Sunday, November 15, 2009

Johnny Wyatt

Johnny Wyatt

Interview with Johnny Wyatt conducted September 2009.

Life on the road found Johnny Wyatt’s five piece band, the Nashville Rebels, playing in nearly every bar in the south, but it would be a date in Clayton, New Mexico which would lead him to a regular paying gig – in Trinidad, Colorado.

“The owner of the club where we were playing in Clayton told us about this club in Trinidad, called Martha Lee’s, at the Best Western motel,” he said. So, in 1969, the group packed up the gear and pointed their vehicles northwest.

Johnny Wyatt’s band would go on to perform at Martha Lee’s five nights a week for almost four years. Playing his own compositions, as well as the hits of Willie Nelson, Jack Green, Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, and Merle Haggard. “Country was really big in southern Colorado, but the newer hits were slow to get up to that region. We were performing them during our show, and a lot of times it would be the first time our audience had heard them.”

Regional success couldn’t keep the group together. After changing their name to the Overland Stage Band, they broke up at the height of their popularity, and Wyatt had a choice to make – go back home to Texas and regroup, or continue as a solo act in Trinidad.

He decided to stay in Trinidad.

“I got a job doing my act at the Pizza Shop there in Trinidad,” he said.

Booked as Johnny Wyatt, he was later joined by Jackie Lee Stinson on the bill.

After years of success in Trinidad, packing in the Pizza Shop, the prolific songwriter decided to put his songs on vinyl.

Wyatt kept ties with friends in Texas, and in 1976, hooked up with the Hill Country record label in Austin, to release the gospel-tinged One Who Cares (Hill Country 7613).

In 1978 he went back to Colorado, and back into the studio, where he recorded “Sometimes Dreams Come True,” and the flipside “More of You to Love,” at Rocky Mountain Recording in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Listen to "Sometimes Dreams Come True."

The songs received extensive airplay in Denver. “I was ‘pick of the week’ at Denver station KLAK,” he said.

Also during the session, he recorded a second record, "Loneliness Is," and the b-side, "I'll Love Your Lonelies Away."

Listen to "Loneliness Is."

Wyatt had ambition to make it big in Nashville, having received encouragement from producer Johnny Dollar, who had heard him perform in Denver. While he did make the move to Music City, he soon found himself back in his adopted home - Colorado, where he was inducted in the Country Music Foundation of Colorado’s Country Music Hall of Fame, and was named Instrumentalist of the Year, in 1981.

Sammi Smith and Johnny Wyatt

He continued to tour, traveling with Wynn Stewart (“It's Such a Pretty World Today”) who later recorded Wyatt's “Why Don’t You Come To Me.”

Wyatt currently resides in Las Vegas, where he continues to write songs. He still occasionally performs in Trinidad.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Richard Baca

Interview with Richard Baca conducted September 2009.

Richard Baca knew how to woo the girls at Pueblo’s County High School. “I carried my guitar around and used to sing to them.”

Ever the performer, it wasn’t until 1973 that he joined the local band, The Tributes – but three years later he realized being in an organized group was not all that it was cracked up to be.

“There was too much traveling, and we just couldn’t get a good sound.”

So he decided to go out on his own and form his own group, appropriately called The Rebels.

Joined by Eddie Aragon on guitar, Denver drummer Steve “Bird” Acosta, and Juan Ortega on bass, the Rebels, who were also known as Los Reveldes, immediately found gigs close to home.

“We were playing, at the time, at a club known as The Del Rio Night Club, located in the Blende area just a few miles east, on the old Highway 50, from downtown Pueblo,” he said. “We did that for two and half years straight on Saturdays. We also played at the Latin Village, Pueblo Lounge, Dave and Rena's, El Patio Lounge, Tia Marias, Shirley's Lounge, and La Favorita. We also played every hall in Pueblo at that time for weddings or private parties.”

One of the regular audience members at The Rebels gigs was Tom Vasquez, the owner of Tom’s Trash Barrel, a waste management company in Pueblo. Tom thought the band had star potential and offered to finance a recording session at Steel City Sound Recording in the Bessemer area of town.

To commemorate recording their first record, the band stayed out late the night before the studio session and celebrated – heavily.

“Eddie Aragon and myself were the only ones to show up for the recording,” he said. “Eddie and I did our parts in about ten minutes and Steve and Juan dubbed their parts in at a later time, individually.”

“I chose the two songs on the record. Although the performance was not even close to the live sound, we were pretty excited about it," he said. “I chose the Charlie Pride song ["So Afraid of Losing You"] because I loved it, but we had never performed it live before as a group.”

Listen to "Si Tu Tambien Te Vas."

A total of 500 records were pressed, on the Tom label (named after the band's financial backer), and given away to family and friends.

Tom Vasquez saw big things for Richard Baca, so he invited friends with music connections out on the West Coast to Pueblo to give the band a listen.

“Those people agreed with Tom that we had something special and then they contacted someone in Los Angeles. The record producer from an independent record company came to see us on the recommendation of the friend of Tom’s. So, this guy caught our live show, and later approached me about going back to Los Angeles.”

But as was the case when he played with the Tributes, Baca didn’t want to tour, and certainly didn’t want to leave his wife and children.

“I told him I already had a band and that I was not interested. I told him that I could always pursue that career when my children were grown. He advised me that I would never get that opportunity again, and that I would lose my looks and the energy that I had and maybe even my voice. I didn't change my mind and I never regretted it as both of my children turned out to be great people and I was there to see it.”

Richard Baca disbanded The Rebels, and stayed on at CF&I, retiring in June. He went on to form Sierra Gold – and true to his word, now that his children are grown, he’s touring with the band.

“We play all over – Kansas, Nebraska and all over Colorado.”

Sierra Gold
Abel Valero, Richard Baca (standing center), Rodney Ortiz (red and white shirt), Danni Lucero (brown suit), and JoAnn Ewing.