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

Otis Taylor – Hey Joe Redux

otis taylor hey joe opusFirst impression: What an odd record.  Two versions of “Hey Joe,” each over 7 minutes long + 4 instrumental cuts + four story songs.  It’s the arrangement of the album that makes it unique among Otis’ 14 releases; the story songs mixed with instrumental interludes, glued by Hey Joe, done in contrasting “voices” / personalities… designed and arranged to be heard in order, in one sitting.  It’s the beginning to end listen that’s important here – a single piece of work.

“Hey Joe” has been recorded and released by over 400 artists since it first came out in 1967 by the Leaves (and by countless millions of lesser named artists no doubt).  Otis himself recorded it with his daughter Cassie for the album Recapturing the Banjo (2008).  Covering it twice on the same album? Wow, that takes balls.  If the memory of the song is framed by Hendrix, Otis stands right next in line as the personification of the emotional intensity of the story – and of the impact of decisions we make in our lives.

“Red Meat” and “Peggy Lee” will likely be the most played cuts from “Hey Joe Opus Red Meat” at non-comm radio around the state.  As part of the whole the songs help make the album virtually impossible to categorize simply, jumping across Americana-country, psychedelic rock, jazz, blues, and folk.  Otis calls what he does Trance Blues, and he promotes the Trance Blues Festival.  This singular piece moves Otis far closer to composer/arranger than traditional bluesman.

Guests include Warren Haynes (Gov’t Mule, The Dead, Allman Brothers Band), Billy Nerschi (String Cheese Incident), singer-songwriter Langhorne Slim and guitarist Daniel Sproul (the Black Crowes, Warren Haynes).

Zephyr – Heartbeat – A Lost Classic

One of the greatest bands in Colorado music history was Zephyr.  By the time lead singer Candy Givens died in 1982, the band was a trio that featured Candy (vox, harmonica), David Givens (bass, guitars), and Eddie Turner (guitar, backup vocals) with a rotating cast of drummers and other sidemen that included Ken Lark, Gordon Ray Pryor Jr, and others.

Along the way from 68-82, the band also featured the likes of Tommy Bolin on guitar, Jock Bartley (Firefall, Gram Parsons) on guitar, Otis Taylor on bass, Eddie Turner on guitar, Bobby Berge on drums and other local heroes.

wpid-img_20140415_084004_674.jpgIn 1982, the band released their final record – “Heartbeat.”  In 1982, Candy died – and with her death, so too the album.  Until now.

 

eddie turner, chris k, heartbeat recordMonday – April 14, 2014 – Eddie Turner and me at Oskar Blues Homemade Liquids and Solids with a sealed original copy of “Heartbeat.”  I’d been waiting for 20 years to get a copy.  As far as I know, I’ll be the first radio dj in CO to play cuts from this album since 1982 – if ever.

Interestingly, the band also recorded a couple of videos, as that was the early years of MTV – and Zephyr was prepared to move into the 80s with Heartbeat …

So, here’s what to expect.  Over the next couple of months “Heartbeat” will be the featured “New Album” of the month selection … for us history types, of course 😉

More to follow so stay tuned.

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SUPPORT FOR THE COLORADO SOUND PROVIDED BY 

CCCLogoPMS300ConvertedColorado Case Company:  Colorado made insulated soft cases, gig bags, case covers and rigid cases for most instruments.  This premium, professional grade, brand is designed, engineered and tested to provide incredible thermal protection for your valuable musical instrument.  We specialize in unusual and hard to fit instruments.  Info at www.coloradocase.com

SSpokesBuzz Fort Collins logopokesBUZZ, a  Colorado 501C3 with a mission to AMPLIFY THE COLORADO MUSIC SCENE, DEVELOP OUR PROFESSIONAL ARTISTS, PROMOTE COLORADO AS A PROGRESSIVE CULTURAL DESTINATION, and GROW LOCAL ECONOMIES.  Please visit the website for information on bands that SpokesBUZZ supports, as well as shows and more.  www.spokesbuzz.org.

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