One of John Denver’s favorite sayings was “coincidence? I don’t think so.”
Ken Dravis, musician and owner of Aspen Leaf Recording Studio in Grand Junction, heard that quote numerous times from the legend himself. Working for Starwood Security in Aspen during the late 1970s, Dravis was assigned to a guard shack on the edge of Denver’s mountain compound.
Sometimes Denver would stroll by, stop for a chat, and leave little drops of wisdom such as that quote for the guards to mull over during their generally uneventful shifts.
Dravis, who stumbled upon Starwood after other odd jobs dried up, happened to be an aspiring musician, and the person he was protecting just happened to be one of his music idols.
A fan since the age of 16, Dravis was hired to keep people not unlike himself away from the renowned musician.
Coincidence? I don’t think so.
“I was a fan, but it was more like John was giving me an education,” Dravis said. “What he was writing about, I read a lot of meaning in to it. I just respected him so much. It was more inspirational to be around him than anything.”
During graveyard shifts, the 20-year-old Dravis would write songs on guitar to pass the time. Over the course of two years, Dravis eventually self-recorded a demo and passed the cassette to his music idol.
“I sat with John in his backyard and gave him a tape of my original songs,” Dravis said. “He listened to my songs and said that my writing hadn’t matured enough, but he encouraged me to get out and follow my dream to play music full time.”
Dravis took Denver’s advice to heart, left Starwood, and set out on a long journey that eventually led him to building and operating his own professional recording studio in Grand Junction.
Close to 40 years later, Dravis is paying homage to his biggest influence by covering Denver’s music.
“Rocky Mountain High: In the Spirit of John Denver” is a 12-song tribute to Denver and the effect he’s had on Dravis’ life.
Dravis sings and plays guitar on “Rocky Mountain High, careful to do Denver justice, and every detail was accounted for. To capture that signature Denver sound, Dravis included the 12-string Guild acoustic guitar on the album, an instrument made famous by Denver.
Guitarist Pete Huttlinger and pianist Chris Nole, both of whom played and recorded with Denver, also were recruited for the album. Both recorded parts for Dravis from Nashville and remotely sent them in to Grand Junction. Dravis also consulted with friend and John Denver songwriter John Sommers, and even recorded one of his tracks, “In The Grand Way,” for “Rocky Mountain High.”
Dravis’ treatment of “In The Grand Way,” demonstrates the level of scrutiny put into each track.
Instead of featuring French horn as was in the original recording, Dravis had world-renowned pedal steel guitar player Mike Johnson featured on the track. Dravis even made minor tweaks to the lyrics to improve the flow of the song.
When Sommers heard the final cut of “In The Grand Way” with Dravis’ tweaks, he said he liked it better than the original 1976 Denver recording.
It’s been 18 years since John Denver’s passing, yet his memory and legacy are far from forgotten. For Dravis, this album represents a lifetime of inspiration and each track is handpicked from the heart.
Dravis can’t exactly explain how he settled on these songs, but together they just seemed to make sense.
“For different reasons, I’m really pleased with all of the recordings,” Dravis said. “I hear little nuances where people contributed and everyone did a great job. I just fells right.”
From the opening chords of “Thirsty Boots” to the fade out on “Rocky Mountain High (single),” the album shows it is more than your typical run-of-the-mill collection of covers.
“Rocky Mountain High” is not a note-for-note cover album, rather an update version done by someone with an intimate understanding and respect for the source material.
Coincidence? I don’t think so. Dravis’ life has led to this momentous work.
The band’s lead singer and guitarist Jeremy Rizer was on his way out of town, headed for a new home in Montana, while the rest of Lowlands were settling in to a deserved break from performing live.
Fourteen months later, the core members of Lowands still living in western Colorado — they are Willie DeFord, Alex Slorby and Dick Sterling — are back together, giving it another go as a band.
Ruby Horsethief, a new band of familiar faces, is ready to pick up where Lowlands left off as one of Grand Junction’s favorite groups.
Debuting on Friday, May 15, at Barons, 539 Colorado Ave., this new trio is a band four years in the making.
“Ruby Horsethief actually preceded Lowlands,” said DeFord, the band’s guitarist and vocalist. “Before 2011 when we formed Lowlands, Ruby Horsethief was a duo with Dick on acoustic guitar and rack harmonica and Alex on banjo, playing kick drum and high-hat with his feet. They played several gigs like that, playing their own songs and an unreasonable number of Avett Brothers covers.”
The original Horsethief duo of Slorby and Sterling caught the eye of both DeFord and Rizer and ended up as the rhythmic backbone of Lowlands.
As most bass players and drummers can attest, they are the unheralded glue that kept the band together even in the toughest of times.
Interestingly, Lowlands’ first scheduled show, a 2011 slot at the Rockslide, accidentally turned into a Ruby Horsethief show. Earlier in the day Rizer smashed his finger hitching a river raft trailer to his car and was unable to play so DeFord sat in with Slorby and Sterling to fill the time slot.
“It was a raucous night,” DeFord said. “I played nearly all the horsehair off my fiddle bow, and Jeremy, with his bandaged hand, spilled booze all over our gear. Dick strummed his old acoustic guitar so hard I thought it would fly to pieces. I’m thrilled to get that trio back together.”
Fans familiar with Lowlands’ sound, a combination of Texas swing, southern fuzz rock and various other elements, can expect a similar experience with Ruby Horsethief.
However, there are major differences between the two groups. Primarily, Ruby Horsethief will play DeFord’s original music and build upon the chaotic energy the three created during that impromptu Rockslide show.
“I have a lot of songs I’ve never performed or that have been kicking around waiting for the right group,” DeFord said. “It’s a great pleasure playing with Dick and Alex, we have good chemistry and can read each other easily.”
Influenced by ‘80s cowpunk and ‘90s alt-country bands such as Gram Parsons, Tom Waits and Uncle Tupelo, the Ruby Horsethief trio promises to be much more than a Lowlands retread. Expect to see a barn-stomping, fiddle-howling, guitar rock, power trio that will storm Grand Junction stages and win over audiences with ease.
It may not be completely dignified, yet, but DeFord promises “you’ll have fun.”
Already, the trio has lined up a number of high profile summer gigs including the Grand Junction Off-Road/Downtown Art + Music Festival on May 30 and a supporting slot opening for Trout Steak Revival at Powderhorn Mountain Resort on July 25.
Until then, enjoy Friday night’s show at Barons.
“Come [to the show] if you like garage rock, sloppy bluegrass, sensitive folk music, surf guitars, rockabilly, honky tonk, handsome drummers, Lowlands, bass players who like math, and dancing with weird, hilarious strangers you didn’t know lived in Grand Junction,” DeFord said. “We miss Jeremy awful. But we’re going to put on a great show on [tonight]. I’m excited.”
Oh mercy me, what’s going on with our country right now?
The world is tearing itself apart, and I can’t make any more sense out of it than you can.
Browsing recent headlines, the level of distress in our country is obvious. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the state of our union. Between impending terrorist attacks, mega droughts, police brutality, wealth inequality, an inept federal government and super diseases, it’s an uneasy if not scary time to be alive.
Personally, I can’t remember a time during my adult life when the country was not at war. Entirely new generations are being raised having never witnessed peace, both at home and abroad. That’s a horrible realization.
In the past, when the world has faced similar adversity, younger generations used to rise up and make their voices heard through the only media available to them: art and music.
Edwin Starr’s iconic Motown classic “War,” released during the height of the Vietnam War, is a perfect example of how music could be both popular and powerful, how music used to be the voice of the disenfranchised and unsatisfied youth of America.
“War” was an anti-Vietnam War protest, packaged and delivered to a restless nation as a No. 1 hit single. It was a protest song that topped the charts and spoke for a generation sick and tired of endless fighting. It is a powerful song that, after 46 years, remains as relevant as ever.
Needless to say, that type of music is no longer being made. The protest song that can top the charts is a thing of the past. The question though is, why?
From the 1940s through the 1990s you can find popular songs with strong political and social commentary.
Why does that medium no longer exist in the 2000s? Why are we still singing about big butts and partying when there are plenty of awful, injustices being done to Americans right now?
Taking stock of America’s top pop music would give you the impression everything is fine and dandy.
Flo Rida’s ode to the twerk “GDFR” and Pit Bull’s “Time Of Our Lives,” a party anthem about being broke as hell yet still spending the month’s rent on alcohol, are not only forgettable, generic pop songs, they’re the antithesis of what’s really happening in the world.
I understand that this type of music has its place and maybe provides a distraction from the troubles of this world, but I’m bothered that each new release is as hollow and meaningless as the next.
We need someone to break through this flowery dance pop garbage currently dominating the music scene and be a strong voice for a divided nation.
Where are the Bob Dylans or Rage Against the Machines for this generation? Where are the great punk bands like The Clash? Where are the strong black voices like Bob Marley, 2Pac or Marvin Gaye?
What has happened to social awareness? What happened to the protest song?
Ignorance is not bliss when neighborhoods are burning and dissatisfaction runs high. Considering recent events in Baltimore, you have to wonder, if not now then when will the music community wake up and be the driving force for change the nation needs?
The Downtown Grand Junction Farmers Market is making another major change to the way it does things.
In a positive first step, the Farmers Market is changing its approach to booking this year’s summer music lineup. For the first time, Farmers Market organizers have partnered with Triple Play Records to host a Battle of the Bands to help fill several stages planned for this year’s market.
This new event is not a “battle of the bands” in the traditional sense, rather, it’s an audition to play at the summer’s most popular local event. Top performing bands from the battle will get paid, prime gigs during the weekly event, and perhaps more importantly, get valuable face time in front of local promoters responsible for booking events such as the Art + Music Festival and local clubs such as Sabrosa and the Local.
“We are really focused on making Downtown Grand Junction a music destination on Thursday evenings,” said Robin Brown, special events coordinator for Downtown Grand Junction, in a release sent to musicians. “As a result, we have reached out to the community to find new bands and artists that might not have played Farmers Market in the past, including all the great music coming out of Colorado Mesa University.”
The Battle of the Bands will take place in front of the Mesa Theater & Club on Saturday, April 18, during Triple Play Records’ annual Record Store Day event.
Along with scoring vinyl exclusive during Record Store Day, music fans will get a peak into western Colorado’s diverse music scene.
Local bands will play from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in 15 minute slots with the goal of impressing a small panel of judges.
“We decided to host this event to highlight local talent,” said Triple Plays Records’ Matt Cesario. “We (Triple Play) have access to talent that is otherwise not seen by the public eye.”
Cesario added that this event allows younger bands a chance to be heard by a wider audience.
With limited opportunity for local musicians in the area, the Battle of the Bands has a real chance to become an anticipated annual music showcase. It also may prove to be the event that appeals to the college crowd and finally attracts that elusive demographic to downtown Grand Junction.
“We are always trying to figure out ways to get college kids downtown and we hope by showcasing CMU bands, we’ll attract more students to Farmers Market,” Brown said.
Along with appealing to wider audiences, the hope is that the Battle of the Bands will be fruitful enough to supply downtown bars and restaurants with bands on Thursday nights, further transforming Farmers Market into a music destination.
Last year, the Farmers Market made a major adjustment to the street layout, moving vendors off the curbs and organizing them in pods down the center of Main Street. With this year’s new focus on entertainment, the market will be virtually unrecognizable to the lazy street fair it was just a few years ago.
Even with all the changes, the Farmers Market still has a ways to go to become a dream gig for musicians.
The Farmers Market means different things for different people. For some it is a chance to pick through seasonal produce. For others, it is something free to do on a Thursday night.
Either way, it has never featured or elevated musicians beyond background music.
Maybe this year will be different.
If this shake up means more attention is paid to musicians, then I see it benefitting everyone involved. New bands get a chance to crack the lineup, selected bands hopefully will play to more attentive audiences, Main Street gets to reinforce its brand as the cultural destination of western Colorado, and the Farmers Market will become a more dynamic event.