Monday, March 1, 2021

National Peanut Butter Lovers Day - Colorado Style

 

Who knew that there was a day dedicated to the lovers of all things peanut butter?  Not to be confused with National Peanut Butter Day (held January 24 ), National Peanut Butter Lovers Day, held every March 1, first made its appearance in 1990, commemorating the anniversary of when peanut butter made its commercial debut in the United States (I sense some overlapping of the two similar commemorations, but who am I to judge peanut butter lovers?).

 Fun Peanut Butter Facts:

 - It takes about 540 peanuts to make a 12-ounce jar of peanut butter. 
 - C.H. Sumner first sold peanut butter in the United States at the Universal Exposition in St. Louis. 
 - Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup was introduced to America in 1928. 
 - Mr. Ed TV’s used peanut butter as a secret ingredient to get a horse talking. 
 - Americans spend almost $800 million a year on peanut butter.

Whether your preference is chunky or smooth, let's celebrate National Peanut Butter Lovers Day with a selection of songs performed by Colorado singers and bands.

House of Joy Children's Choir - "Peanut Butter and Jelly"

"Peanut Butter and Jelly" was recorded in 1983 by Carolyn Vinson and the House of Joy Children's Choir. The single includes includes Vinson on lead vocals, Ralph Beechum on bass, drummer Roger Williams, Elmus High on saxophone, and Kenny Jones on keyboards and vocals. It was recorded at Faith Tape Ministry. Dr. Carolyn, as she is known, was a newspaper columnist and radio personality in Denver. She grew up in the church,  The House of Joy, which was pastored by her father. She was the youth leader, psalmist, church organist, and founder of the House of Joy Children’s Choir.  “Peanut Butter & Jelly” would later be recorded by the Truthettes on the Malaco Record label (YouTube link). She is currently serving at the Highpoint Christian Tabernacle, in Smyrna, Georgia.

City Limits - "Peanut Butter Conspiracy"

"Peanut Butter Conspiracy" was recorded in 1976, live at the Oxford Hotel, Denver. City Limits included the trio of Mary Stribling (later of the Mother Folkers), Lynn Morris (later Lynn Morris Band) and Pat Rossiter (later with Timothy P. Irvin and Rocky Mountain Stocking Stuffers) . The LP was released on the Biscuit City label, and produced by Jim Ransom.

 

Crystal Palace - "Peanut Butter Affair"

"Peanut Butter Affair" was recorded at the Crystal Palace, in Aspen, and appears on both the LPs Postprandial Delights and 22 Years of the Crystal Palace. The song was written by Clark Gesner, known for composing the 1967 musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. The song is performed by Mead Metcalf who, according to the Rocky Mountain News, "spent almost one complete month of his life performing his trademark song, about 8,000 times." In April 2008, after 51 years in business, the Crystal Palace closed.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Sage and Seer Album Reissued!

Wah Wah Records out of Barcelona, Spain has just reissued the phenomenal 1969 self titled LP, by the Denver duo Don Beckmann (lead guitar, vocals) and David Rea (lead vocals, guitar), known as Sage and Seer.

Previously, only those collectors with deep pockets could afford the original pressing, which has sold for upwards of $400. The album is expected to be released in March, and will be available at the Wah Wah store, in Barcelona, and (thankfully) by order on the Wah Wah discogs page.

Often described as "folk-pop-psych," Sage and Seer's sound has vibes of breezy baroque, which often compares this record to Donovan and the Left Banke.

View the promotional video (Youtube link)

I had a chance to talk to both Sage and Seer's David Rea and Wah Wha's Marc Argenter about the project.

David - What are your thoughts about the album being reissued more than 50 years after it was, originally? 

We were shocked and surprised that Wah Wah wanted to reissue it. Of course, we were flattered, too, that anyone would want to bring Sage and Seer back into the light of day, or that they believed there might be a market for the LP. Earlier, in the late 1980s we became aware that there were fans out there, trading/selling cassette tapes of the album. People in Texas and Finland, Seattle and elsewhere. It was very strange. But strange in a good way.

David - What do you remember about the original recording of that album? 

We’d been in recording studios before, to record our first single, some demos and, one time, to prepare something for a songwriting contest (we didn’t win). But Jackson Sound had a massive studio, large enough to accommodate thirty or more classical musicians, a rhythm section, and Don and me, all playing at once on a couple of songs. So it was exciting. I don’t recall being nervous, which is odd because we had little experience of playing live with others. 

Joe Jackson, the studio owner and engineer, was very nice to us, which was helpful. We were young, just out of high school. Some of the songs had been written when we were 16 or 17, Looking back, many of the lyrics seem a little world-weary for teenagers to be singing, but we obviously meant it at the time. Maybe it had to do with the 1960s (we had Vietnam and the draft to worry about), or was reflective of what music we were listening to. During our time together, we wrote dozens of songs. Many of the ones selected for the record were part of a song cycle of sorts. Other tunes were chosen more by whim than calculation. Neither of us were capable of doing musical notation, so I remember sitting in an office at Stylist Records, day after day, slowly playing the tunes while Al Davis put pencil to staff paper. The sessions were fun, but grew more tense as the days wore on, and the expenses mounted. We were kept in the dark, thankfully, about how much it was all costing (plenty), because we weren’t liable for any of it. During post production, our producer suddenly had a bottle of Jim Beam in his car, which he gravitated toward, on the sly at irregular intervals. I figured he knew the album could spell financial trouble for the label. And it certainly contributed to that. 

(Author's note:  Stylist Records had a very diverse lineup of music in its discography, including albums released by Al Alberts, Ted Alexander Trio, Bob Ashton, Brotherhood III, Ralph Carmichael, Hal Edwards, FAB Company, Peanuts Hucko, Donna and Conrad Krieger, and Pete Smythe)

 
Reissue liner notes (click to enlarge) 
While I appreciate the surprise credit inclusion, credit should also go to Mike Stelk. 
Craig Swank originally contacted me, and I contacted Mike, who provided the group's contact information to me, which I then relayed to Wah Wah. Craig and I were simply the go-betweens.

Marc - How did you first discover this album? 

Jordi Segura, Wah Wah's boss, is always looking for rare records everywhere he goes. He is a bit like a human music encyclopedia, plus we have a small shop specializing in rare, lost in time vinyl records, so when he finds things he's never seen before he always buys them either for his own collection or to offer to the shop's customers. He discovered the Sage and Seer through a collector friend's recommendation. We immediately loved it, it's among the styles we personally like to listen to–we listen to a lot of music thanks to the shop, and unearth interesting things, but they do not have to be necessarily our cup of tea, we may find a record interesting for some of our customers so we think it's a good thing to have on offer, but when in addition to that what we discover fits our own tastes–which are pretty wide, I must say–we like to add it to our catalogue of reissues if possible. This was the case with David Rea and Don Beckmann's LP, so we started our usual detective work to find the artists, which we eventually did thanks to you [see above - I was only the messenger]. David was very nice and open to the idea from day one, we had to sort some logistic difficulties because everything was done right in the middle of last year's lock down and the peak of the COVID pandemic first wave, which delayed the process, but besides that everything went smoothly and finally after a longer than expected wait the LP is available at last! 

Marc - Why did you all pick it to reissue? 

We are always looking for "new" things to put out. Our label tries to avoid as much as possible the release of records that have been already been reissued many times before, we like to unearth unknown gems. This may not be a good commercial strategy because many people doesn't want to risk on what they do not know–and doing such small editions as we do we cannot invest in a big promotion–but we do think that albums like Sage and Seer deserve to be rescued for new audiences. We make every effort in making quality reissues, putting care in the mastering, design and quality printed materials. We know many collectors will always go for the original copies, but when records are hard or sold for small fortunes like is the case of Sage and Seer we think it's good that there is a reasonably priced quality alternative, plus the bonus we add when possible enhance the original edition. In the case of Sage and Seer, we have added the two non-LP 7" tracks, one at the end of each side, plus an insert with photos and text provided by the duo themselves, so it's a plus that you will not get on an original copy.

David - What happened to Sage and Seer? 

Don Beckmann and I basically broke up once the record was released. In fact, I don’t recall us playing together again once the recording was complete. He moved to Greeley, to go to college. I stayed in Denver to finish up the record. If the album would have done anything, I’m sure we would have quickly gotten together to promote it. Stylist released two singles off the LP, the second at the behest of a local disc jockey, who then declined to play it. The whole experience was very frustrating. The record label should have hired a rep to flog the record to radio stations, but apparently that didn’t occur to anyone. Maybe we thought magical thinking was going to save the day. Not that Don and I believed in magic. After Sage and Seer (my mother, who was somewhat mystically inclined and the sister of self-styled spiritual medium, came up with the name, which was better than Me and Him, one of the early contenders), I continued in music, off and on.

NOTE: In 2004, David Rea released a solo collection, Nation of One, which is available for download. It was produced in Los Angeles by Mark Governor for City Sound Music.


Monday, February 15, 2021

Craig Donaldson

 

If it had not been for an insistent girlfriend, Craig Donaldson’s music career may have never happened. 

“I was going to Arvada West High School and was a three-sport letterman. Music came naturally to me, but I was a jock and kinda resisted the music path in school,” he said. “My girlfriend heard that CSU was in the school holding tryouts for music scholarships. As we were walking down the hall she literally pushed me down the stairs, where the auditions were being held, and told me to go audition.” 

After performing in front of the panel, he left thinking that he’d rather pay for college via a sports scholarship. Then a few months later, he received the news – he was awarded a music scholarship at Colorado State University. 

In 1969, fresh out of Arvada West High, Donaldson headed to Fort Collins, But after three years, he left collegiate life behind to take a chance on a full-time music career. 

“I had started writing music in college, and ended up getting hired at the Black Knight In,  in Fort Collins.  In 1972, I left CSU.” 

It was at the Black Knight, on South College Avenue, where he shared the stage on alternating nights with two other solo performers – Richard Curran and Tim Schumacher.

“Rich was also the bartender there, and he was a fairly seasoned performer. He had done USO tours with The Dean Davis Company [he appears on the 1970 group’s LP Stone County Road]. 

Soon, Craig and Rich started performing together as Rosewood. The two came up with the name based on  the wood used on the backs of their Martin guitars. 

Mesa College Criterion - November 30, 1973

“Rich was a natural promoter. We didn’t have a booking agent - it was all him. He’d make press kits and phone calls, and we started hitting the college and hotel circuit. Our first gig as Rosewood was at the student union at CSU. We got rave reviews. We were getting a lot of attention.” 


 Fort Collins Coloradoan - July 3. 1973

The band’s blend of mellow folk and soft rock appealed to the Colorado live music crowds of the 1970s, and the duo started getting noticed outside their home state. 

“We had a van and we headed out, playing a lot in the Midwest."

 South Dakota State University 1973 yearbook

Before too long, audiences were asking if the duo had cut any records.

“Rich and I bought a four-track Teac tape deck and did our recording at a warehouse in Fort Collins. Com Pro Studios is what we called it. I think it was a fertilizer plant. The project was a total experiment. Not a moment of great pride, at least for me, but we had our record.” 

The LP cover featured the name of the group on a hand drawn wood grain, created by Richard’s father-in-law. With the pressing of a few hundred LPs, Rosewood headed back on the road…with one other addition in their van. 

"We would stock up on cases of Coors beer in Golden before we headed back out on the road, because you couldn’t get Coors east of the Mississippi, and it was wildly popular with college kids. We typically made enough money from the gig itself to cover our expenses, but by selling beer and records, we made a pretty good profit.” 

Rosewood expanded its gig locations all the way to Nashville, where they met with record and publishing companies keen on signing the duo - with a catch. 

“They wanted us to sign our copyrights away which isn’t an unusual request, but when you do that, you typically end up with nothing.” 

While in Music City, Donaldson and Curran happened to catch a singer in a local bar. 

“This singer was doing a cover of ‘Pretty Woman,’ and during his break, he sat down at our table.We told him we were enjoying his performance and what a great job he did on that song. The guy said ‘Well thanks, I wrote it.’ It was Bill Dees.”  

The Roy Orbison hit co-composer invited them to tag along with him when he met with executives at Atlantic Records. The label was impressed with the Colorado twosome, and suggested they connect with a music industry man back in Colorado. 

“They told us that there was a guy in Denver looking for talent – Ralph Harrison.” 

Ralph Harrison founded the Great American Music Machine (GrAMM) label, and had even released his own album, the 1972 Free Spirit Movin’. He had expanded his label to include “sound marketing” records - vinyl recordings of full-length jingles - for companies to use as promotional tools. The first meeting with Harrison didn’t result in much activity for Craig or Rosewood, but it was an opportunity to introduce Harrison to another friend, Tim Schumacher (the third performer from the Black Knight Inn).   

Meanwhile, Donaldson’s collaboration with Curran was starting to phase out. 

“Our last tour was through Kansas,” he said. “We picked up a last-minute gig at Ft. Riley Army base. We were staying at this hotel nearby, and one of the women that cleaned rooms there was, apparently, also a prostitute. We heard that her pimp was looking for us, because, I guess, he thought we used her services and didn’t pay – which we never did. But it caused all kinds of problems, including with our wives. It just got me thinking about whether I was cut out for life on the road.” 

By the time they got back to Fort Collins, Curran had all-but stopped booking the group.   

“Rich started going out by himself and selling radio and TV commercials. He would write and produce a commercial jingle for a client, and I wasn’t involved. The timing worked out pretty well for me. Tim Schumacher ended up being the first hire at GrAMM,” said Donaldson. "He then started to hire his buddies, and I was brought on as a studio vocalist and writer/producer.”   

"With Rich doing his own commercials, and with me at GrAMM, it was kind of an easy, peaceful way to end Rosewood.” 

Later, Craig heard that Rich re-started Rosewood with another member, and re-released their album, using a different cover. “People were telling me I should take legal action, but that never seemed right to me. Maybe because I was under an exclusive recording artist contract with GrAMM and they were being protective, GrAMM sent him a cease and desist letter, but nothing ever came of any of it – which was fine with me." 

Re-released version of Rosewood

Donaldson says he hasn’t talked to Curran since they went their separate ways, but "wishes him well"

The Great American Music Machine produced “sound marketing” records for dozens of clients, including sports teams, ski resorts, banks, car dealerships, restaurants, feed companies, trucking companies, and cities wanting local civic pride recordings. They would produce not only full-length songs, and often press them into records for the client, but also :30 and :60 jingles for radio and TV airplay. It’s estimated the client catalog includes over 1,000 original songs. 


Just a (small) sample of the author's GrAMM picture sleeve collection

While the full-length songs were meant only as a promotional item for clients, one record would cross over onto radio – “I Believe He’s Gonna Drive That Rig to Glory,” written by Tim Schumacher, briefly made it onto Billboard’s Top 100 Hot Country Singles chart in 1976. It spent two weeks on the charts. 

“Ralph wanted me to sing the lead on that record,” Donaldson said, “But I suppose it could have just as easily been someone else on the team. It was originally meant to be a promotional item, to encourage people to buy semi tractor-trailer rigs, but when the record sold out, GrAMM signed a distribution deal with IRDA [International Record Distributing Association], hired a radio promoter, and it took off.”  

As if having a Top 100 record wasn’t surreal enough, Donaldson found himself singing another “sound marketing” song on one of the most famous stages in the world – the Grand Ole Opry. “We did a record for the Tennessee Highway Patrol, "Guardian of the Road," and the Ralph Emery Show heard it and flew me out to Nashville to sing it live on his show. In the early days of that show, they taped at 6:00 in the morning, from the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. So there I am, singing while still waking up, with nobody in the audience!” 

 Tim Schumacher would eventually leave GrAMM, while Craig continued on there for a few more years.  After Craig left GrAMM, he became a first-call studio singer for other production companies, worked as a free-lance engineer/producer, and was often hired by solo artists looking to put together a band for a run of local gigs. 

 “One of those artists was Dan McCorison [Dusty Drapes and the Dusters]. He had also asked Firefall’s bassist, Mark Andes, and drummer, Michael Clark, to be in the band. Mark and I became fast friends, and he and I ended up doing quite a bit of recording together.” 

Andes had been involved in cutting Donaldson’s 1980 album You’ll Never Get Away with It. With the support of Andes, Donaldson headed to the West Coast in an effort to get a national recording contract – and it almost happened, had it not been for Phil Collins. 

“Mark introduced me to several people in L.A. at the Capitol and Atlantic labels, and at the management firm Alive Enterprises,” he said. "Blondie’s manager at Alive [Denny Vosberg] heard my material and was blown away. He wanted to manage me, and he facilitated the dialogue with Atlantic [Firefall’s label at the time], but Phil Collins’ first solo LP [Face Value] had just been released, and for the first few months of that release, sales were not good. In a panic, Atlantic put a moratorium on all new artist signings."

Of course, sales of the Collins LP eventually picked up and became a multi-platinum seller [with the release of the single "In the Air Tonight"], but by that time Donaldson was coming to a realization. 

“I needed to be an adult.” 

He enrolled at CU to finish his undergrad studies, got a job with AT&T, and went on to received his law degree from the University of Denver College of Law - but he still kept the door open for a music career.

In 1983, his song “Moonlight Marvel,” co-written with Schumacher, and other songs on his You’ll Never Get Away With It album, were recorded by the successful Australian group Wickety Wak, and were featured on the group’s New Horizons LP, which gave Donaldson his first gold record. 

 In 2018, he released his fifth album, Never Say Never. Two songs from that album, “Never Say Never” and “Takin’ The Long Way,” were placed on the Grammy ballot for nomination consideration. 

After a successful 30 year career in 911 telecommunications law, Donaldson retired to Salida, Colorado.  He still records his music, and that of other performers, in his home studio. 

“I was blessed with legal and music skills, and for that I’m grateful. Life is good. I turn 70 next month but don’t feel like an old man. Music is still fun. I still dabble in the law now and then."

The former three-sport letterman from Arvada West High has come full circle.

"I’m even having fun with baseball, again.”

Donaldson is putting the final touches on an indoor batting cage.


Monday, February 8, 2021

Berkley and his Musical Love Affair with Pueblo... and KDZA Radio

You all know I don't feature "new" Colorado music, as this site is for the preservation of state-made music history of the past, but I'd like to make an exception - a story that underlines the reality that far too often, local music moves away, in order to be heard by a larger audience. So is the case of the born and raised in Pueblo, Berkley.

___________

Andrew Jones loves Pueblo, and that might be an understatement.

The title of his album Pueblo, is musically rich in his Southern Colorado roots. His song "Pueblo Nights," and its accompanying video, contains lyrical scenes from the Steel City. 

His song "Oldies" is based loosely on his love of KDZA radio.

But you won't find Andrew performing in his hometown. Nor will you find his music playing on the radio station he has remembered so fondly.

Andrew Jones, who goes by the moniker Berkley (yes, he took the name from Pueblo's Berkley Avenue, the street where Jones’ childhood home is) lives, works, and performs in the Dallas Texas metroplex. He's gotten great press there, and has received well-deserved recognition for his songs. "Oldies" was recently named one of the Top 100 songs of 2020 by the Dallas music blog, Central Track.

He recently released his third Pueblo-centric single, "Fiesta Day."


What high school did you go to and when did you graduate? 

"I went to Central and graduated in 2004."

What previous bands were you in? 

"I was in a few punk bands that didn't go beyond high school talent shows, but those led me to a more popular and busy metal band, Of Winds and Faint Echoes. That led to joining a Colorado Springs-based band that I toured with called Harrison Bergeron, who were sort of punk, sort of hardcore.

Myself and other members from Of Winds and Faint Echoes formed a doom metal band called DAWN and another long-form ambient/post-rock band called Sky is Ocean. Neither seemed to keep our attention, or anyone else's as much as Of Winds and Faint Echoes. But Sky is Ocean was the best band experience I had because we got to record with an engineer I really admired in Kentucky, Kevin Ratterman of the bands Wax Fang and Elliott. He went on to work with My Morning Jacket and does sessions in Los Angeles now. I founded a band with a member of Harrison Bergeron and the drummer from a band, based in L.A. I would part-time it between Pueblo and L.A. We'd write at home, then demo and rehearse in a studio in California. That went on for about a year before we finally played a show, a sold out theater gig in Fort Collins with 3Oh!3. I quit music for a few years after that band, which never had a final name! We played the show as Colorado, possibly the worst name imaginable. I like to think of the band as one of the earlier name choices, Color West."

How did KDZA influence you? 

"My earliest memories of music are from listening experiences I had with KDZA. This started in the late 80s until I left Pueblo, but my sense of song and what radio was came from that station. I can't overstate what an impression it made on me. I listened to KVUU and Magic FM a lot in the early to mid 90s, my formative years, and KILO when I entered adolescence, but KDZA seemed like it was everywhere in Pueblo. Maybe I'm just sensitive to hearing oldies when they're on, but it seems like that format is the ambiance of Pueblo. Nick Donovan, Tim Kiley, and The Master of the Memories himself, Lee Douglas."

 Why did listening to the station resonate with you so much? 

"There's a little bit to the fact that KDZA was just inescapable in my life. I could not escape 60s music! I'm very lucky that it was that because that became the modern American songbook. You could do far worse for an introduction to music. My parents listened to other stations, KCCY, KVUU, Magic FM, but KDZA was sort of the default. My mom was very giving in letting me choose the radio station when we would run errands, and KDZA was never off the table. You'd think a kid would be too distracted by the pop of the time, but all of those songs had this foundational sense of melody, and rhythm especially, that made me think of oldies when I heard Paula Abdul or anyone else on Magic. I mean, Janet and Michael Jackson were straight from that school. New Jack Swing was really hot and I was obsessed with that, but it was just really more early Motown vibes. I could hear the inspiration for new music coming from oldies. This is a late-era oldies track, but the Four Seasons song, 'December, 1963' had a resurgence on modern pop radio in the early 90s. Again, just could not escape these artists."

Your song “Oldies” is influenced by your love of local radio - please talk about writing that song, specifically. 

"When I started writing songs for my first full length under the name Berkley, I wanted them to be about how Pueblo affected me or shaped who I came to be now that I'm not living there. I made a list of song titles that were unique to the Pueblo experience and started associating personal memories to them so I could keep my story but have these titles that would invite others, Puebloans specifically, to put their own experiences onto the songs. 

'Oldies' was the first title on the list. I also had a running list of memories and reckonings I wanted to address with these songs. Entering my 30s and being away from Pueblo brought a lot of things from my childhood, teens, and 20s into focus. When I started the process I felt like I could speak all that into the world and relieve the weight of them. That resulted in all the songs having this impressionist thing to them instead of a straight story. I jump around in time in the songs and associate memories and places with a theme, and 'Oldies' is very much like that. It laid out the blueprint for other songs on the album. There are images and experiences in that song that are essentially like my experience with 107.9 KDZA. This thing shapes you to an extent and establishes a sense of reality that time eventually erases or changes. The idea of the oldies format is very memory-based for me too. Sock Hop Saturdays on KDZA, that was a memory of something long passed when it was on the air. It's like a memory of an old friend or a relationship that's ended. The line in the song where I mention the word 'oldies,' makes that a physical thing, like you can actually return to where you experienced or felt something and it's never going to be the same as when it happened in the first place. As much as you'd like to either relive or forget it, you're stuck with the memory. I realized I was writing about trauma. I love oldies music but I can't go back to Pueblo and put on 107.9 to listen to it. I can't listen to Lee Douglas anymore.  Things have changed. You have to learn to live with things you love leaving your life and still find joy and meaning in everything new."

Why did you leave Pueblo? 

"The short answer is I got married and my wife was living in Texas. But we met in Pueblo. That wasn't the first time I left Pueblo, though. Like most millennial Puebloans in their 20s, I moved to Denver. I studied jazz and audio production for a while. Then I moved to Springs and started writing music - very bad music - again. While I was living there, my now-wife and I got in touch with one another and very quickly I was in Texas where she had relocated to get her PhD. We're still here since she was able to find work in her field and I was able to make a creative life work."

You have a love for the city, as very evident in your music - why do you love Pueblo so much? 

"Having a good childhood helps make a place special, I think, but there's more than nostalgia for me. As I get older I realize it's all the stuff that is still being revealed to me about the city. Your blog is something I've only come across recenlty and it's like, here's even more Pueblo to learn about, and it's all amazing! Pueblo is not perfect, like any city, and there are specifics we could get into that are unique to Pueblo and easily remedied if the commitment were there to rectify those issues. Some people will leave it at that - Pueblo's not perfect. But if you love it, you see all that you wouldn't change for the world, and know it can work out the imperfections. That's the 'something' I love about the town and its people. The real DIY and working-class Puebloans, the ones who love it like I do, make it an electrifying place to be if you're on the right frequency. Those people made Pueblo what it is, gave it its image and reputation. There's a resilience and self-reliance - confidence, really - that I admire about these people and that I hope I've absorbed."

 So many talented groups leave, because they can’t make it here - or they just fade into obscurity. In your opinion, what will it take for the Pueblo music scene to be taken seriously? 

"This is such a hard question, but it's the elephant in the room. I think anywhere you go there will be crappy bands and great bands in the same city, often sharing the same bills, so it's not about a ratio of talent that makes a scene the one to watch. The cream always rises and that's who gets talked about. There have always been Pueblo bands that get talked about but it's not ever been on that scene level that I've been aware of. I think getting there is about having a strong sonic identity. There can be shame about being "the Pueblo band," that dilutes whatever that identity actually is. Bands can try to write in a sound that's more accepted in other places, or they'll quickly adapt to whatever will play better out of town. 

When you're in this situation of performing songs that are probably personal expressions, it's very vulnerable and literally the entire audience is judging you. There's so much negativity directed at Pueblo from the north that when you're a Pueblo band playing Colorado Springs for the first time, it can feel heavy debuting your work. Most of that audience has already written you off because they know you're from Pueblo. And you've got to play there and in Denver because that's where the venues are and the national acts come. I think to be taken seriously in and out of Pueblo, there needs to be a Pueblo sound. And I should point out that maybe there actually is a Pueblo sound but it's not one that artists want to get with. Maybe Pueblo makes astounding Tejano and we're all not hip to it because that won't get you in Pitchfork. So when I offer my opinion here, I'm talking about this western sense of rock or indie music. But it's true for rap and hip-hop, which Pueblo has had its fair share of too. There needs to be a moment where all these artists push the form forward in a direction that hasn't been touched before. It needs to happen all together in the same direction. That requires a confidence and lack of interest in what others think, which being from Pueblo can inhibit. 

Being away from Pueblo for a while, but keeping an eye on music from there, makes me believe the sound has been there for a very long time and no one is touching it because they want to, for the lack of a better phrase, be cool. I absolutely did this when I was there. You do what's hip right now, but that's the sound of some other place. I think Pueblo specifically needs to look at its history and interpret it with modern music tools."

Tell me about your song Pueblo Nights - how did it come about? 

 "I had this idea for a while after a trip to Pueblo to write a song with this title, so I had my antennas up. I thought it was kind of funny, like a romantic vision you'd typically associate with more well-known, plainly glamorous places. 'Malibu Nights' or that Dirty Dancing sequel, 'Havana Nights.' Those sound very sexy and intriguing. So what would Pueblo Nights be? I thought, whatever they are, they need to be conflict free. For a long time I feared going back to Pueblo after I had left because I expected to run into someone who had a problem with me. Pueblo is not lacking in its drama, and I say that with some sense of pride. If that energy could be fully channeled into art, you'd REALLY have an arts town. So the lyrics deal with what you'd have to do to have the kind of night worth romanticizing. I say, 'I don't wanna fight or place the blame.' I ask, 'Would it be the same?' if we could forget and forgive or if we never did whatever hurt us in the first place. I think to be in your 20s is to be a straight up wrecking ball. Getting out of your 20s requires recognizing that and just accepting that it happened. In 'Pueblo Nights' I'm posing this possibility of an environment where we can just say, all of that was very unnecessary and we're all fine now."

 The video is VERY Pueblo. Where did the archival footage come from? 

"That's all from my experiences playing in Pueblo bands. I shot almost all of it, except for some of the city stuff where I drove and a friend got the shots, and I shot the 'me' stuff in Dallas with a filmmaker friend of mine. But everything else, the stuff obviously shot with old digital cameras, is me in my teens and early 20s capturing everything. I was obsessed with it and I can't say why. I've always liked recording my life. When I was in kindergarten I'd record myself on this little boombox I had. It was a child's toy and had a bear embossed on it, but it had a record function that I stumbled upon and started recording radio broadcasts where I was the DJ. I recently found those tapes to make the b-sides for the 'Oldies' single and it's really nuts. My parents must have thought I was a little touched. But from there it became this thing that I recorded practices, other shows, just hanging out with friends. I have probably 50 DVD-Rs with footage and pictures from venues and studios from Pueblo to the rest of the country. With the Berkley stuff, it finally found a purpose."

 Do you still get back to Pueblo - if so, is there a certain melancholy that you have for the city, knowing that you had to go elsewhere for your music to be heard? 

"Oh yeah, my wife and I get back a few times a year. Last year was obviously different. We went back once to check in with everyone, knowing we weren't going to make it back for the holidays. I feel the kind of melancholy that revisiting your past brings, but it doesn't have to do with music necessarily. Another aspect of life spirited me away. Where I live now is a lot like Pueblo in size and economics and I'm making music a much bigger part of my life than before because there are more venues in town, more recording studios, and a community of patrons who support the arts to fill the gaps where performing and selling music leaves. That was when things were normal, though, and I don't know what things will look like when the pandemic is under control. 

When I visit Pueblo, I might feel some kind of longing if everyone in my music orbit had achieved something I didn't, but we all somehow found happiness. We were going to graduate from school eventually and either go to college or get jobs. Then it became a life where we had jobs we didn't like or that didn't give us enough to live off of. We were young and obsessed with this thing that helped us express ourselves and gave us attention. Who wouldn't want this all the time? But a lot of people went on to have kids and are stoked on being parents. That's great to see because that anxiety seems to be gone. Their priorities are set. They still play music too. That's actually inspiring to me, someone who isn't a parent yet and is inundated with every kidless or single person commodifying their online presence."

Please tell me what you have in store for your fans, next? 

"On January 21st I released the video for my next single, 'Fiesta Day,' and I'm working on a project for a physical release with the Pueblo arts community for when the track drops online in February. We're still ironing out the details of it so I literally can't say anything about it because I don't want to hype something that may take on a different form.  But it will be something where Pueblo artists can showcase their work and where you can learn to play 'Fiesta Day'."

Do you plan to keep including Pueblo in future songs? 

"The full-length is all about what it was like to grow up in Pueblo. The feelings, the places, the growing pains of life in a place where you knew you were eventually going to run into the person who dumped you last week. I'll be talking about Pueblo for a while as I release and promote the album. After that release, I'm going to try to be less intentional about centering Pueblo. I hope to have said all I needed to. But how can you put so much of your life experience behind you? I've been gone almost 10 years and still want to eat Pizza King and Burrito's Betty. I still dream of returning to Ace Cards and Comics on Lake Avenue, which has been gone since I was in elementary school. Obviously I still have a deep interest in KDZA! I won't be naming these places in songs or trying to express what the Bell Game was like in lyrics, but I'm sure Pueblo will be an influence in how I approach my art for the rest of my life."

Monday, February 1, 2021

Wagon Wheel Recordings

 

 Hey all!

I've been meaning to database my Wagon Wheel label record collection for many years. I figure hunkered down in a pandemic is probably a good time to sort through this massive stash of hoedown tunes.

If you told me that I would someday be in possession of close to 100 square dance records, from one label, I might have believed it - being the obsessive Colorado vinyl collector that I am. Fact is, I'm not even close to having the entire Wagon Wheel run of releases, but I'm still trying!

The short history is, former Lighting S label dance caller Don Franklin, of Arvada, started the label in 1963 and had it until 1981, when he sold it to the family of his producer, Cody Bryant (son of Bob Ruff, who is in the Square Dance Hall of Fame and founder of the Windsor record label). Ruff would also release albums entitled Square Dance Party under the Wagon Wheel name (see last photo). 

Of course Wagon Wheel was hardly the only Colorado square dancing record label (Lighting S out of LaVeta, the Prairie Hornets / Al Horn's Prairie label out of Pueblo, and later Desert Recording, Mountain Recording, and Ocean Wave Recordings, all out of Pueblo / Penrose, CO, and of course the originator - the Lloyd Shaw label out of Colorado Springs), but its discography is massive. In Franklin's time owning the label, he released more than 100 singles, and an album. While Franklin called the earlier singles, he later released 45s with Jerry Haag, Beryl Main, Joel Pepper, Glen Nokes, John Winter, Ken Bower, Gary Shoemake, Jim Bahr, and Gaylon Shull. When Bob Ruff took over the label, he would release his own singles (as also noted by the address change from Arvada, CO to Whittier, CA in those later releases).

(All records and Sets in Order ads are from the author's personal collection)

The first Wagon Wheel record label advertisement - Sets in Order (June, 1963)

ALBUMS

Introduction To Wagon Wheel (WW 1001 -1964)

Lots of country twang on this LP. The album features members of the Levee Singers, with Smokey Montgomery, and most notably "The Blonde Bomber" rockabilly guitarist Ronnie Dawson (singing on "Scotch 'n Soda"). The LP also features bass player Ken Cobb and guitar picker Bill Hudson.

SINGLES (Partial Discography)

1 “Cattle Call" / Pick Up My Heart” – Wagon Masters (Don Franklin) 

100 "Basanova Beat" - Wagon Masters (Don Franklin)

100 “Tricia” / “Laura” – Wagon Masters

101 “Rocky Mountain Fling” – Wagon Masters (Don Franklin) 

102 "That's Rhythm" - Wagon Masters (Don Franklin)

103 "Sweet Personality" - Wagon Masters(Don Franklin)

104 “Sugar Coated Baby” – Wagon Masters (Don Franklin) 

105 “Hootenanny Hoedown (key of G) / Hotenanny Hoedown (key of A)” - Wagon Masters

106 “Rose Marie” – Wagon Masters (Don Franklin) 

108 “Swinging Billy Joe” – Wagon Masters (Don Franklin) 

109 “King of the Road” – Wagon Masters (Don Franklin) 

110 “England Swings” – Wagon Masters (Don Franklin) 

111 “Square Guitar” / “Smokey Dokey” - Wagon Masters 

112 Walkin’ In The Sunshine” – Wagon Masters (Don Franklin) 

113 “Gentle on My Mind” – Wagon Masters (Don Franklin) 

114 “Little Green Apples” – Wagon Masters (Don Franklin) 

115 “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” – Wagon Masters (Don Franklin) 

116 “Drummer Boy” / “Hoedown #2” – Wagon Masters 

118 "Release Me" - Wagon Masters (Don Franklin)

119 “Bumble Bee Square” – Wagon Masters (Don Franklin) 

120 "Can't Help Believing" - Wagon Masters (Don Franklin)

121 “Billy John” / “Freddie’s Fancy”– Wagon Masters 

122 “Coming Down” – Wagon Masters (Don Franklin)

123 "Soft Sweet and Warm"- Wagon Masters (Don Franklin) 

125 “Dueling Banjos” / “Pitter Patter” - Wagon Masters

127 “Listen to a Country Song” – Wagon Masters (Don Franklin) 

128 “You’re Wearing Me Down” – Wagon Masters (Don Franklin) 

129 “Starry Eyes” – Wagon Masters (Don Franklin) 

131 “Merry Go Round of Love” – Wagon Masters (Don Franklin) 

133 “Easy on my Mind” – Wagon Masters (Don Franklin) 

134 “Timber” / “Rain” - Wagon Masters 

200 “Smoke Along The Track” – Wagon Masters (Jerry Haag) 

201 “Hey Li Lee Li Lee” – Wagon Masters (Jerry Haag) 

202 “Shortnin’” – Wagon Masters (Jerry Haag) 

203 “Engine No 9” – Wagon Masters (Jerry Haag) 

204 “The Race is On” – Wagon Masters (Jerry Haag) 

205 “Just Like All The Other Times” – Wagon Masters (Jerry Haag)

 
Sets in Order (November 1967)

206 “Shindig in the Barn” – Wagon Masters (Jerry Haag) 

207 “Gonna Have to Catch Me” – Wagon Masters (Jerry Haag) 

208 “Here’s to Me” – Wagon Masters (Jerry Haag) 

209 “New World In the Morning” – Wagon Masters (Jerry Haag) 

210 “Singing Your Song” – Wagon Masters (Jerry Haag) 

211 “Baby’s Coming Home” – Wagon Masters (Jerry Haag)

 

Sets in Order (December 1967)

212 “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” – Wagon masters (Jerry Haag) 

213 “I Love You True” – Wagon Masters (Jerry Haag) 

214 “Good News” – Wagon Masters (Jerry Haag) 

215 “Round and Round” – Wagon Masters (Dean Salveson) 

300 “What a Lonesome Life” – Wagon Masters (Beryl Main) 

301 “Long Black Veil” – Wagon Masters (Beryl Main) 

302 “Houston” – Wagon Masters (Beryl Main) 

303 “Love In the Country” (Beryl Main) 

304 “Big Sombrero” Wagon Masters (Beryl Main) 

305 “Robinson Crusoe” – Wagon Masters (Beryl Main) 

306 “What’s Her Name” – Wagon Masters (Beryl Main) 

307 “Sally Was a Good Old Girl” – Wagon Masters (Beryl Main) 

309 “Long Lonesome Highway” – Wagon Masters (Beryl Main) 

310 “Live For the Good Times” – Wagon Masters (Beryl Main) 

312 “Travelin’ Light” – Wagon Masters (Beryl Main) 

313 “Bad Situation” – Wagon Masters (Beryl Main)

400 “Bird of Paradise” – Wagon Masters (Joel Pepper) 

401 “World of Our Own” – Wagon Masters (Joel Pepper) 

500 “Walkin’ in the Sunshine”- Wagon Masters (Glen Nokes) 

502 “Wagon Wheel Waltz” – Wagon Masters (John Winter) 

503 “Call Me Lonesome” – Wagon Masters (John Winter) 

504 “My Darling” – Wagon Masters (John Winter) 

505 “Why Ask for the Moon” – Wagon Masters (John Winter) 

506 “Dance With Me” – Wagon Masters (John Winter) 

507 “Blue Blue Day” – Wagon Masters (John Winters) 

508 “Music is My Woman” – Wagon Masters (George N. Smith) 

600 “If They Could See Me Now” – Wagon Masters (Ken Bower) 

601 “But For Love” – Wagon Masters (Ken Bower) 

602 “Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet” – Wagon Masters (Ken Bower) 

603 “Mississippi” – Wagon Masters (Ken Bower) 

604 “When You’re Hot You’re Hot” – Wagon Masters (Ken Bower) 

605 “Best is Yet to Come” – Wagon Masters (Ken Bower) 

606 “Bloody Red Barron” – Wagon Masters (Ken Bower) 

607 “Darlin’ Raise the Shade” – Wagon Masters (Ken Bower) 

608 “Honeymoon Feeling” – Wagon Masters (Ken Bower) 

700 “Eli Stubbs Grass Band” – Wagon Masters (Gary Shoemake) 

701 “Dock of the Bay” – Wagon Masters (Gary Shoemake) 

702 “Flat Foot’in It” – Wagon Masters (Gary Shoemake)

 
Sets in Order (April 1975)

704 “I Was Born a Ramblin’ Man” – Wagon Masters (Gary Shoemake) 

705 “Lovin’ You” – Wagon Masters (Gary Shoemake) 

800 “Hey Good Lookin’” – Wagon Masters (Jim Bahr) 

801 “Mockingbird Hill” – Wagon Masters (Jim Bahr) 

900 “Living on Love Street” – Wagon Masters (Garylon Shull) 

901 “Sun Coming Up” – Wagon Masters (Gaylon Shull) 

 
Sets in Order (December 1982)

912 “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” – Wagon Masters (Bob Ruff)

913 "Engine No. 9" (Bob Ruff)

924 "Houston" (Bob Ruff)

928 "The Race is On" (Bob Ruff) 

 
Wagon Wheel Square Dance Party For the New Dancer No. 1 and No. 2 (1983)


Monday, January 25, 2021

Ron Brown and Crunchy Sunshine

 

Hey all!

Was playing around the far northeast end of the state, and stumbled across this Rocky Ford faith-based country album, Ron Brown and Crunchy Sunshine - Walk With Me Through This Valley, 200 miles away, in Sterling. 

You never know where Colorado vinyl is going to land. 

Some of the earliest press I could find on the trio was a July, 1974 blurb in the Lead Daily Call (Lead, SD), describing Crunchy Sunshine as "the nation's fastest growing country rock group." At the time, the members were noted as Ron Brown, "Nancy and Connie."

Lead Daily Call (Lead, SD) - July 26, 1974

Then, a few months later, Connie left the group. I found this ad in the Colorado Springs paper, apparently placed by Brown, looking for a replacement singer.

Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph - October 17, 1974

Joan Koester was soon added to the line-up with Brown and Nancy Youngquist. 

According to additional press, the name Crunchy Sunshine came from "the feeling the group gets when they play." 

With the group back to three members, Crunchy Sunshine continued playing country rock, in hotels and bars, in Colorado, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. 

 
Rapid City Journal - Sept. 15, 1975

The Daily Republic - Mitchell, SD (Nov. 3, 1975)

Then in 1975, on Thanksgiving night, Ron received a spiritual message to play only gospel music. He ignored the sign, until he received another one, the following month. While playing at a club, former Happy Goodman and Blackwood Brothers guitarist Dwayne Friend came in, looking for souls to save, and found Crunchy Sunshine on stage.  He convinced them to come to his revival, where they converted, and quickly went on tour as a gospel act.

Walk With Me Through This Valley was recorded in Kentucky, at Goodman Sound, with the help of backing musicians Gary Dee on steel, and John Minick on piano. It was released on the Goodman's Big G Custom label. It features covers of religious standards, along with several original country-gospel songs, written by Brown.

Listen to "Secure Your Future"

The cover picture was shot at Bob Harwood Ranch, Rocky Ford, courtesy of Avalos Photography, in La Junta. The liner notes were written by Rocky Ford radio personality, Gary Sharp (KAVI radio).

I couldn't find any other information on the group, past 1976. The group based themselves out of Rocky Ford. Ron Brown operated Sunshine Music Studio there (913 Railroad Avenue, near Benito's Bar).

Of course, if anyone has an additional information, let me know.


Monday, January 18, 2021

Strasburg Public Schools Music Department

 

One of my guilty pleasure Colorado music genres is school records. There is something incredibly endearing about amateur teen vocals on pop songs. Take for instance this cover of the 1970 Neil Young-penned (later a hit by Prelude, in 1974) "After the Gold Rush." 

Listen to "After the Gold Rush"

This song cover is courtesy of the high school chorus, in the tiny town of Strasburg, Colorado. 

Located about 40 miles east of downtown Denver, Strasburg is home to about 2,500 people, the Comanche Crossing Museum, and the annual Hometown Days. 

One has to wonder what the story was behind high schoolers covering a song about a medieval celebration, getting high, and then traveling with "the chosen ones" in a spaceship. 

"You know, I really don't remember why we picked that song," said Terry Erlenborn, the then-music director at Strasburg. "I think the record was in our library, and the kids had a lot of say in what we would use for the album."

Erlenborn, who served as the music director from 1974-1990 said that the idea for the album came from his years teaching in Illinois. "Schools there started making records, as a souvenir for the kids, so I thought it would be a nice idea if we did that here, in Strasburg."

The album was recorded on April 1, 1976 and released on the prolific Audicom label. 

Side one contains all instrumentals, credited to the Beginning Band, the Sixth Grade Band, and the Seventh Grade Band. Side two is courtesy of the High School Chorus and High School Band. The selections include standard school band songs ("The King and I Medley"), as well as faith based songs ("Amazing Grace"),  plus other pop covers ("Sound of Silence," and a "Three Dog Night Medley").

"We recorded it right there in the band room," he said. "We had a new band room, in the new addition at the school, and I remember that they set up microphones in the room, and we recorded it all there."

He estimates less than 100 were printed. It would be the only recording made by the school.

Erlenborn later moved to Elizabeth, and then retired back in Strasburg, where he started a video recording business.

"I remember when I was a student, and in band, and I loved it. I always wanted to be the band director, so I was able to do what I love. Not many people can say that."