Army in 1946 and playing in the Army Band in Colorado Springs. He became British rock’s most popular jazz musician, exalted by the likes of Pete Townshend and Jack Bruce. A sparse crowd showed up at Denver’s legendary Ebbets Field nightclub in the mid 1970s, but when a fan requested a tune from his 1965 Mose Alive! album, Allison obliged in his gentlemanly way by performing several of the songs.

They may be gone, but their music lives on…”

G. Brown

CMHOF Executive Director