Monday, February 28, 2022

The Harrison Players


(Story is also posted in the March 2022 issue of the Pueblo County Historical Society The Pueblo Lore).

Seventeen days after the flood of June 3, 1921, the Grand Theater reopened after clearing “six and a half feet of water from the stage.” The repairs were a sign that entertainment would once again be a part of the Pueblo landscape after the horrific devastation. 

On November 6, the Daily Chieftain announced that the Grand was looking for a permanent stock company—a theater group which Pueblo could call its own—to be regular performers. A few days later, it was announced that the Harrison Players, formed by Charles Harrison, would take the stage as the troupe in residence. “The Harrison Players were organized expressly for Pueblo with the purpose of giving Pueblo theater goers a high-class, permanent, dramatic company,” according to the Grand’s manager, J.D. Colegrove. 

Charles Harrison was a well-known theater company player, who had formed stock player companies in Dallas, El Paso, and Kansas City. In a Chieftain story, he admitted that he was looking for a permanent home for his troupe and was happy to be setting up in Pueblo for the long term. 

The cast of the Harrison Players included a literal Who’s Who of early 1900s touring theater entertainers: Aubrey Anderson (previously of El Paso stock company), Frederick Boon (previously of the Arlington Players in Montana), Adelaide Irving—leading lady (popular actress who has appeared in Fort Worth, Austin, Houston and El Paso), Kelly Masters (from the F.P. Hillman Stock Co.), Fred McCord, Pearl Nichols (W.T. Swain Company in New Orleans), Ruby Rumley (Florida actress), Betty Rumley, Johnny Sullivan, Billy Topp (previously of the Lewis-Worth stock company).

 The group’s first performance, Two-Fisted Love, told the story of “a lightweight boxer (Kid Maloney) who is booked to fight a champion (Kid Burns). While he is in a small town to train, he meets the daughters of a minister, and this precipitates a battle which means more to him than the prize-ring championship.” 

Harrison Players’ performances: 


November 19 – Cheating Cheaters
November 26 – Mr. Jim Bailey
December 3 – Kick In (John Barrymore starred in the original NYC production)
December 11 – Little Peggy O’Moore
December 17 – Mary’s Ankle
December 27 – The Brat


January 1 – Civilian Clothes
January 8 – Tennessee’s Pardner
January 10 – Common Clay – starred Don Barclay (previously of Ziegfeld’s Follies)
January 12 – Geewilliker Hay
January 22 – The Shepherd of the Hills
January 26 – A Pair of Sixes (starring 1911 Centennial graduate Miss Wally Norris)
February 5 – Saintly Hypocrites and Honest Sinners
February 13 – At 9:45
February 18 – Fair and Warmer
February 26, 1922Her Husband’s Kin-Folks

Between November 11, 1921, and February 26, 1922, The Harrison Players staged a total of 17 plays, each running about a week. It was reported that every show sold out of tickets and there were waiting lists for admission. The company was so beloved that when rumors began to circulate that they were leaving Pueblo, the local paper ran a story asking them to reconsider (the rumors weren’t true, as the troupe only wanted to take a few days off). 

On March 1, 1922, all of that was about to change. 

At 1:15 in the morning, with an outside temperature of 22 degrees below zero, a fire broke out in the dance hall on the fourth floor of the Grand Opera House block. By 1:30, the three-alarm blaze had brought out every piece of equipment the fire department had and every fireman they could find. According to the Pueblo Firefighters Historical Society, the fire burned its way to the scenery loft above the stage and soon the falling and flaming scenery drapes ignited the stage. By 1:50, the roof had collapsed. The red sandstone exterior blocks were three feet thick and withstood the water and the weather. The estimated monetary loss was measured in the hundreds of thousands. The Harrison Players revealed that the loss of its sets and costumes was estimated to be $20,000 (2022 equivalent = $329,000). They had no insurance.

The day after the disaster, the troupe was left wondering what would become of them. They weren’t the only ones pondering the future of the performers. The Chieftain reported that the group wanted to stay, and that “scores of comments on the streets...the people want them to stay.” The city quickly rallied around the beloved Harrison Players. To financially help, the Rialto Theater held a benefit and donated all its revenue to them. The city approved the Harrison Players use of City Auditorium for a repeat performance of Saintly Hypocrites and Honest Sinners. They then moved to the Majestic Theater, where they performed Her Husband’s Kin-Folks. 

In an editorial, the paper pleaded with them to stay. “The Harrison Players in particular have won the good will of the people of Pueblo by their sincere efforts to provide clean and wholesome amusement of a high grade of artistic effort. Such a company is a valuable asset to any city, and it is the general hope that the destruction of the theater with much of the company’s equipment will not necessitate their removal from Pueblo. Anything that can be done within reason to make it possible for them to remain ought to be done. This we owe to the city if not to this painstaking and conscientious company of actors.” 

By March 5, it appeared that the Harrison Players would continue to perform in Pueblo. It was announced that the troupe “voted and decided to stay.” They would use the City Auditorium, and even announced a new play was in the works, Lone Star Ranch. The good news would not last. 

Just two days after announcing that they would stay in Pueblo, the troupe published a letter in the Chieftain, announcing that it could no longer stage performances due to “many obstacles.”

“To our dear friends. We had decided last Saturday to undertake to stay in Pueblo for a few more weeks, giving our performances in Memorial Hall, through the opportunity offered us by the City Commissioners. But we were swayed away from the vision of many obstacles when we made this decision by the great evidence of friendship shown us on the streets, and at our benefit. Later a more calm and mature view of the situation bringing to light troubles in the way of scenery needed, sickness of some of the players, offers received by others...”

“Never in the history of this city has a company of dramatic players given such a general satisfaction and gained such a tremendous number of loyal admirers and friends as did the Harrison Players, who appeared here in the Grand Opera House for seventeen weeks this winter. A big fire on March 1, resulting in the destruction of the theater and practically everything in it, brought to an end an engagement of one of the most enjoyed permanent theatrical attractions in the city.”

Billboard  - April 1, 1922

 The city commissioners offered the City auditorium to the players as an inducement to remain after the fire, the newspapers devoted columns to them, the fraternal and civic organizations offered their assistance, but after thorough consideration, it was decided they could not maintain their high standard of productions in the auditorium because of insufficient scenery to work with and the oversize of the building. 

Eight months later the group would return to the stage in Walsenburg. The troupe staged Cappy Ricks at the Star Theater. They would take the act on the road, performing in Rocky Ford and Ordway. 

After another year of touring Colorado, the Harrison Players would move to Colorado Springs. Charles Harrison and J.D. Colegrove would form the Harrison Play Bureau, a distribution house for scripts and other theater needs. In July 1924, the business moved to Denver (1012 E. Colfax). The last known performance of the Harrison Players was reported on June 27, 1924.

The Harrison Players never returned to Pueblo.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Found at the Thrift - 1955 Denver East High Yearbook


Taking a break from posting a record find, with this 1955 Denver East High yearbook, picked up at the big thrift store chain here. You never know what you might find in an old school annual. While I focus on lesser-known Colorado music finds, I thought you all would enjoy seeing this 16-year-old drama club member.

Yup, that is a young Judy Collins. The following year she would pursue her musical interests, performing at Sportsland Valley, near Winter Park. According to her biography she would continue to perform in Grand Lake, Estes Park, and the Gilded Garter, in Central City. Just two years after graduating East, she started performing at the Exodus Club, in Denver. Her first vinyl appearances would be Folk Song Festival at Exodus (SK 1002), followed by Mickey Sherman Presents Folk Festival at the Exodus (Sight and Sound SS 1002).

Collins would not be the only student in this yearbook to go on to national fame. Senior Marilyn Van Derbur would go on to win the Miss Colorado pageant in 1957, and would be crowned Miss America 1958.

(click to enlarge)

During her reign as Miss America, Van Derbur would release Miss America- Marilyn Van Derbur at the Hammond Organ (Decca DL 8770)

Monday, February 14, 2022

Freakin' Out on Love with Alpha Wave

Happy Valentine's Day! I thought I would dig through the "love" songs in my stash, and feature this 1980 catchy new wave-ish / pop number by the Denver band, Alpha Wave.

Listen to "Freakin' Out on Love" (3:30)

The band included Henry "Broz" Rowland (also formerly of Modern Kids, The Rowland Brothers, and The Dreamers) and Fred Poindexter (later of Thunder the Radar) on vocals and guitars, and Remo Packer, on drums. The single was recorded at Colorado Sound Recording, and was the b-side to the catchy power pop "You Know It's Coming." While Rowland and Poindexter stayed in Colorado, Packer later moved to Los Angeles (later with the groups Altra, Frankie Vigilante Boogie Band, Razor Sharp, Bryon's Backbeat Groove Co., The Drunken Monkeys, City Fritter, Anomaly, and Trudeau LA).

At one point the band also included Paul Conly (formerly of 1960s innovative psych-rock band, Lothar and the Hand People). 

"Yes, I was in Alpha Wave for a couple of years," Paul told me. "Broz Rowland was one of my students at the University of Colorado, Denver, College of Music. I taught music synthesis and audio recording. After he graduated, he put the group together and then asked me to join on keyboards. I did join after I left my teaching job. Broz and Fred Poindexter [AKA Eric Danger] were the principal songwriters. I wrote or co-wrote some of the songs."

 Conly's time with the group only lasted a few years, when he left to compose film music.

"My final show was Halloween at Mammoth Gardens. This was probably the best show ever for the group. A full house, a costume contest, a set-decorated stage and a good sound system. Then the box office was robbed and the promoter had no money to pay us. After a string of low paying gigs, it was the final straw for me and I quit Alpha Wave. Their next gig was at the Rainbow Ballroom as local openers for some L.A. punk band. It was trendy to spit on the band from the mosh pit and I was very glad to have missed that gig." 

Paul was replaced by Donny Scott. Later in the group's history, the band line-up included Myles Mangrem, and Carlton Bacon.

"I still play music with Eric Danger. We performed as recently as late summer, but I am too busy now with a jazz group, Jazz Hands, plus I am composing a score for a feature length documentary film."

Monday, February 7, 2022

Squad IV

In 1972, during a pre-patrol roll call at the Denver Police District 2 offices, Captain Doral Smith asked his officers a question nobody had ever heard him ask – if anyone played a music instrument. 

“Our district was in the northeast part of Denver and, at that time, there was quite a bit of racial tension,” said Michael Gargaro, who was then an officer, stationed at the District 2 station. “Captain Smith’s intentions were to connect with city youth, through music.”

Gargaro, who played guitar and keyboards, raised his hand, along with guitarist Paige Lyda, bassist Dave Kechter.

Their first gig was performing for the annual police Christmas party, attended by such political and community luminaries as then-governor Richard Lamm, then-Senator (and later Presidential candidate) Gary Hart, (senator and later Presidential candidate) Pat Schroeder, and Bill McNichols (then-Denver mayor).

“We put together a dozen songs and performed. It went so well it was decided that we should have a drummer and a name. A few days later an officer by the name of Wulf Kroekel was recruited to the band. Within a week we settled on the name “Squad IV.” Sergeant Don Westbrook would supervise the group, as per regulations.

The newly-formed group immediately started being booked by schools and community groups. "East High School was our first official concert in a Denver Public School [picture above]". The concept of seeing police officers playing pop music was a hit with students, and proved to be a successful public relations idea for the department. One which was quickly getting noticed, outside of Denver.

“We got an offer to go on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show. We had made some tapes back then, and Johnny’s show producer, asked to hear them, and booked us. We had our plane tickets and everything. We were so excited. But, even back then, there was political correctness. The producer of the show had second thoughts. They were concerned that it would divide their audience. We were really disappointed.”

While the Carson appearance was a bust, it energized the group to get into the studio, to record.

“Captain Smith contacted his friend Don Martin, over at KIMN. He had a studio and he got us in, and we worked with some studio musicians for back up stuff. We didn’t really like the recording process. We wanted to record live. Don explained that’s not how you do it. It sounded fake and we weren’t happy. In the end it was combination of live and overdubs."

Squad IV – Volume One (Silver and Blue) served as a promotional item at school events and community concerts. The money made from the disc was earmarked for the local March of Dimes. The 7” EP contained four songs – “I Believe in Music” (Mac Davis cover) / “Proud Mary” (Creedence Clearwater Revival / Ike and Tina Turner cover) and “Steamroller Blues" (James Taylor cover) / “Joy to the World” (Three Dog Night cover). Gargaro believes 1,000 copies were pressed. Other credits on the disc include Ralph Harrison, Dean Tellefson, and Jim Schumacher.

Squad IV would not, of course, be the only law enforcement band in Denver. Early in the formation of the group, Captain Smith enlisted the help of Bo Cottrell, who was a member of the very popular group, the Lawmen, which included members of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department.

"Doral got a hold of Bo Cotrell and told him what his plans were for the group. It was Bo who actually helped us. We even got to perform downstairs at Taylors supper club while the Lawmen performed upstairs in the main showroom upstairs. There was never any competition between us and the Lawmen. They were more like the Kingston Trio, with some comedy thrown in.”

As Squad IV’s popularity exploded, it was suggested that the next single should move away from cover versions of Top 40 songs.

“Knowing that we had a possibility of national fame, it was recommended that we record originals. People told us we were going to be big,” Gargaro said. 

For the second record (entitled Volume 2) the band enlisted the help of Fred Arthur Productions. The disc would include the songs “Love Is Forever” (composed by Paige Lyda), and “Bad Dreams” (written by Michael Gargaro). Gargaro believes 1,000 copies were pressed.

While Squad IV’s national debut on the Carson show didn’t go as planned, they would go on to interact with a diverse group of nationally-known performers and politicians – including Marc Bolan, (T-Rex) Engelbert Humperdinck, B.B. King, Donna Fargo, the Oak Ridge Boys, Kenny Rogers, the New Christy Minstrels, and promoter Barry Fey. Squad IV also performed for (then) Vice President George H.W. Bush.

“We were playing at the Playboy Club in Denver, at the top of the Radisson, off Lincoln Street. It was not really what a person would think. It was a very professional environment. Very high class. They had two rooms that had live band music, and another for comedians. [Denver's-own Fats Johnson was the in-house comedian]. We played there on our off-duty time, with permission from the Police Department. We had several stints there. Anyway, T. Rex had played that night, in Denver and the band members were staying at the Radisson. All of a sudden, they walk in, and start hanging out. They noticed that our equipment was like theirs, so they come up to the stage and started playing.”  Squad IV Also performed for Engelbert Humperdinck at the Playboy Club, after his appearance in Denver. 

The group would go on to open for BB King, at Denver Coliseum. In 1981, when the Oak Ridge Boys came to Colorado, they specifically requested Squad IV as their opening act.

“A few years after that the Oak Ridge Boys came back to Denver, to do a show with Kenny Rogers. Their manager called us and asked if we wanted to meet Kenny. They were staying at the hotel near the stadium and had us escorted to the event to meet Kenny. We gave them all some Denver Police ball caps as a thank you for their kindness"

While the band was riding high on local popularity, the original line-up would soon change.

“We were together for about five years, then we replaced Wulf,” he said. “He decided that he wanted to be more involved in promoting the band.”

Officer Gary Kerchmar was brought in to replace Kroekel, but he wouldn’t last long. “So, Doral put out the word, and we had a drum competition. I think three or four guys auditioned, and that’s where we got Jerry Martinez.”

Bassist Dave Kechter would be replaced by Rodger Berry (who was replaced by Tony Gardella). Guitarist Paige Lyda was a police artist and would soon be promoted to detective. He would be replaced by John Smith, who was later replaced by Jerry Arellano and Michael Thompson.

While the band was a fun diversion from patrol responsibilities, many of the band members wanted to be back out on patrol. “I think they thought this would be like a military band, but for a lot of the guys, we wanted to be out on the street,” Gargaro said.

Captain Smith would soon retire, and Squad IV would be moved into community services – doing DARE programs, and other school resource responsibilities. The department would then go through another major shake-up. While Police Chief Ari Zavaras supported the band idea, those who would followed him did not fully endorse the program.

“After a couple of years, the department insisted that we work the street. We continued to play, on our own – with permission.”All the members were eventually promoted to detectives and moved on.

Squad IV’s affiliation with the Denver Police Department ended in 1985, but they didn't disband. When they started playing on our own, they added several band members – Marty Martinez on keyboards and trumpet, and Bob DeGasperis, saxaphone. Bob would pass away in 1999, Ricky Martin, who still performs in local Denver area bands and bassist Eddie Perez who currently performs in church worship bands in the metro Denver area. Squad IV officially broke up, in 2016, after Rodger Berry passed away.

“We were at the point where there were only three members left, and using fill ins just wasn’t working." Gargaro said.

Original member Dave Kechter passed away in 2009.“I ended up being the only original until the end,” Gargaro said. “It’s funny, none of the members in the band ever thought about giving up their police gigs to be music stars. Every one of them reached full retirement, and I did 30 years.”

At 71, he runs his own security business, Covenant Community Services. He has fond memories of his time in Squad IV, and still runs into people who feel the same.

“Every now and then we will run into people who remember when we came to their school. One guy told me Squad IV was the reason he became an officer.”