Monday, April 15, 2013

Danny Griffith

Steve Mackin interview conducted March 2012.

Anyone who ever visited Cripple Creek from the mid 1960s to mid 1980s, specifically the Gold Bar Room at the Imperial Hotel, were entertained by the “King of Melodrama Pianists,” Danny Griffith.

“Danny grew up in Glenwood Springs. His father was part of a big band, and my folks heard him perform at the Oxford Hotel in Denver,” said Steve Mackin, who spent many years at the Imperial, which was owned by his family. “This was about 1966. They invited him to come work for us, at the Imperial – which he did, for 18 years.”

It’s estimated that Griffth performed in 3,000 melodramas, while at the hotel.

Danny Griffith passed away in 1993, in Tucson, where he had been the regular performer at the Gaslight Theatre. He was 50 years old. He is buried in Cripple Creek.

(Partial) Danny Griffith LP discography:
Cripple Creek Gold 
Danny Griffith and Jim Tracy - Sounds of the Gold Bar Room 
The Glad Rags Volume One 
The Glad Rags Volume Two 
Sounds of the Gold Bar Room - featuring the Glad Rags
Danny Griffith in Cripple Creek
Imperial Rag Time
Imperial Treasures
Sounds of the Gold Bar Room #12
Gold Bar Room 30th Anniversary Album

The Gold Bar Room has recently remastered a few of Griffith's recordings, which are available for purchase here.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Solve the Mystery - Gene Lewis

Earlier this year I acquired a 78 by Gene Lewis and the Dude Rancher's (apostrophe in band name is noted).  "Mother Goose Boogie," issued on Barne's Recordings (apostrophe in label name noted) out of Colorado Springs, is a great hillbilly bopper. Give it a listen.

Cool, huh?

The invaluable Rockin' Country Style website, notes a few Gene Lewis recordings from 1957-1959 (see here). But is the Gene Lewis who appears on those 45s, the same Gene Lewis who appears on this 78? Give a listen to those samples.  Pretty darn similar.

No telling, but wow, wouldn't that be something to uncover an unknown hillbilly rocker from Gene Lewis--one that has ties to Colorado?

If you know of something that can help solve the mystery, let me know.

By the way Barne's Recording Studio, located at 2314 E. Platte, is now home to Milt’s Coffee Shop.

Marty Spritzer - Jade

(Monty Baker comments added June 2013)

Left to right:  Monty Baker, Murray Watson, Marty Spritzer, 
and Cabell Shepard
Picture courtesy of Marty Spritzer and Joyce Nielsen

In the late 1960s, the Pueblo Colorado music scene was pretty much a family affair – everyone knew everyone, and when bands broke up, it didn’t take long before the former members found their way in a friend’s band. So was the case of Jade.

“I met Monty Baker back before he was in the Trolls,” said Marty Spritzer. “He was in his Minnesota band, the Radiants. We all knew each other when we played at the Honey Bucket. When he moved to Pueblo, The Chandells and the Trolls just hung out together.”

By 1966, while the Chandells were at the height of their popularity, the Trolls were headed for a break-up. Monty would take his bass and leave the Trolls, joining the Colorado Springs band, The New World Blues Dictionary. But by 1968 he was looking for another band.

And so was Marty.

There was talk of forming a super group with members from the now-defunct bands. Once all of the friends got together, things quickly took shape.

“We all knew each other socially. Monty brought in keyboardist Cabell Shepard from Dictionary, and drummer Murray Watson, who was playing in a Trinidad band, The Fuzz. Then I joined.”

Spritzer named the new band Jade. “I was on a dragon kick, back then,” he said.

Thanks to Cabell Shepard's auto mechanic father, the band also soon had an official touring vehicle - a 32-ft. long school bus.  "His dad redid the whole thing.  He put in a 396 motor, and we had Jade painted on the side." 

The four members practiced at Monty’s house, where it became quickly evident to Spritzer that this wasn’t the Chandells. “I really had no clue what kind of music we would play. So when they started playing the psych stuff, I literally had to learn it – stuff like ‘Purple Haze.’ This was 1969, so we had to keep up with the time, and follow the trend. Monty was so diverse, and I hadn’t really done much with the psychedelic sound of the time. He brought a lot of that from his time with the Dictionary.”
"Marty had a voice that would bring tears to your eyes, and a guitar that would bring joy to your heart," said Monty Baker.
The band kept a steady pace of gigs, and perfected the stage act throughout Colorado Springs, and Southern Colorado. “Monty’s first wife made a three-foot long sequin dragon that we used to hang on stage.”

In spite of the dictated setlists, the band was able to branch out, playing originals, penned by Shepard. “He was the songwriter of the group. He had just written a couple of songs, and we all decided we should record them. So we went over to Summit Studios in the Springs, and laid down the tracks for the single.”

The A-side of the recording, "That Was Yesterday," is a moody, soft rock, slow-dance number, which spotlights Shepard's keyboard.

The psych-tinged B-side is a stark contrast from the flip, showcasing the band's diversity, and allows each member to shine.

Spritzer believes only 500 copies were pressed.

As is usually the case with local bands, Jade’s members quickly realized they could only go so far, and began to splinter. “Monty wanted to move back to Iowa. So I bought his PA system, and we tried to move on with the band.” Spritzer brought in Jerry Suthers, who handled some of the vocals. He had kept in touch with former Teardrops guitarist, Ernie Watta, who soon became a member of the new Jade line-up (playing keyboards), along with his wife Maxine. “Maxine made a lot of our stage clothes. I remember once she made me a whole outfit, with bell bottoms.”

Change would continue for Jade, when drummer Murray Watson left to join the band Joint Session. He was replaced by Joe Yates. Spritzer admits that this stage of Jade was pretty much a free-for-all, and he was unable to keep the new line-up together. The band soon broke-up.

Ernie and Maxine Watta established a home base in Denver where they performed as a duo, before later moving to California. In 1983 Maxine Watta released a self-titled LP, along with the single “Real Love” (Rocshire Records 95062).  The b-side, “Give Back My Love” was written by Ernie.

Jade’s one and only single has become a rarity among collectors, looking to find obscure local rock recordings. If money is an object (the single goes for up to $100, if you can find it), “I’m Leaving You” can be found on the Garage Zone LP set, and on the 2007 CD compilation, Psychedelic States: Colorado in the 60s.

Spritzer still performs, and is currently in the group One Night Stand, which includes his daughter, Karen.

“We play a variety of stuff, and I’m still writing – but playing in bars now is much different then playing in bars back then.”