Monday, November 8, 2021

Stairway to Heaven from Gateway High School, Aurora

(NOTE: Rick Kurtz, who I interviewed for this piece, passed away on October 27).

Hey all! So 50 years ago today, Led Zeppelin released the signature power ballad "Stairway to Heaven."

FIFTY YEARS AGO!

I had always wondered if I would run into a Led Zeppelin cover in my quest for obscure Colorado vinyl finds. A Page/Plant song had always eluded me, until I found this Aurora high school LP in a Colorado Springs thrift. To my absolute shock, the record was inside another Colorado high school album, so sadly there isn't a cover to go along with it.

Listen to "Stairway to Heaven"

The kids at Aurora's Gateway High School are to thank for this find. Recorded in 1974, and directed by Eugene Matsuura, the album features several pop covers (included the Beatles "Hey Jude," Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," Simon and Garfunkel's "Dangling Conversation," and "The Theme From the Men" the short-lived TV show, with the theme written by Issac Hayes). 

 
Gateway High School Pops Ensemble (click to enlarge). Rick Kurtz standing in second row, holding guitar - Photo courtesy of Kenton Adler

I tracked down a few members of the group who filled me in a bit on the recording.

"I don't know if you would call me the lead singer on that record," said Kenton Adler. " I sang the opening verse, and the harmony parts. I'm pretty sure it's me on 'As we wind on down the road...'. Marianne Ledder was one of the flutes."

"Everybody was all for including the song on the album," said Marianne Ledder Sellers. "I think Gene [Matsuura] just gave it to us, and we were cool with it. He did all of the arranging. I think it took more than one take to record the song."

"Gene Matsuura did a really cool arrangement on that record," said Adler. "I think Robyn Smith was the other flute, along with Marianne. The electric guitars were Rick Kurtz and Dennis Guin. Rick went on to a music career in Nashville." (Side note: Rick Kurtz was a guitarist with Delbert McClinton, T. Graham Brown, Webb Wilder and others).

 "I don't have a great memory of the Pops Ensemble," said Rick Kurtz. "I think Kenton has a better recollection, than me. All I remember is that it was the only class I enjoyed, and one of the only I took, as I had quite a few credits from attending Australian schools, for a few years, previous to Denver."

Other members included Dave Dawes, Brad Westhoff, Sarah Maruyama, Kim White, Lud Villani, Calvin Erbert, and Mike Collins.

"A guy named Dan Daniels was the recording engineer," said Adler. "He brought portable equipment, and microphones, and we did it in the choir room at Gateway, in one day. He had a studio near Hinkley High School, in an industrial complex."

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