Thursday, August 1, 2019

Joe Bob Mundell and The Ballad of Highlands Ranch

Back in 1978, Denver was growing so big, there wasn't enough space to accommodate the influx of new residents enamored with Colorado (thanks, John Denver). The Mission Viejo Company, seizing the opportunity, purchased a large parcel of land, 12 miles south of Denver, in unincorporated Douglas County - home to nothing more than herds of cattle, and a handful of ranches. The suburban plan included thousands of new homes, a library, schools, parks, and shopping centers.

But not everyone was happy with the plan. Namely the ranchers who were put smack dab in the middle of an eminent domain fight, for their land.

Back then, Joe Mundell was a student teacher in Nederland. The former University of Colorado-Boulder physical education major, and football player, dabbled in songwriting, and the story about the ranchers versus the ranch homes caught his attention.

"I was reading about the story, in the Rocky Mountain News, and saw a picture of a dummy hanging with a sign on it," Mundell told me. "It had kind of a last cowboy standing vibe to it. The developers ended up winning, and I thought it would make a good song."

Mundell recollects that he wanted to record the ode to the expropriating of private property as a bucket list project. "It was something I always wanted to do, make my own record. I recorded that in Boulder, in somebody's basement. The studio had carpet on the walls, and an old 8-channel, half inch tape recorder."

He estimates 500 copies of "The Ballad of Highlands Ranch" and its flipside, "Talking to the Waterfall" were pressed. "I sent them off, but out of the 500, I think I still have about 200 left," he laughed.

Mundell took a chance in Nashville, but admitted, "I got smashed around there, and I needed to pursue a living, so I came back to Colorado. It really wasn't a crushing thing to not get a recording contract. It was just a realization."

He put his degree to use in Alamosa, coaching high school sports, before moving to his hometown of Walsh, located in far southeast Colorado. The bulk of his teaching career would be in nearby Lamar, where he taught math, and served as the track and cross country coach, and offensive coordinator for the school's football team, for 35 years. "I was also sponsor of the Knowledge Bowl team, which I was very proud of."

In between teaching, Mundell continued to pick up his guitar, and play in a few local and area bands, including the Black Water Band, Prairie Fire, and a duo known as Stereo.

He and his wife Darla are the parents of two grown children, a daughter Mandi, and a son Blake, who has followed in his father's musical footsteps. "My son lives in Nashville, and performs under the pseudonym, Courier," Mundell said.  In 2017, he released his 13-song LP The Present Tense.

Joe Mundell retired from the Lamar school district, in 2016, to move back to Walsh. He is currently the high school math teacher, there.

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