Colorado Blues PT 2 – 21st Century Award Winners and Future Legends

In my last post, Blues in Colorado – A Primer, I suggested that most of the blues bands that we see today are of the local garden variety – good enough to please the upper end of suburban GenZ and Boomers with their small kids and grandkids at parks and summer events, and local neighborhood bar and grills.

But that doesn’t really tell the whole story about the state of blues in the 21st century in Colorado and the award winners and future legends who have emerged, regardless of mainstream popularity.

The 21st century opens with Erica Brown emerging in the scene as the First Lady of Blues (Colorado Blues Society) and Denver’s Queen of the Blues (Altitude Network).

Between 1998 and 2008, the Erica Brown Band earned numerous awards, including; Best Blues Band (Westword Magazine) Best Underground Blues Band multiple times (Denver Post) and The Rocky Mountain News’ Best Of (Blues Category).

Among the many projects she appears on, Erica is featured on Big Head Blues ClubWay Down Inside: The Songs of Willie Dixon” (2016). She began appearing with Dan Treanor in 2008.

A Blues Foundation: Keeping the Blues Alive Award recipient, Dan Treanor is a Colorado original. Born and raised in Pueblo, Dan entered the blues world when he was sixteen, playing in the Steel City Blues Band.

In 2004, he got signed to the well respected independent blues label Northern Blues Music. Dan Treanor & Frankie Lee – African Wind (2004) was nominated Blues Album of the Year by the Independent Music Awards.  Dan has received three Independent Music Award nominations.

In 2013, Dan Treanor’s Afrosippi Band featuring Erica Brown took home 3rd Place Honors in the International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis. In 2015 they released Born to Love the Blues, which also features Erica’s daughter MJ.

Lionel Young first appears on the scene in the early to mid 90s and is featured on Otis Taylor‘s 1997 debut When Negroes Walked the Earth.

It wouldn’t be until the 21st century, however, that the classically trained violinist comes to the attention of the blues world by making history at the International Blues Challenge (IBC), as the only artist to ever win twice, in the 2008 solo-duo competition and the 2011 band competition.

Cary Morin first showed up on stages in Fort Collins in the 1980s with his band the Atoll.

Now recognized as one of the nation’s leading acoustic blues artists, Cary has performed at renowned venues and festivals around the globe including the Kennedy Center, the Paris Jazz Festival and the Copenhagen Blues Festival to name a few.

Cary’s career in Colorado ranks among the most awarded. He’s been honored with the Fort Collins Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award (2014) and is a Telluride Blues and Brews Blues Champion (2019).

Cary has also earned Indigenous Music Awards for Best Blues CD for Cradle to the Grave (2017) and for When I Rise (2019) and an Independent Music Award for Best Blues CD for When I Rise.

Colorado Springs artist John-Alex Mason passed away at the age of 35, in October 2011, but not without leaving a lasting legacy as one of the state’s most celebrated bluesmen. In 2001 he won the Telluride Acoustic Blues Competition. He released five albums between 2000 and 2011.

The Informants / Kerry Pastine & the Crime Scene – Fronted by Kerry Pastine, the Informants fans voted the band as the winner of the Westword Music Award for Best Blues (2008-2010). Their album Crime Scene Queen won the International Blues Competition for Best Self-Produced CD of 2010.

Kerry and her husband Paul (guitar) spun off from the Informants to create the Crime Scene. They earned the 2019 Colorado Blues Society Members Choice Award for Band of the Year, Best Recording for City of Love, Best Female Vocalist, Best Songwriter and Best Live Moment for the City of Love CD release party.

With six albums to their credit since 2004, the modern electric blues inspired Mojomama has been a semi-finalist at the International Blues Challenge Memphis (2018, 2019) and won several awards from the Colorado Blues Society, including Best Self Produced CD and Favorite Female Vocalist (2015, 2018) and the Members Choice Awards for Best Band in 2019.

The acts I mentioned above represent only a handful of the many blues acts that have crossed the stages of Colorado, from the smallest pubs to the biggest festivals. Upcoming festivals include the Trinidaddio Blues Fest (Aug 22), and the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival (Sept 16-18).

Touring artists like Cary Morin and Lionel Young act as ambassadors of Colorado blues around the United States, and in other countries.

Erica Brown continues to play a major role in our blues scene today, as does Lionel Young who Erica has teamed up with in a new project called Blues Circus – that also features Erica’s daughter MJ along with John Magnie and Steve Amadee from Del Shamen that Erica participated in.

Time will tell when, where and how far the next group of blues artists in Colorado music history will rise up to claim their place – in Colorado Blues PT3 – Rising Stars and Future Promise.

To learn more about the blues in Colorado visit the Colorado Blues Society and Mile High Blues Society.

COLORADO BLUES – A PRIMER.

Let me start by saying that my girlfriend is a blues junkie and it is because of her that I’m writing about blues in Colorado. We recently went out to catch some local blues bands. I started writing a critique about what I saw on stage. She disapproved. I started over.

Blues is well over a hundred years old. Today, it’s like that old dog-eared novel that you pull out for comfort. You no longer really read it for the detail; instead you put it on for the feels, like a throw blanket on the coach that should have been discarded years ago but is too comfortable to let go.

And, artists keep chasing it – the feels – the groove – the “blues.”

Most of what passes for blues bands in Colorado today are backyard concert party bands playing in small bar and grills and, well, backyard parties and suburban centers and events attended by aging boomers and GenX parents, grandparents and pre-tween kids swingin’ on the grass.

Despite that outlook, there are some stellar blues players capable of capturing broader attention given the right set of circumstances: Some of whom are award winners playing to national and international audiences.

When it comes to blues in Colorado music history, some notable names and organizations come to mind.

Judy Roderick – A University of Colorado student, Judy signed with Columbia and Vanguard Records and released two albums; Ain’t Nothin’ but the Blues (1964) and Woman Blue (1965). She also founded and fronted 60,000,000 Buffalo, a Denver based funky blues-rock band that broke up after one album, Nevada Jukebox, in 1973.

Candy Givens emerged with the band Zephyr in 1969. Powered by the hard rock blues guitar of Tommy Bolin, Zephyr put out two well received blues-rock albums before pivoting stylistically in subsequent albums. Tommy Bolin and Zephyr were inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in 2019.

Although not strictly speaking a blues artist at the time, award winning finger style guitarist Mary Flower moved to Colorado in 1972 and became an instrumental part of Swallow Hill Music and the Blues Foundation’s Blues In the Schools program.

Mary moved to Oregon in 2004, and was the Blues Music Award nominee for Acoustic Artist of The Year in 2008.

Filling the void left by the demise of Zephyr in the early 80s, Big Head Todd and the Monsters embraced blues-rock beginning in the mid-80s. The band would go all in on the blues for two albums as Big Head Blues Club, “100 Years of Robert Johnson” (2011), and “Way Down Inside, the Songs of Willie Dixon” (2016).

Their version of John Lee Hooker‘s classic Boom Boom (Beautiful World, 1997) remains a staple of the band’s live shows today.

The most heavily awarded blues artist in the Colorado blues pantheon is multi-award winner and Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductee Otis Taylor.

In the seventies Otis performed alongside Candy Givens in Zephyr and in the Legendary 4Nikators, another popular Boulder band. Otis left music in 1977 and wouldn’t return until 1997 when he self-released the stunning blues-trance debut When Negroes Walked the Earth.

Otis’ 2008 album Recapturing the Banjo is remarkable, as much for who appears on it as how he reintroduces the banjo as an historical blues instrument.

Other than Otis Taylor, no other significant blues band or artist emerged during the 1990s. Recording was still too expensive for most locally based bands. Exceptions included the late Creighton Holley, Dan Treanor’s band Arclight, David Booker’s Alleygators and Boa and the Constrictors.

Baby boomers now in their mid-thirties to mid-fifties, who grew up on the blues-rock of the 1960s and wanted to escape the deluge of 80s hair-metal bands and 90s grunge, flocked to area bars to catch acts like the Creighton Holley Band, JD & the Love Bandits featuring the late trombonist JD Kelly, the Alleygators, Arclight and Boa and the Constrictors to name a few.

In 1995, under the leadership of David McIntyre, the Colorado Blues Society was formed and opened the door for national and regional blues bands at the growing list of blues specific venues and festivals.

However, it wouldn’t be until the beginning of the 21st century that the next group of blues artists would truly begin to emerge.

To learn more about blues in Colorado, there are two organizations that serve to preserve not only the legacy of blues in Colorado, but also advance it via educational programs: The Colorado Blues Society and the Mile High Blues Society. Please visit and support.

I’ll be back soon for The Blues in Colorado – Part II – the 21st Century

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