UPDATE (11/11/19): John passed away, August 2018.
John Susi interviewed Aug.-Sept. 2013
Susi has had a life that could easily be the envy of any music fan.
Having spent most of his adult life working for the legendary Colorado
music promoter Barry Fey, he has come in contact with a literal who’s
who of rock-n-roll music.
It probably would have never happened, if it hadn’t been for the Electric Prunes.
had dropped out of Bear Creek High in Morrison CO., and took a job
working at Amp City in Denver, on Broadway. Around the corner from the
store, the owner rented a rehearsal space. She mentioned that a band
was coming in, and asked if I would help them unload their gear – it was
the Electric Prunes.”
After effortlessly bringing in
Marshall speaker cabinets by himself, the band asked if he wanted to be
their roadie. He jumped at the chance.
Prunes eventually lost their record deal and broke up. That led to my
working with Sugarloaf,” he said. “They needed a guy to go on the road
with them, to lighten the load of their road manager Keith Rhodes. This
was during the band's work on their second album--but when the shows
ended again, I had no gig.
So Susi went back to
Morrison, and back to Bear Creek High, and at the age of 20, graduated.
Then, as fate would have it, another chance meeting would change his
Brandis, who I knew from Sugarloaf, invited Richard Whestone (Prunes)
and myself to check out this band Barry Fey was bringing to Denver – it
was Led Zeppelin. It’s a funny thing, that night I was introduced to
Barry Fey, and he took one look at me and started yelling at me. Then he
fired me! I didn’t even work for him…yet
assumed, based on Susi’s large frame and imposing appearance, that he
was one of Feyline’s roadies. “Later that night, Tony Funches [who
worked for Fey, after stints as both Jim Morrison’s and Mick Jagger’s
bodyguard] asked if I wanted to work for Barry.”
joined the ranks in the exclusive Feyline Peer Group Security Force,
otherwise known as the Goon Squad – working crowd control and
neutralizing the gatecrashers. After several years protecting every band
Feyline promoted, Susi himself was promoted.
started doing ticket outlet work, distribution, delivery, and then after
that, I moved to stage production. All the big stadiums shows, I was a
Susi’s life wasn’t always on the other end of
the stage. Before he hooked up with Barry Fey, he too was a performer.
“When I was 15 my friend Michael Frazier had a band, Commercial Appeal. I
tried out as the bass player and got the gig. Fast forward ten years
and Mikey and I meet up again. This time I wanted to play guitar,but was
self taught and dumb as a box of rocks, but I had written a few songs.
Mike had his challenges, but he taught me anyway. We then put together a
band, Hundred Acre Wood."
Hundred Acre Wood also included drummer Paul Folis and bassist Troy Taylor.
played some shows at Ebbets Field in Denver. Someone saw us, liked us,
and a friend introduced us to a producer. Everything was going great,
but there was a catch. The producer liked Michael and myself, but not
the other guys in the band. He told us the band had to go or no deal, so
we let Paul and Troy go.”
Armed with a new rhythm
section with impressive credentials, including Loggins & Messina's
Merle Bergante on drums and Larry Sims on bass, the rest of the group
included Al Garth (the Eagles), John McEuen on banjo (Nitty Gritty Dirt
Band), keyboardist Pete Wasner (Vince Gill), and guitarist/vocalist
Jerry Stringer. The new Hundred Acre Wood headed to Applewood Studios in
"A totally killer record was made, and we had
some good interest from Leon Russel's label, Paradise/Shelter, and from
Janis Records (Al Stewart – Year of the Cat
). Then we discovered
that our producer, who was acting as our manager, mishandled the
contract negotiations, and we ended up with nothing.”
In spite of not having a record deal, Hundred Acre Wood would get some airplay on KDKO radio, Denver’s soul station.
released a reel tape of our music to radio stations. Doctor Daddy-O
heard our song 'Thoughts of a Woman,' and played it on the air. The
phone lines went crazy. He called us to do an in-studio interview, and
when we got to the station, the receptionist was wondering why these
white guys were in the lobby – they had no idea that Hundred Acre Wood
wasn’t a black band. Even with the response of radio listeners, there
was no money to keep everybody going and Hundred Acre Wood broke up."
this time Susi wanted to put down his acoustic guitar and rock out.
While keeping busy with Feyline, he continued writing music. The subject
matter was plentiful, being surrounded by rock stars for inspiration.
had been doing a bunch of shows with Aerosmith and there was a lot of
talk about Steven Tyler at the time – his sexuality, behavior and vices,
all that kind of rock star stuff. I was tired of hearing it. Everybody
wants to take a shot at someone on the top."
was the song “No Wimps.” In 1983, armed with a title cut and other
songs, Susi headed to Applewood Studios to lay down tracks for an EP. He
was joined by his friends Michael Pfeifer on guitar and drummers Merle
Bergante, and Bob Baugh (Bad Bob). Rounding out the band were Ian
Campbell and Gary England on bass, and Peter Parks and David Zychek on
release caught the attention of The Denver Post music columnist G.
Brown, as well as local radio stations KAZY, KBPI, and KBCO.
(click to enlarge)
McKay, who was running the Rainbow Music Hall, and received a copy of
the record. He heard it and liked it. He called me to ask if I could
really deliver, I laughed and said, 'Of course!' He asked if we wanted
the gig opening for Steppenwolf. All of a sudden I had 30 days to get
the guys together as an actual live band.”
After putting John Susi on the bill, the stalled Steppenwolf sales picked up, and the show sold out.
“We ended up in Billboard,
as one of the highest grossing shows in the nation that week. But again
the money just wasn’t there to keep us going. After playing with
Steppenwolf, Michael Bolton, and Savoy Brown we had been booked to open
for Leslie West, Joe Walsh and the Neville Brothers, but we still
couldn’t make enough cash for expenses and a living. We all had to have
other jobs to stay alive, so the band broke up."
In between making music and guarding rock stars, Susi discovered another passion – wine.
“I was working security for Alice Cooper, during the Billion Dollar Babies
tour, and was used to Budweiser and Jack, and really bad concert wine.
This gal took me to a wine tasting, and that was it. I started traveling
to Northern California to learn about wine, and spending a lot of time
at wineries. Then I started making it."
serving the fruits of his labor to friends and family, he discovered
that tasters wanted to buy it. So he opened Raven Hill Winery, in
then moved to Conifer and started J. Susi Winery. I would still be
there today, except the lease expired on the property, and they sold it,
and the new owners didn’t renew it. I was devastated. So I got in my
car, filled it with my wine, and went to every winery I could find along
the way. I found Natchez Hills, and fell in love."
making his home in Hampshire, Tenn., Susi says the move was a perfect
fit, as the winery holds regular live music events on both indoor and
outdoor stages, and even has a recording studio. However you won’t find
him standing guard at the stage--but he will ask for your ID should you
want to taste the wine.