King Koncert: Memoirs of an American Rocker
by Tim Van Schmidt
February 12- VFW. Local Punk/Animal Rights Benefit
Punks, skinheads, hippies and metalheads came together at the VFW in Fort Collins for a 5 band show benefiting Animal Rights group AMNET over the Valentine’s Day weekend- the first show I attended in 1988. Nihil-Ex opened the show with the hard-edged Eco-Guerillas following. The Guerillas got a huge pit going, filling half the hall and making the VFW people nervous about violence. Dissent, from Rapid City, South Dakota, came up next with a very hot set that kept the place jumping. They covered the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” handed out “valentines” and stickers, and generally turned out one of the best local hardcore performances that I had seen in town.
Happy World played a short set next, hampered by annoying guitar cord problems. Dead Silence, also stuck with equipment problems, finished off the night, covering the Clash’s “White Riot” and the Who’s “My Generation,” re-igniting a sweaty, swirling pit, and offering Animal Rights news from the stage. They also distributed a flyer dealing with the poignant problem of the homeless. One band, Ex-Patriate couldn’t play as scheduled, as one of their members had to work, but they received recognition from the crowd anyway.
AMNET, a Fort Collins Animal Rights organization offering several services including an electronic bulletin board, had tables at the back of the hall offering information on farm animal abuse, vegetarianism, and use of animals in research in the medical and cosmetic fields. The information and video tape they played dramatically demonstrated the need for awareness of and legislation for the reform of our society’s treatment of animals.
I would review the show in my fourth and last issue of Expressure. It was fun while it lasted and I did make some real contacts in the hardcore zine world, but I was restless and didn’t want to be tied down to one project. In the editorial corner on the front page, however, I hailed the hardcore community that I had become acquainted with as “some of the most alive people I have ever met.”
March 6- Lincoln Center. Obo Addy and Kukrudu.
The Lincoln Center in Fort Collins had a regular children’s series that mostly featured spirited stage productions of favorite kids stories like “Charlotte’s Web” or “Peter Pan.” This environment was the exact opposite of the hardcore world- especially if you’re going to the matinee show at 2:30. It was clean, polite, happy and deliberately formal, clean-cut entertainment. But that didn’t make it bad.
I usually skipped the stage productions, but volunteered to take Kaitlin to see a show by Obo Addy and Kukrudu. According to the Music Hound World The Essential Album Guide, Addy had been born in Ghana where his father was “a shaman who used drumming to heal the sick.” Addy eventually moved to Portland, Oregon and established himself as an authentic ethnic voice in the American marketplace. That included performing kids shows that not only featured a slinky, wiry African-inspired music, but also some gentle explanation about the instruments and the sounds. Upbeat, infectious world music had come to the children of Fort Collins, and their reaction was delight to the gregarious presentation.
March 11- Hi-Lo Club. Marcia Ball.
A good buddy of mine was into Texas rock and Southern rock in general and he came to me with the news that Louisiana keyboardist Marcia Ball was coming to a small club in Boulder called the Hi-Lo. Her music was a rollicking blues and boogie woogie mix, especially strong for a white woman playing a traditionally black sound.
It also helped that Ball was long and lean and sexy. For example, the cover of her 1985 release, “Hot Tamale Baby,” featured the grinning musician in a loose red dress, holding a paint brush dipped in red paint, leaning forward and ready to pounce. Ball was sexy at the Hi Lo just by sitting at the piano, wearing a short dress and carelessly kicking her leg to the music while peeling down the keyboards with those long fingers. She was certainly tall for a female and my friends and I found out just how tall during the intermission when we approached her for an autograph- she and I stood eye to eye. I spent most of the rest of the evening standing right at the front of stage (actually little more than a riser) just a few feet away from Ball, watching her hands sliding easily up and down the keyboard. Indeed, Ball was a “Delta Blues Sensation,” just like the concert ad promised.
The Oracle- The History of Hardcore
My zine publishing had achieved an unexpected result. I received a call from an ex-college journalist who was starting his own newspaper- the Mason Street Oracle, named after the street he lived on and the great San Francisco underground paper, the Oracle. Eric was the editor and publisher, along with his partner Mary and editor Robert. Together, these refugees from the Colorado State University journalism department created an edgy, challenging newspaper that would skewer such local targets as a property rental company and an ultra-right wing church. Eric had seen my zines at Avogadro’s Number, Fort Collins’ hippie landmark and one of my favorite distribution points. In fact, Avo’s owner Rob Osborne informed me later that he had also suggested that Eric call me when news got around about the Oracle’s first issue. Eric called me to write an article about hardcore. I responded by attempting to create a historical chronicle of the movement.
I traced the hardcore movement of the 1980s back to the punk movement of the late 1970s, described the general characteristics of the underground hardcore network and pointed out the hardcore activity that had been occurring in Fort Collins. I maintained that the focus of the hardcore community was live shows. Finally, I tried to sum up what I thought was the cultural importance of hardcore:
“In hardcore, a restless, confrontive and creative youth has found a way to vent their frustrations and express concerns and dissatisfaction with how the world is turning. In its honesty, hardcore activity has spread to Poland and Yugoslavia, to South America and Japan. From the political unrest of the Reagan years, to the problems of living in a drug infested society, hardcore continues to ask the questions that folk and rock music asked during the turbulent 1960s. Refusing to conform to the dictates of music corporations and an extremely conservative society in general, hardcore fills an important place in cultural history. They have become the rebels who will keep alive an individual spirit in the face of mind-numbing onslaught of mass media in the 1980s.”
March- Bar Bazaar. The subdudes.
Connecting with the Oracle and getting published twice a month got me excited about the many things I could write about. In the months to come I would volunteer to write about subjects as diverse as the Vietnam War Memorial, the local arts scene and comic books. But more than anything, I contributed music articles. My second article for the Oracle was a short introductory piece about a band that had just recently moved to Fort Collins from New Orleans, the subdudes. Since arriving only a few months before, the group had already established a local reputation as being a hot live band, so I took it upon myself to go see the group at a local bar, then report on it.
The venue was the Bar Bazaar, a dark, gritty place located in a crumbling Fort Collins landmark, the Northern Hotel. There were only a handful of patrons in the club when the subdudes took the stage on this occasion- four ragged guys lined up in a row with no drum kit. The group had come to Fort Collins from New Orleans bringing with them a fresh rhythm and blues underscored by mature harmony vocals. The music stirred up jangling acoustic and spicy electric guitar, a mellow wash of accordion and a rhythm section made up simply of a bass and tambourine.
Live, the subdudes were funky and danceable, letting loose with a tremendous amount of power for a band I first mistook for “just” a folk band. While Steve Amedee banged out a rock steady rhythm with just a stick and a tambourine, John Magnie pumped and pulled at the accordion. Johnny Ray Allen played bass and Tommy Malone anchored the group with lead vocals and guitars. Their music was positive and energetic, digging deep into the roots of Delta folk, blues and soul. Sometime during the evening, I approached the subdudes’ soundman, who in turn asked the band if I could have a copy of the band’s first self-produced cassette. The deal was made and my article, reviewing both the cassette and their set at the Bar Bazaar, appeared in the Oracle. This was the first time I saw the subdudes play, but they were well on their way to becoming my favorite group. I would see them more than any other band in my concert-going career.
April 12- Casino Cabaret. Fluid, Fishbone.
Mix the funk of late 1960s band Sly and the Family Stone with the frenetic intensity of hardcore, add extreme, deafening volume and a fist full of amphetamines and you’ve got the L.A. band Fishbone. I had become acquainted with Fishbone’s music through their 1985 self-titled debut EP release and I especially loved the freewheeling power of the song “Party at Ground Zero.” Associated with ska music, but going much further by fusing with genres such as hardcore, the band not only brought up social issues, but they did so with a wicked kind of humor.
The venue for the show was the Casino Cabaret, a run down, beat up nightclub located in the Five Points area of Denver. Five Points had a bad reputation and when my companion learned where we were going, he almost cancelled. Still, the Casino Cabaret was big and roomy and a large crowd gathered. The Fluid, a tough Front Range hardcore band opened the show with a set of more rock-oriented material, attempting only occasionally to step out of set song structure for some feedback experimentation.
For their part, Fishbone gave a performance of astounding energy. The members of the band spent the evening jumping, sliding and diving across the stage while maintaining a constant barrage of raw, revved-up funk. Horns punctuated riffs of screeching guitar as heavy bass and drums kept up a fast-paced pumping fit for Fishbone’s macho bravado.
The dance floor became a mob scene of whirling slam dancers and stage divers and Fishbone left the crowd, hot, sweaty, damaged and spent- chanting their name. My friend and I watched the spectacle from a balcony on one side. We left the Casino feeling like we had been in the pit as well thanks to the torrid pace Fishbone maintained as well as the earsplitting volume. This show ranks up there with Led Zeppelin and Husker Du as one of the loudest shows I had experienced, resulting in some low level ear damage. It took days for the ringing in my ears to subside.
April 15- Rainbow Music Hall. MC Lisa and the Motivators, Sinead O’Connor.
Moments of chilling power and brilliance marked Sinead O’Connor’s Colorado debut performance at the Rainbow Music Hall in Denver. I had been to the Rainbow in 1985 to see Miles Davis and since then it had been closed and reopened. When I first heard about the O’Connor show, it had been scheduled for the Hi Lo Club in Boulder, the place where I had only recently seen Marcia Ball. Since the Hi Lo was such a small place, the show sold out immediately, so quickly that the event was moved to the Rainbow to accommodate more fans. Even though the Irish singer-songwriter’s set was disappointingly short, adding only two new songs and a Smith’s cover to material from her excellent “The Lion and the Cobra” album, O’Connor and band still offered glimpses of the passion and vision that made her a sudden music sensation.
O’Connor was a small, wiry woman with a shaved head and tough stance. She was backed up by a band made up of drums, keyboards, two guitars and bass. On stage, the group adequately reproduced the sometimes powerful, sometimes delicate arrangements of music on O’Connor’s album. But it was O’Connor’s vocal mastery that was stunning, words rising from a whisper to a roar, jumping full octaves, and twisting and turning back down again. She seemed tightly wound and super serious, which worked well with her feisty lyrics and dramatic performance style. Indeed, when O’Connor returned to perform “Troy” for the encore, accompanying herself only with a twelve-string guitar, her true brilliance shone in a striking, touching and riveting moment.
Warm-up for O’Connor was energetic rap act MC Lisa and the Motivators, offering plenty of shaking and shimmying, crowd-rousing come-ons, and body-blasting volume and rhythm.
I wrote reviews of this show and the Fishbone show for the Oracle, the first of a constant flow of concert reviews that I would publish in various newspapers in town. Also appearing with my O’Conner and Fishbone reviews was an article outlining the recent history of the bar and nightclub scene in Fort Collins. That not only included historical descriptions of places like Sam’s Old Town Ballroom and Linden’s, but also a place called the Bear and the Whale, a bar that hosted a weekly event called Blue Monday, a blues jam that attracted the cream of regional musicians in a jam format. For years after it closed down, you could still see the empty liquor bottles on the dusty bar in the Bear and the Whale. That is until the building was gutted and refitted for offices.
April 29- Local Punk/Animal Rights Benefit.
Meanwhile, I stayed in touch with local hardcore. The Bellvue Grange (a community hall available for rent for a variety of events) became a churning, steaming slam pit for another hot Animal Rights benefit show. Breakneck hardcore music was the order of the night as the room became one big lung full of smoke, clenched fists and steel-tipped boots flailing away, ripped shirts and black leather jackets emblazoned with the names of bands such as D.R.I., the Exploited, the Misfits, and Metallica. Mohawks, shaved heads and tattoos invaded this little country town to celebrate a kind of springtime version of Halloween- wild, irreverent and dead-on serious about having fun.
Organizers again brought together the best of Front Range hardcore bands for the benefit of local Animal Rights group AMNET. The Eco-Guerillas opened the show with a ripping, raw set. Dead Silence followed, taking on issues such as the homeless and voting amid a storm of feedback. The band encouraged the crowd to “use your head and do something!” Ex-Patriate, who missed out playing in the VFW Animal Rights show, finished off the evening with a sonic barrage which included covers such as the old Cream song “Sunshine of Your Love.”
It was announced that $500 was raised for AMNET at the Grange and that part of that money would go to helping care for a dog that had been run over and left for dead. The February benefit had raised $600 for the organization, the money going to help pay computer bills for the Animal Rights information service the group maintained, as well as for saving two cats, a rabbit which had been shot in the eye, and a dog. The rabbit was available for adoption and the dog would be well enough for a new home in eight weeks. AMNET also showed a video about the plight of an abandoned dog in between band sets, the crowd sitting together on the floor to watch, and also passed out literature concerning vegetarianism, dissection of animals in the classroom, as well as an introduction to their on-line computer services.
May 13- Azatlan Theatre. Roots Redemption, Meat Puppets.
The Meat Puppets opened their 1988 tour at the Azatlan Theatre in Denver, rolling Friday the Thirteenth up into a sweaty, screaming ball and spinning it into the night with manic intensity. By this time it was becoming clear that if I wanted to see some of the new bands coming out of the hardcore independent music movement of the 1980s, I had to visit places like the broken down Casino Cabaret and the crumbling old Azatlan Theatre. These places were probably cheap for concert promoters to rent and they were off the usual beaten track, making the events a little lower profile in terms of attracting attention from the authorities. At the Azatlan, the Meat Puppets churned up a full selection of their hardcore/rock/metal/country insanity, often revving the music up to the brink of being out of control. Indeed, at one point guitarist Curt Kirkwood was so immersed in a solo that he fell back into the drum kit.
The Meat Puppets, featuring brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood and drummer Derrick Bostrom, had reinvented the power trio, doing much the same for western American musical traditions that Cream did for English blues and jazz improvisation in the late 1960s. Rock and especially country roots were clearly evident in the Meat Puppets’ music, but strained through a tight, though certainly twisted, group vision. Curt Kirkwood’s guitar work in particular raged and howled, the quick nimbleness of country and bluegrass mixing easily with electric stylings reminiscent of Zappa and Hendrix. I was so impressed that I bought a Meat Puppets sticker depicting some kind of weird, twisted human figure that was somewhere between a cartoon and a Picasso cubist nightmare.
While I had been a longtime fan of big time rock and roll, I was also learning that it was a real shame that music fans had to dig so deep to find such stimulating live music. While commercial giants such as Pink Floyd packed Denver’s Mile High Stadium, charging three times as much and offering a commercially oriented musical rehash, the Meat Puppets worked long and hard for a small audience, in a little urban theater, sweat flying across the stage and dripping off their guitars. The shame was truly in the conservative, reactionary tastes of mainstream music audiences, preferring to reward the known and pat rather than the fresh and adventurous. Reggae groove band Roots Redemption opened the show for the Meat Puppets at the Azatlan.
May 25- Local Punk/ Public Radio Benefit
While the rest of Fort Collins was busy celebrating the Memorial Day weekend by barbecuing and throwing Frisbees in the park, a group of DJs from the local public radio station- KCSU, located on the Colorado State University campus- held its first benefit concert in the back parking lot of a local record store. Though the intense Colorado sun turned the unshaded expanse of blacktop into an undulating griddle, a crowd of faithful supporters of KCSU’s late night alternative radio program, Radio Zero, spread themselves out on lawn chairs and the hoods of cars to hear local bands churn out full-bore hardcore rock ‘n’ roll.
The Masons opened the show with an amazing display of electric dulcimer feedback. Seven Hands followed with some original material plus covers by the Stones, Police, R.E.M. and the Smiths. Great Caesar’s Ghost, made up of former members of industrial noise band Catch 23, played next, offering some voice wrecking rock ‘n’ roll that ranged from a Virginia reel to a “Jesus Christ Superstar” cover and even a nod towards Lynyrd Skynyrd. Newly reformed Trim Lizard, who I had seen play the Big Creature Café just the summer before, finished off the day, demonstrating what they described as a “new attitude.”
The benefit was organized by Radio Zero DJ (and Trim Lizard singer) Matt Jervis, and was sponsored by the record store. There was no admission charge to the show but donations were collected from the crowd in circulating spray painted boxes. Soft drinks and t-shirts were also sold at a table manned by one DJ whose standard line became “Is this a donation or do you want change?”
In a brief interview I conducted for the Oracle, Radio Zero founder Lantz Barbour described the benefit effort as a show of good faith to KCSU which turned up with a bigger deficit than expected. The money from the benefit was to go to KCSU’s general fund to help support the station as well as to continue Radio Zero’s subscriptions to the College Music Journal, a valuable resource analyzing the play lists of mostly public radio stations around the country.
June 8- Art Boutique Gallery. Yoko Ono
With a few months of freelance journalism under my belt and a regular gig with a newspaper that would print just about anything I wrote, I took a leap by calling up a Denver art gallery that was sponsoring an art show featuring the work of John Lennon. The motivating factor, however, was that Yoko Ono was going to come to the gallery to promote the show and I wanted an interview. I must have called very early in the process, because no one else had yet expressed any interest in interviewing Ono. So I would become only one of a small handful of journalists that would be scheduled for a one-on-one interview with her.
Of course, by the time the day arrived- on my 32nd birthday- the gallery had been besieged with so many requests that my interview was turned into a press conference. No matter, because I was very excited to be in the presence of this legendary figure. But more, it was a chance to witness a master of publicity at work. Ono and Lennon had at one time turned press conferences into performance events, and it was a thrill to get to participate, even many years after their famous press conferences in bed and in a bag.
My experience at conducting interviews was limited to only three times- Potliquor at the Whiskey A Go Go in 1972, Tim Hart of Steeleye Span in Seattle in 1974, and Kate Wolf in California in 1986. I was very nervous about interviewing Ono and prepared an extensive list of questions- most of which I would not get to use. I went to the gallery very early to get the flavor of the event that was building. Jonie and Kaitlin came along and patiently waited.
The day began as a scramble for gallery employees and a surge of photographers and reporters. At nine in the morning, the Art Boutique, was deserted except for two employees hurriedly carrying merchandise two doors down to the “John Lennon Boutique,” where t-shirts, plates, aprons, tote bags, cards, posters, stationary and mugs were to be made available to Lennon fans who were not able to afford the heady prices on the art work in the gallery. The name of the show was succinct: “IMAGINE- In Memory of John Lennon’s Art and In Celebration of His Life.”
As the minutes ticked by, however, the phones in the gallery began ringing. A wire service reporter wanted to get an interview with Ono. Lennon fans began calling to confirm what they had heard about Ono appearing that evening. A television crew arrived to begin setting up for their noon interview. Curious passers-by peered in the windows but were turned away when they ventured inside the front doors of the gallery. A call had to be made to Ono’s hotel room to confirm the publicity schedule. One snag was that a radio station had already been stood up.
By mid-afternoon, the gallery had been roped off. The first television crew had taken their interviews and left. Ono went off to lunch and I went with Jonie and Kaitlin to have a picnic lunch at the Denver Zoo. I was too wound up about the impending encounter with Ono and couldn’t relax, so we went back to the gallery. There, reporters had gathered from various publications including Billboard, the Rocky Mountain News, Westword- and me. The publicity agent circulated among the press representatives and asked that everyone please refrain from asking for autographs. Some journalists had evidently asked earlier that day and Ono had been put off.
John Lennon’s artwork, unassuming line drawings with streaks of color added by Ono for the exhibition, hung on the walls with little real ceremony or pomp. Mixed in with the art were black and white blow-ups of Lennon and Ono. Sculpture pieces fashioned out of Lennon’s drawings sat on marble and black boxes with whirling neon colors. A small stack of Lennon’s erotic lithographs leaned carelessly against a post. Prices conspicuously posted throughout the gallery ranged from a mere $195 to $4500. Souvenirs for less could be found down the street at the John Lennon Boutique.
As the gallery hummed with professional anticipation, Ono returned from lunch to complete a few individual interview obligations. Seated in a sunny gallery alcove, Ono looked relaxed and patient as camera shutters clicked and questions were repeated. By this time, the sidewalk outside held a small crowd, peering in the windows at the famous woman whose relationship with the most flamboyant Beatle had become a modern myth.
Her obligations completed, Ono moved to a chair placed under a Lennon serigraph entitled “Feeling Good,” a whimsical drawing of Lennon himself floating lighter than air, and invited members of the press to sit on the floor in front of her. Young faces, many just children during the Beatle years, accepted her invitation and gladly sat together with Ono to ask her questions about her life and the complicated history of Lennon and the Beatles.
The questions that Ono easily fielded ranged from spiritual and psychic concerns to the business of offering Lennon’s artwork to the public some eight years after his death. I was able to ask a few questions- the assembled journalists were fairly polite to each other- and even managed to mention that it was my birthday, to which Ono added a “Happy Birthday” greeting. As the conference ended, reporters respectfully and politely thanked Ono for her time, some venturing to shake her hand, others squeezing in a last question or two. But within minutes, the publicity agent was clearing the gallery as preparations began for the public opening of the exhibit. After a few last publicity pictures by a very expensive piece of sculpture, Ono was whisked away to her limo to the scattered clapping of the crowd just starting to gather.
In the gallery, John Lennon’s artwork hung on the walls, the work of a former art student and a musical giant. The secret wish of a much-loved man had come true, wrapped up completely in a mystique and magic that warmly echoes beyond his tragic death. John Lennon, the artist, had come to Denver to say hello and his fans gathered to pay their respects and to cheer the woman who was his wife.
When Ono returned to the gallery for the opening ceremonies, a reported crowd of 2,500 people had gathered. Lines to get into the gallery wrapped around the block. A much larger crowd spilled into the street, closing Third Avenue to traffic. An enthusiastic cheer went through the crowd when Ono pulled up in her stretch limo. A man offered his back for Ono to autograph and shouts of “We love you, Yoko” were hailed up to the glass podium where she quickly made her way to briefly address the public. A proclamation drafted and signed by Denver Mayor Federico Pena, declaring June 8 “John Lennon Day in Denver,” was read and presented to Ono as hundreds of white balloons were released from the roof of the gallery. Ono then turned and was immediately engulfed by the crowd already packed into the gallery, most of whom had been waiting over two hours to be in the same room with Ono. I knew the feeling.
My complete report of Ono’s appearance in Denver was published by the Oracle. I also placed an article in a regional women’s magazine, “Changing Woman,” a slick magazine that gave my work the best layout job I had ever experienced. They used several of my photos of Lennon’s artwork and of Ono- even putting her head on a Statue of Liberty (along with others in “a great race of women) on the cover.
July 1- Stone Pony. Jimmy Cliff.
When Bruce Springsteen vaulted into international superstardom with the release of “Born in the USA,” quite a bit of the spotlight that shown on Springsteen also shown on the New Jersey shore area. Of course, Springsteen’s second album, “Greetings from Asbury Park” had already given a boost to the area, thanks to the cover illustration that reproduced a famous area post card. But due to the intense popularity “Born in the USA” garnered, everything Springsteen was like gold, especially in New Jersey. That included the tiny night club called the Stone Pony, an unassuming night spot located right off of the Asbury Park boardwalk and only a stone’s throw away from the beach. The Stone Pony had become famous as a place that Springsteen would occasionally use to rehearse his band, or to infrequently appear as a guest artist when other bands were playing. The chances of catching one of these performances were very slim indeed- you had to somehow be on the inside track to know about it, or just be incredibly lucky.
The Stone Pony, however, was also a working nightclub that presented a variety of bands in between the popular Springsteen sightings. During another visit to West Long Branch, I spied an ad announcing that one of my favorite reggae artists, Jimmy Cliff, was appearing at the Stone Pony, so I talked Jonie into going. Inside, I was amazed at just how pedestrian the Stone Pony really was. It was little more than a bar, a small area with tables and chairs, a dance floor and a stage. The number on my ticket for the Cliff show was “751,” but I seriously doubt that 750 people were actually there. Still, Cliff took the stage with a gregarious and upbeat stage manner, launching into his dramatic fusion of electric rock instrumentation, reggae rhythms and pop sensibilities. The show was just getting cranked up, the small crowd starting to dance when Jonie announced that the smoke in the club was too much for her to handle. Her eyes were tearing and she developed a headache so she went out to the car to wait for me. I stayed for a while, enjoying the bright, upbeat music, but left early- I couldn’t let Jonie just sit in the car out in the parking lot. Besides, I was going to be seeing Cliff again later in the summer in Colorado.
July 2- Stone Pony. John Entwistle.
I couldn’t resist returning to the Stone Pony the very next night to see a solo performance by bassist John Entwistle of the Who, and this time I went alone. There were only about 100 people in the club to see Entwistle and band rock- my ticket number was numbered “101.” It didn’t matter because Entwistle whipped into “Shakin All Over” and dominated his instrument fully. I was standing only a few feet in front of the stage, right in front of Entwistle and was dazzled by his virtuosity. Certainly this was apparent in his work with the Who, but at the Stone Pony, I was practically on stage with him. It was a delicious moment of understanding just why this musician was considered a world class bassist. During the course of the evening, Entwistle also played the dark and comical “Boris the Spider.” It blew me away that only a handful of fans turned out for the show, despite the unusual appearance of Entwistle in a solo band format. This would be one of the strange realizations I would have about the Jersey Shore, that the vast population in the area was not really that interested in rock and roll as a regular part of the lifestyle. Put Springsteen’s name on it, however, and everyone seemed to be up for it.
July 8- Boulder Coast. Ranking Roger.
One of the new opportunities that opened up for me once I became established as a freelance writer in the local press was to volunteer to write for a music newspaper being published by radio station KTCL, the most progressive alternative music station on the Colorado Front Range. My first assignment was to go to a nightclub in Boulder called the Coast and interview- in person- vocalist Ranking Roger.
Roger was touring in support of his “Radical Departure” album and we met in the empty club before the show. We ended up going out in the parking lot to conduct the interview in my car. Roger had a lively and gregarious personality and the interview covered a lot of ground, from music to politics to the new world of computers. When we finished, Roger asked me about getting something to eat and I ended up driving to a local whole foods restaurant. We took a seat at the common table and I bought him dinner as we continued our conversation.
On the way back to the club, a guy ran a stop sign and nearly hit us. We pulled into the Coast parking lot just as the opening band hit the stage. It had already been a great time and in this case, the music was extra. The Coast was plush and comfortable, sporting closed circuit TVs, a sunken horseshoe-shaped dance floor which happily shook to the booming sound system. It was kind of like an old style discotheque, shiny and kitschy.
Roger’s set at the Coast ran through much of the music on “Radical Departure,” “One Minute Closer (to Death)” a particularly dramatic stand-out as well as the techno rap number “Time to Mek a Dime.” Roger also included several General Public numbers (“In Conversation” and the show stopping “Hot, You’re Cool,”) finishing up with the driving Beat hit “Mirror in the Bathroom.” Most of the audience was shaking, jumping and sweating by that time. It was a triumphant performance full of upbeat music and the dynamic ease that only seasoned professionals like Roger could wield. Roger’s touring band included Bobby Bird on guitar, Nigel Darvill on keyboards, Horace Panter on bass and Fuzz Townshend on drums. Panter had been in the Specials. Following the Coast show, Roger was off to open a show for Jimmy Cliff in Milwaukee and then back to England to tour with Big Audio Dynamite. Opening was Velvet Elvis, an energetic band at their best when playing a hard driving American rock with wailing guitar.
July 17- Fiddler’s Green. Johnny Clegg, Steve Winwood.
My next interview opportunity through the KTCL newspaper came quickly. This time, I was to interview the great South African musician Johnny Clegg prior to his opening set for Steve Winwood at the new Denver urban amphitheater, Fiddler’s Green. But instead of meeting at the venue, we ended up meeting in Clegg’s hotel room located near the venue.
When I entered the room, Clegg’s manager told me that I had only 30 minutes- exactly- and then they would have to leave. I was prepared with a whole clipboard full of questions relating to Clegg’s music and about the political situation in South Africa. At this time, the apartheid system was still in place, but world opinion was starting to put tremendous pressure on the country to change. Anti-apartheid sentiment would be very prevalent in many of the music events I would see in the coming few years. Clegg sat on a couch and very seriously answered everything. When the quick thirty minutes had gone by, we literally finished the interview in the elevator and out the door.
My companion had been amusing himself by waiting in the bar, where he had a casual conversation with Clegg’s drummer. I was exhilarated from talking to such a personal powerhouse as Clegg, so we had a beer and relaxed before heading to the venue. Unfortunately, when we got there, a guest list mix-up forced a guy in a wheelchair to cross the venue, get some tickets and return. By the time he got back, we had missed nearly all of Clegg’s set, taking our seats in the last moments with Clegg doing a high-stepping dance across the stage. Audience members around us were impressed with the performance and buzzed about it afterward.
Fiddler’s Green was a venue that had very little natural appeal- the “green” part referred to the two strips of grass that served as the cheap seats on the upper levels of the amphitheater. Its location, however, was right next to Interstate 25, easily accessible and its size was impressive. This would make it a well-used venue for many years to come, even with its lack of charm. For Steve Winwood, Fiddler’s Green was sold-out and he demonstrated the power and the glory of being a veteran rocker in the 1980s. Moving from organ to guitar to synthesizer and piano, Winwood was flanked by a full show band and sleek stage settings as he took the audience for a full distance sampling of rock music styles drawn from his twenty years plus career.
Winwood’s superstar status in the 1980s was due in large part to the popularity of two albums, “Back in the High Life” and “Roll With It,” both records pulling Winwood’s extensive musical experiences into slick, highly polished packages, tailor-made for video and radio airplay. Winwood’s performance at Fiddler’s did not fail to feature music from the albums including “The Finer Things,” “Higher Love,” the powerful “Split Decision,” heavy guitar showcase “Freedom Overspill,” and the soul-tinged rocker “Roll With It.”
But the show also featured gems from Winwood’s impressive past. The introspective but jazzy “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” came from his Traffic days, the stage bathed in deep blue lights with trumpet and saxophone jamming. And Winwood did not fail to also include the seminal crowd-rouser “Gimme Some Lovin’” from his early stint with the Spencer Davis Group. Other tunes included “Put on Your Dancing Shoes.” The stage was framed with huge Michelob banners as a reminder of Winwood’s snappy beer commercial. The lighting was provided by seven banks of constantly changing colored lights arranged in a star above the performers, and Winwood’s band, including Russ Kunkel on drums, were cool and professional. Winwood’s performance was a triumphant show of strength demonstrating that old rockers don’t necessarily fade away. Some just get stronger.
July 19- Linden’s. Bonedaddys.
In the middle of the dressing room floor upstairs at Linden’s was a colorful heap of clothing. I was there to review the show and meet the band as the eight members of the Bonedaddys prepared to treat Fort Collins to their jumping brand of dance music. They circled around the clothing and each member pulled out of the pile some bright combination of vests, shirts, pants, or hats that would become that night’s party costume.
The Bonedaddys’ music was like that jumble of clothes. Hailing from Los Angeles, the Bonedaddys offered an electric and exciting mixture of international sounds. The band was a part of an identifiable movement of musicians, particularly from the West Coast, who were trying to expand American music beyond its borders with exotic sounds and instrumentation. In the process of trying to wake people up, they were also getting them to dance.
The crowd at Linden’s got a full taste of the Bonedaddys’ irresistible rhythms as the band made the stage bounce and the walls shake. The intimacy of the club and the unleashed power of the band combined to inspire ecstatic dancing everywhere dancing could happen in the little hole-in-the-wall. After all, who could resist a bunch of guys who played both screaming electric guitar and an African talking drum within the same heartbeat?
July 29- Casino Cabaret. I-Gyptians, Pablo Moses.
After several successes as a working journalist at live music events, the time had come to learn the down side of trying to connect with musicians at the gig. Once again for the KTCL newspaper, I returned to the Casino Cabaret to interview/review a strident roots reggae figure, Pablo Moses. The interview would never come, though I was told to be seated and wait. I waited, getting more and more nervous as time ticked on. I didn’t really know much about Moses and though I had done some research, it was scant information at best. I saw the promoter going back and forth, but never to come to get me. I complained to the person at the door and she just shrugged and said there was nothing anybody could do. I felt ignored and indignant and went back to my table to fume. Eventually, it was clear that the interview wasn’t happening, so when Moses finally took the stage, I just went ahead and turned on my tape recorder to bootleg the show. I had intended the tape for the interview, but went home with recordings of Moses’ full show instead.
My tape revealed that Moses was a distinctive vocalist who remained true to Rastafarian subjects and viewpoints throughout most of his songs. His singing cut right through the electricity and on many occasions, Moses would fill in with some spoken word rants, exhortations to the crowd, or some punctuating vocal bursts. Moses had been originally associated with gutsy, horn-torched roots reggae but by 1988 his Revolutionary Dream Band was playing an all electric music featuring a rock solid bottom, searing guitar and funky bursts of keyboard. During one tune, the electric guitar solo went way beyond reggae into the heavy metal realm. However, the political and social overtones of the songs, talking about unification, one love, freedom and revolution, remained strong.
At the Casino, the song “Pave the Way” naturally segued into some call and response singing between Moses and the audience. The Casino’s dance floor had turned into a bobbing mass of happy body language, much different from the slam pit we had seen erupt a few months before for Fishbone. Towards the end of the set, Moses took a break from the Rasta-oriented material to play a more pedestrian romance song, then featured a new tune that had excised the reggae configurations for a straight new wave kind of rock song.
But for the encore, it was back to the more familiar reggae sounds of “Ready, Aim, Fire.” The crowd took up the refrain as Moses added encouragement. The opening band, Roots Redemption, added a female vocalist to their deep, groove-based reggae. With a full taste of reggae’s power to effect change, the Moses show kicked off a string of summer reggae events that I would attend in the region.
August 12- Red Rocks. David Lindley and El Rayo-X, Burning Spear, Neville Brothers, Jimmy Cliff.
More journalistic frustration followed the Pablo Moses experience when I signed on to cover the inaugural Reggae on the Rocks event at Red Rocks. Once again for KTCL, it was arranged for me to interview Jimmy Cliff at the venue. Unfortunately, I had to meet a record company rep sometime and somewhere near the stage door during the concert. I checked for the guy when I got there. I checked back again. I then checked for him in between each band, each time getting more and more nervous about making the connection. I finally found the guy just before Cliff’s set and it turned out he was even newer at the rock and roll world than I was. Neither of us really knew what was going on. We finally agreed that I would meet him after the show was over.
On stage, David Lindley and El Rayo-X opened the show with their mix of good time rock and reggae. I already knew from experience that Lindley, obliquely introduced as “our next president,” clearly belonged at a reggae festival. At Red Rocks, tunes like “Quarter of a Man” demonstrated that Lindley and band had mastered the boom-chuck groove of reggae. But you couldn’t get around the fact that Lindley, with his distinctive voice and slightly twisted lyrics, had a unique take on the music. So it was no surprise when he performed “C’mon Baby Let the Good Times Roll” as a kind of Cajun reggae with Lindley playing fiddle. As the sun chased clouds over the skyline of Denver, Lindley and El Rayo-X played a funky, infectious version of the Temptations’ “Papa was a Rolling Stone.” They also included a reggaefied ”Twist and Shout” and for an encore, ripped into the slide guitar magnificence of “Mercury Blues.”
Next up was the authentic Jamaican sound of Burning Spear, featuring vocalist Winston Rodney. Since Peter Tosh had been murdered less than a year before, Rodney had become perhaps the most widely recognized figurehead for reggae, especially for the Rastafarian-oriented kind. Rodney’s Burning Band was a full rock show band including a horn section and the crowd was bobbing and jumping to the long grooves the group maintained. The most distinctive thing about the music, however, was Rodney’s rolling vocal style, which often became more like a chant or incantation, slowly lulling the ear into a mellow mood. As dusk fell, the lights of Denver began to glow in the distance and the rocks at the amphitheater were bathed in colored lights.
Even though I very much liked the Neville Brothers, it was still a stretch to consider them representative of reggae music. The Nevilles certainly had used reggae grooves in their music on occasion, but it was more of a musical flavor for them as opposed to an emphasis, like David Lindley. Still, the Nevilles were cool and funky at Red Rocks, blending an authentic soul sound with upbeat rhythms that worked fine for the dance-crazy crowd.
Jimmy Cliff finally arrived, joining several percussionists who started the set with a rhythmic groove. Cliff’s show, of course, featured well-known music from his lengthy career as well as a generous helping from his latest album release, “Hanging Fire.” Cliff’s fusion of reggae, pop and rock sounds were well honed and much more suited to the big concert setting as opposed to my encounter with the group at the Stone Pony only a few weeks before. Throughout the night, Cliff augmented his opinion-charged song lyrics with short speeches on such subjects as apartheid, hunger and love. The echoing refrain in Cliff’s new song, “Reggae Down Babylon,” was “Reggae down apartheid,” a phrase that Cliff encouraged the audience to join in and sing.
Afterwards, I made the connection with the record company rep and we journeyed back stage to a dressing room. Cliff was still unwinding from his energetic performance, but was still plenty talkative. Ironically, the KTCL newspaper was called “The Source” and Cliff’s main rap was about the source of love in the universe. It is important to note that even though Cliff was a pop reggae icon, he was not a Rastafarian, but a Muslim, so his talk about spiritual union was coming from a far different place than performers such as Winston Rodney and Pablo Moses. Most memorable of his opinions was the idea that males were born to dominate over females because “the source” of creation was in itself male. As on stage, Cliff acted the part of a preacher from another land- literally- in the interview. By the time we were done, the lights were on full in the amphitheater, the place empty except for the clean-up crew.
August 26- Fiddler’s Green. Dan Reed Network, UB40.
I put a lot of effort into the KTCL newspaper as a volunteer, so eventually I had to start thinking about getting something back out of it. I started by requesting four tickets for the UB40 concert coming up at Fiddler’s Green. UB40 had achieved success with an Anglicized reggae developed in their native England.
I would do my first phone interview with UB40 guitarist Robin Campbell. It was explained to me that at one time, a journalist had come backstage to do an interview with UB40 and was shocked at the partying that was going on, so the band no longer did in person interviews, but rather phone interviews. Campbell not only explained where UB40’s reggae came from- originally the Jamaican ethnic communities in England- but he also highly recommended the reggae of Peter Tosh’s son, Andrew. Campbell also discussed what it had been like playing live in Russia during the recording of their 1987 release, “Live in Moscow.”
Thanks to the radio station, I treated Jonie and another couple to the show. The evening started with a set by the Dan Reed Network, playing a solid, even aggressive rock. For UB40, the crowd was in constant motion. UB40, filling the stage with a rock ensemble and a full horn section, highlighted a few new songs, but finally concentrated on more familiar material including “Red, Red Wine,” “Johnny You’re Too Bad,” “Rat in the Kitchen,” “I’ve Got You Babe,” and the crowd-rousing “Sing Our Own Song.” The performance was truly uplifting by the end.
Even though UB40 was a proven commercial success, they also maintained an aura of integrity thanks to socially conscious lyrics and even the racially integrated nature of the group. In concert, however, the live horn section lent extra punch and power to the mix to create music for both the body and the mind- very satisfying.
September 26- Lincoln Center. Dennis Brown.
To top off my “reggae summer,” successful Jamaican vocalist Dennis Brown came to the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins. To promote the show, the producer included dollar-bill sized inserts in the Oracle. Indeed the “dollar bill” looked like money, but with concert info pasted on, introducing Brown as “Jamaica’s No. 1 recording artist” and as “Reggae’s Crown Prince.” The number one in each corner included tags making them read “1 love,” “1 people,” “1 destiny” and “1 aim.” Brown’s picture was plastered over Washington’s conservative mug and the Lion of Judah replaced the US seal. The ad also promised that “.50 of every ticket donated to Jamaican hurricane victims.” Brown delivered smooth pop reggae, singing love ballads more than social commentary. His smooth voice was strong and he maintained an energetic stage presence, the sound crisp and the arrangements slick and clean. The buzz afterward was that the promoter skipped town, literally taking the money and running out on paying for their advertising or the hurricane victims. 1988 had been a peak reggae year for me.
October 22- Boulder Coast. Richard Thompson Band with Clive Gregson and Christine Collister.
During the dance party years at our house, one of the guaranteed hits of every night was Richard Thompson’s rock and roll workout “Valerie.” But way more than just the writer of a good tune, Thompson also demonstrated a keen, caustic wit and played a mean guitar. Thompson had been a driving force in the English folk rock band Fairport Convention, then went on to make several critically acclaimed albums with his wife, Linda.
As a solo artist, however, Thompson’s personality blossomed. He had become a kind of cult figure on his own appealing to songwriters and musicians alike. Folk fans liked him for his acoustic work and honed songwriting and rock fans liked him because when he did strap on his electric guitar, you knew the result was going to be dramatic.
Our Fort Collins group rode down to the concert together in an empty van. We just set up lawn chairs in the back and held on. The show was the second of a two-night stand at the Coast and Thompson was promoting his latest release at the time, ”Amnesia.” The venue was uncomfortably packed for the event. Vocalists Clive Gregson and Christine Collister opened the show with a set of their own music. The pair had become an integral part of Thompson’s sound, their perfectly blended harmonies adding just the right timbre behind Thompson’s often moody material. On stage, they also proved they had a strong duo act going. By the end of the set, they were playing some very effective acoustic rock and roll, their voices rising together in celebration. Gregson and Collister then joined Thompson and band for an energetic and ferocious set. The crowded conditions, however, meant that movement of any kind was limited, much less dance.
October 27- Rattle and Hum/U2
U2 had become the number one rock band in the world and they celebrated their dominance with a concert film titled “Rattle and Hum.” My connection to the project came through a friend I worked with in my independent ceramic business. His wife had won a regional radio contest and the prize was a trip for two to Dublin to attend the world premiere of the film, complete with a party with dignitaries and rock stars. My friend came back from the trip with stories as well as some gifts. He brought me a souvenir program from the premiere event as well as a copy of the Irish Independent, a picture of a jubilant Bono greeting fans on the street in Dublin on the front page.
The program had a little bit extra authenticity. Someone had used it while writing down a Dublin address, leaving strong impressions on the cover which featured a black and white photo of Bono projecting a hand held stage light on the Edge, crouched over in mid-solo. The premiere was being held at the Savoy Theatre 1 in Dublin. The event was in itself a benefit, for a group called People in Need. Inside the slick magazine-style program, there were ads as well as a full page explaining the purpose of People in Need: “People in Need will be a nationwide fund providing an opportunity for Irish people to help the less fortunate throughout the country.”
The “Rattle and Hum” program also featured a treasure house of information on U2, including an extensive timeline for the band’s history up to the release of “Rattle and Hum.” The highly detailed timeline, including record sales milestones and tour information was accompanied by a wealth of color and black and white photos of the members of U2 separately and together. The director of the film, Phil Joanou, and the producers were also featured. In an interview portion, U2’s manager and Executive Producer of “Rattle and Hum” Paul McGuinness, explained that “Rattle and Hum” was designed to “kill Red Rocks” because “the music that U2 perform now is not represented, yet it’s still in the top ten video sales charts after five years.”
The October 28 edition of the Irish Independent splashed a big photo on the front page of Bono lifting his microphone into the air- right next to the headline article about a gang of youngsters found guilty of a murder plot. The U2 article by writers Tony O’Brien and Alan O’Keeffe, headlined “Movie mania as U2 hint at home gigs,” spilled the news that U2 was “keen to play in Dublin again.” Then it described the action outside the Savoy Theatre for the premiere, including the arrival of star guests like Hot House Flowers, Bon Jovi, Terence Trent D’Arby, Ronnie Drew and Gay Byrne.
Inside the newspaper, O’Brien contributed another article detailing U2’s appearance on O’Connell Street “to the screams of thousands of adoring fans.” O’Brien reported that U2 arrived at the premiere accompanied by a police escort. Another article, by writer Miriam Lord, detailed the screaming of the crowd every time a star or anyone else got caught in the spotlight in front of the Savoy and pictures included D’Arby and actor Christopher Cazenove arriving for the premiere, as well a telling image of policemen trying to restrain the surging crowd behind them.
Not everyone in Dublin was ecstatic about U2, however. Columnist Myles McWeeney reported that Sinead O’Connor insisted that U2 were “frauds.” McWeeney quoted remarks O’Connor made in the October 28 edition of New Musical Express: “They have their fingers in every pie- they…rule Dublin. There’s not a band in Dublin who could get anywhere if they weren’t associated with U2.”
My friend’s main story had to do with when they arrived at the theater for the showing of the film. Evidently, D’Arby had arrived just before they did and the crowd that had gathered was cheering. But then these other people- my friends from Colorado- arrived and the people were confused, like “Who are these people?” My friend reported that Irish dignitaries attended the proceedings and the party afterwards and that U2 only briefly visited the party.
Indeed, if the intention was to “bury Red Rocks,” U2 did not neglect to take advantage of their fans in Colorado. Three tracks on the “Rattle and Hum” album were recorded at McNichols Arena in Denver in November 1987. Colorado remained a hot spot for the band. “Rattle and Hum” opened in theaters on November 4. Promotional handouts included a piece with lyrics for four songs and a quote from the Edge: “This is U2 today. Their ideology in black and white. With some highly colourful live performances.”
November 3- McNichols Arena. Prince.
By 1988, Prince was the ultimate song and dance man. He had all the power of state-of-the-art stage settings, lighting and sound at his disposal. He was a multi-talented musician and dancer and he assembled crack bands capable of maintaining very long, fast and precise musical arrangements. His records were pop masterworks and his work in film had produced at least one hit movie. All this added up to a pretty much free license to do whatever he wanted.
What Prince decided he wanted to do for 1988’s Love Sexy World Tour was to give in completely to the first most basic temptation- sex. The McNichols show dealt with deep, lustful sex, much of the choreography centered around humping and oral sex. The songs were also full of loaded come-ons. Prince shimmied and preened and made love with his dance partner Cat as the audience squealed with shocked delight.
If this were all to the show, Prince, like an unsatisfied satyr, could have been written off as a misguided, oversexed megalomaniac. But prior to the close of the first half of the concert, Prince did a very curious thing. He spoke to the audience about God. He encouraged the crowd to chant “Love is God, God is Love” and he established the refrain “Cross the Line” as a whole different kind of come-on in the show.
This side of Prince offered to the audience a totally opposite temptation- the purity of religious devotion. Whereas his sexual depravity leads to almost uncontrollable titillation or even cold-blooded murder (as acted out in the “Black Album’s” “Bob George”) his predilection for Christian words and imagery seemed to search for the kind of redemption that only untainted thought and deed can offer. This bent provided the necessary balance to bring Prince’s performance out of the gutter and into a more lofty realm. When he announced, “I am not here to preach. I am not confused. I am happy,” he seemed to be telling the audience that there was way more to Prince than just the unbridled, dripping sex that everyone had come to see.
Musically, Prince’s concert was a showcase of his very snappy, high-energy funk, mixed with sweet falsetto soul and heavy rock posturing. It was a feast for Prince fans as he and his band (which included Sheila E. on drums and the Doctor on keyboards) churned out full length and medley arrangements highlighting Prince’s recording career. His film fans could relive the emotional arm waving and body swaying from “Purple Rain” and hear the intensity of “The Cross” from “Sign O’ the Times.” Several numbers were included from the as yet unreleased “Black Album.”
Prince was delivered to the stage in a full-sized car. The stage also had full-sized settings including a swing set and a basketball court. Sheila E. controlled both rhythm and rhyme when she drummed and rapped. The sweetest moment was when Prince sang in his pure falsetto voice while at the keyboards. The song “1999” was especially rousing with a “No War” flag flying. The set list also included “Little Red Corvette,” “When 2 Are in Love,” “Supercali…,” “MFU,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Delirious,” “When You Were Mine” and “Raspberry Beret.” All the selections were highly stylized, the show designed to satisfy the desire’s of Prince’s most ardent fans. This was a major contemporary artist in his prime, dressed in get-up fashions, offering a significant razzle dazzle with a limp wrist.
But it was not until the show’s special effects finale that all the elements of the concert seemed to tie together. From the in-the-round stage in the center of the arena, a huge column of smoke rose to the ceiling. A supersonic rumbling shook the building’s foundation, and within the smoke, wild, flashing lights turned the center of McNichols Arena into an amazing artificial lightning storm. For a few seconds all the writhing sex, straining for goodness and God, superstardom and fan-baiting swirled together in one huge mass of seemingly uncontrollable energy.
Granted, the storm was probably only intended as the newest special effect on the circuit. But in one show, Prince had tried to bring together the sacred and the profane, and this final column of lightning could have represented the good and bad whirling around inside each of us, and most certainly raging inside of Prince. What began as a hyperfunky sex circus ended as a most complex and rich experience.
November 15- The Page. The Subdudes.
In May, the news came down that the subdudes had been chosen as finalists in Musician Magazine’s “Best Unsigned Band Contest” Their song, “He’s Got You On His Mind,” eventually made them winners, as judged by industry heavyweights like Mark Knopfler and Elvis Costello.
While the subdudes worked to conquer the Front Range and the mountain ski areas, they established themselves in Fort Collins with a weekly gig at a bar called the Page. The Page was little more than a stage, a dance floor and a bar area all jammed in together. It was a popular place, especially on Sundays when the subdudes played. There, anything went, including pulling guest players out of the audience to play a mixed bag of songs. These nights could sizzle. On one occasion, several buddies and I went early to latch onto one of the only tables at the Page. We hunkered down with pitchers of beer sitting only about twenty feet from the stage. The place filled up, the subdudes rocked and it seemed like everyone was dancing, laughing and having a good time- a quintessential nightclub/bar experience. It was such a fun night I wrote and published a poem- “subdude pleasure”- from that night.
The notoriety the subdudes had acquired through recognition with the Best Unsigned Band Contest, of course, was aimed at one thing- to get signed. And sign they did. Record company people had been sniffing around the band- even coming to Fort Collins- and the group ended up signing with Atlantic Records on December 6 at the Governor’s Mansion- indicating just how much headway the subdudes had made in a short time. Colorado was proud to claim the subdudes and Fort Collins was even prouder. The subdudes became my favorite subject for articles in coming years. I was covering the exciting story of the real life rise of a grassroots band- striking it lucky.
December 2- CSU Student Center North Ballroom. Presley Underground, Meat Puppets.
Seeking out the Meat Puppets at a local gig turned out to be a bust. The show was being held in a tiny room in the student center on the Colorado State University campus. A crowd showed up, but the room held no comfort for anyone- everyone had to stand or sit on the floor. Wall space to lean against was at a premium. A band called the Presley Underground opened with a fuzzy, loud dissonant rock. Then the Meat Puppets stepped up to buzz saw their way through another set, bad sound and the bad environment taking its toll on the music.
Afterwards, my friend and I went to grab a bite to eat. My friend was staring off into space. Suddenly a young black man came across the room and asked my friend “What are you staring at?” The fellow was convinced that my friend was trying to intimidate him by staring at him and claimed it was racially oriented. The guy’s friends took him away, but not before he had shaken my friend’s nerve. It was an odd way to end an odd night.
December 8- Lincoln Center. Wymisner and Mead, Temptations.
Some years before, a writer for the Fort Collins Coloradoan, the local daily newspaper, had written a column on my self-publishing activities. One day, he called me out of the blue and asked me if I wanted to do a writing assignment for the paper. The guy was now an editor and was looking for fresh material. I had submitted and published a volunteer article on Joan Armatrading in August, but this was the real deal. My first assignment for the paper was to review a performance by the Temptations at the Lincoln Center. I was to attend the show, then drive to the newsroom and write my review for the next morning’s edition. I took my job seriously and went armed with a notebook full of notes on the band, nervous about meeting the nighttime deadline.
Even though Denver’s popular vocal group the Nacho Men were scheduled to open the show, when the lights went down, Fort Collins’ own master of light comedy and magic, Lew “the Great Loudini” Wymisner, took the stage. Apparently one of the Nacho men had still been en route to Fort Collins at show time and Wymisner and juggler Eric Mead had been tapped to temporarily fill in while the missing Nacho Man arrived. As the minutes ticked by however, the signals from the wings made it clear that Wymisner and Mead had become the opening act, and the two took turns doing everything they could think of to entertain the politely accepting audience.
The rest of the show belonged to the Temptations who offered a little bit of light magic of their own. The premier soul group who along with the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson helped define the Motown sound of the1960s came to town with a 16-piece show band. They treated the appreciative crowd to a full sampling of the music that had recently won them a place in the Rock “n” Roll Hall of Fame.
Leading off with two of the group’s strongest numbers, “Psychedelic Shack” and “Ball of Confusion,” the Temptations then brought things back down with the nice and easy feeling of “Just My Imagination.” This would be the format for the rest of the show that lasted a little more than an hour. The Temptations offered a good helping of their funky rock ‘em, sock ‘em soul, then settled into a smooth, sweet groove.
After 28 years of performing, the Temptations had developed a very relaxed stage presence and their concert at the Lincoln Center was full of good-natured mugging. The group maintained a professional lightness and endeared themselves to the audience by including them in sing-alongs and inviting aspiring undiscovered talent to join them on stage during a lengthy version of the crowd rousing song “My Girl.”
When the Temptations finally left the stage, they had given Fort Collins just a big enough taste of the musical magic that made Rolling Stone magazine call them “the finest vocal group in Sixties soul.” Never mind that the choreography was just a little stiff and that their classic songs were now presented in a medley. The Temptations’ music was the stuff that warm memories were made of. The audience went home quiet and pleased in the new-fallen snow, probably humming a Temptations’ melody or two.
The program for the show spelled out who was who in the 1988 version of the Temptations. Two original Temptations were left- Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin (who could not perform in Fort Collins because he was recovering from an operation.) Ron Tyson joined the group in 1983- his first appearance with the group was for the Motown 25 TV special. Richard Street- who turned out to be kind of like the comedian of the group on stage- had sung with Franklin and Williams in a pre-Temptations group, but didn’t join the Temptations until 1972. Dennis Edwards originally joined in 1968 and sang off and on with the group for three stints with the group.
The Temptations remained successful enough to carry a full orchestra with horn sections, synthesizer, and a conductor. The vocalists often traded-off parts, wearing matching suits with flowers. The set list also included ”Yesterday,” ”Do the Things You Do,” “Get Ready” (with the house lights flashing,) ”Treat Her Like a Lady,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” ”Can’t Get Next to You” and a Sly Stone encore. It is safe to say that the Temptations had a secure perspective on their career and the stage was alive with plenty of movement, the vocalists circling and waving their arms. My review would detail the action and buy into the nostalgic quality of the event. It would also begin a relationship with a newspaper that would help me go far as a music journalist.
Boomer’s. Little Charlie and the Nightcats.
One of the advantages to being a music writer was that in the process of “covering” an event, there was also the opportunity to check out a lot of free music. At first I thought that only applied to getting free records, but it also meant getting free concert tickets. This was especially the case in Fort Collins where I was firmly establishing myself as a source of publicity. The nightclubs in particular became friendly and I could come to check out bands without it being any kind of big deal.
So it was easy to take the advice of my California friends to experience the jumping, infectious blues of Little Charlie and the Night Cats at a little, short-lived club called Boomer’s. Not knowing what to expect, I was blown away by the power of the band. The vocalist/harpist Rick Estrin had a world wise kind of snarl to his vocals and stage patter. Meanwhile, Little Charlie, a guy with old style slicked back hair, dug into his guitar and played every electric guitar style you could think of during the course of his lead solos. Little Charlie’s real name was Charlie Baty and was a pleasant discovery indeed. Baty was a master of styles and a strong showman. The crowd was very thin and I couldn’t believe my luck. I just stood back and let Little Charlie entertain. Boomer’s would eventually become a convenience store.