Gov with Award BEST Dec 3

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.


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

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