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posted 25, July, 1997
THE DENVER WEEKEND '97 DIARY by Tony O'Bryan
(and he does this all from memory, folks)
Thursday July 10 - Made it into Denver 1:30 P.M. Checked into the hotel early with the intention of snagging a few zzz's. To derned excited...hell, I can't sleep. Sara and I run in town for a bag of clean ice, a gallon of milk, some film for the camera plus a pair of smoke colored nylons and a bottle of vanilla Stoli for Tex. Guess what two items from this shopping list they DO NOT sell in dowtown Denver. It was 5:30. I was lost in downtown Denver and I knew the MEET and GREET was at 6:00. If I didn't get a pink Rollin' Rock comb and at LEAST get chance to shake Rockin' Ronny's hand I was going to be so pissed. Damnit Tex! Through skillfull driving and a sense of dead reckoning we made it back to the hotel just in time for the meet and greet. Met b Sharpe, Dave Stuckey and Jason Williams right off...where's Ronny?? Where's the caped cowboy crusader?
After waiting a bit we give up on meeting Ronny and opt to have dinner in the hotel restaurant. Hmmm...this food aint bad. In fact surprisingly good considering the ambiance of the Denver Regency Hotel. I ate like a hillbilly hawg in front of 5 beautiful women just so I can rush my little butt into the ballroom to see the first band. I see some guy up on a very DARK stage with a Telecaster. He was wearing a cool little hat and having entirely too much fun. Somehow I found out that up there guy is listmember Frank Novicki of the Slo Gin Joes. My eyes scanned the ballroom looking for familair faces. I see Dave Stuckey in the distant darkness of the ballroom and he gives me the nod. Gabby is over there selling records. Dave Wolfe is in the back at his Sci-Fi-Western booth selling CD's and Zippo lighters. Finally, someone comes up and waves a pink comb in my face, "He's here! He's here!" they tell me. I rushed into the hotel lobby looking for Ronny and find nothing. Nada, dickweed. Just a small pile of hot pink combs, some really cool Rollin' Rock refigerator magnets and some pink buttons that say "Rockabilly Rebel" that lay on the front hotel counter next to a pile of back issues of "Texas Jamboree". I collected my souveniers and dejectedly shuffled back to the ballroom.
Sara tells me there probably ain't no such critter as Rockin' Ronny after all. "He's probably just a myth..." she tells me, "...spreading the joy and hope of a rockabilly ressurection and leaving little pink combs for all the faithful to comb their greasy hair...like a rockabilly Easter Bunny". I wasn't amused. I found Dave Stuckey and asked him for a physical description of the errant "Rockabilly Easter Bunny". OK now I know what kind of body I'm looking for. Just then I spot the guy. He is short in stature, wears glasses, has a beautiful Las Vegas tan and smiling eyes that seem to say, "I love Rock and Roll, I love my country, I love life, I love my wife and children!" I waltz up, stick out my hand and introduce myself. He seems as pleased to meet me as I was pleased to meet him. He seems sweet natured and genuinely kind. I can't believe I'm casually standing here next to the guy that set my soul on fire with rockabilly music some 15 years ago. I feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. (Big pillars of smoke and fire) "Pay no attention to that little man behindthe curtain!" (More smoke and fire.) Un-freakin'-believable man.
As expected, I got my skinny little Missouri butt kicked by the great bands that night. Here is a breif review of the bands that played Friday night using my silly little rating system of good, real good and damn good.
Frank Novicki of the Slo Gin Joes: Good. I can't really give a fair review of this first group because I only saw this 3 piece groups last few songs. I don't think it was the Slo Jin Joes but rather Frank on guitar with two other musicians in a band that was thrown together at the last minute just for the Denver show. Frank is certainly a plenty adequate guitar player and he appears to really enjoy playing music. I hope I get a chance to see Frank in action again sometime soon.
Kim Lenz and her Jaguars: Damn Good. Oh my gosh! A tall pretty gal with a flowing red mane head of hair in a pony tail, red lipstick, a beautiful soul warming smile, a pretty face in a cute cowgirl outfit, a fantastic rockabilly hiccup, fantastic original songs...Wait! Hold the phone...Stop the world...I married the wrong girl! (Just kidding sweetheart.) Great show!! I scored a copy of her 45. YEEHAW!! She was fantastic despite the fact the sound men (a term I use loosley) murdered her sound. The guitar player played one of those far out looking "map" shaped National guitars too. You don't see too many pickers playing that type of guitar. Don't miss this act if it comes to your town! I hope I can see this gal sing again someday.
Mack Stevens and the Slapback Rhythmaires: Real Good! Mack looks just like the big rough ass hillbillies that I grew up with in central Kentucky. On stage he is a mass of sweating, grunting, brooding, country boy flesh. He paces back and forth across the stage like a caged bear. These guys pulled no punches. They hit us hard on the chin with their version of dynamic rockabilly mania. I got our pictures back and in one of them Mack is so sweaty it looks like someone sprayed him with a garden hose. A real treat for me was seeing the bass players 12 year old daughter get up there and play drums for a few tunes. That sight warmed my heart. Perhaps we have another Lisa Pankratz in the making! I hear Mack was just a fan at last years show. Go Mack! This is a good act and it will surely get better with time and experience. Once again though the sound men did us no favors. Although I underand it could be a very difficult task to properly mic such a big man with a big voice that has a tendency to move around on stage a lot.
Ray Condo and the Ricochets: Damn Good! I've seen Ray three times now and this is the happiest I've ever seen him. The two previous times I saw him he played for small crowds in KC. Both times Ray appeared dissappointed with the small crowd turnout at the KC venue. Don't get me wrong, Ray ALWAYS delivered a good show no matter what the size of the crowd. Ray always rocked like it was a Saturday night in Boomtown. This time though Ray and the Richochets really appeared thrilled to be playing. It's the first time I've seen Ray appear genuinely happy and it really showed in their music that night. Great rocking show. See them live if you can, buy their CD's if you can't. You won't be let down.
The Racketeers: Real Good. The drummer sings and plays standing up. He's a wild man!! These cats were on fire! A very enthusiastic performance by this group of Boston cats. I have to admire their courage fo following Ray Condo too. I thought they were great despite the fact the bass player made a few unforgivable errors in playing and the sound "dudes" couldn't get the sound right for them. I thought the bass player may have been drunk but I found out later he has only been playing upright bass since February(!)...so all mistakes are forgiven. Boston rockabillies can be proud of this band. These guys are good and can only get better. I hope to hear them on a record sometime in the near future.
We were too exhausted from the road trip, the thin air and the great bands that night to attend the aftershow partys. So we took the "free joy ride" to the 10th floor and went to bed. I slept like a tired old hound dog that night.
Saturday July 12 - Once agin I got my butt kicked by all the great bands AND DJ's playing thatnight. Here is a breif review of the acts that played Saturday night.
The Sugar King Boys: Hey cats, former list master Jose Espinosa has got hisself a damn good rockabilly band!! I was especially impressed by the guitar players technical skills. That cat plays pretty damn good. Cool looking gold Fender Jaguar too. However, he should learn a trick from Jose and flash and smile now and again maybe bite his lower lip ... at least try to make rock and roll guitar playing look like fun not work. That is the only criticism I have to offer. Good voice from the lead singer. This group had the best luck with the sound "dudes" I had heard so far. Good original material and a nice clean sound that I lean towards in my rockabilly music tastes. Jose slaps a solid bass line too. It was a seamless performance from my view. All these cats are young. I'll bet this band had the lowest average age of any band that weekend. The lead singer looks like he could probably travel without a razor.
The Lucky Stars: Damn good! These guys were great. Best sound from the P.A. system yet! A very talented group with a fantastic stage show. These guys looked, acted and sounded VERY professional. A very funny act as well. The accordian in the band adds a real nice western flavor to the music. This band could give Big Sandy and the Fly-Rite Boys a HARD run for the money. It was a special treat to have Dave Stuckey come up on stage and sing a song with this group. Real damn good!! I hope these guys can make it to my town, I want to see them again. A real world class act.
Carl Sonny Leyland: Damn! I am ashamed to say I missed this act. I had to take my dogs for a long walk, fix a few latte's, go for a "joy ride" on the elevator and I got carried away in a bullshit session in my hotel room. When I returned to the ballroom Carl had just walked off stage. I could tell by the faces coming out of the ballroom that I had just missed a real good one. Rockin' Ronny approached me, wide-eyed with his mouth hanging open, placed both hands on my shoulders as if to hold hisself up and said, "Man, did you see that!!" I was embarrassesd to tell him no, I missed it. I heard later on from some folks that have seen Carl playing for a few years that he just went crazy on stage. They said that they had never seen Carl in such a playing frenzy like he was that night. Probably my biggest regret of the whole weekend was missing this act.
The Comets: REALLY DAMN GOOD! In fact GREAT!! For me this is the most difficult part of this review. What can I say. They floored us. They killed us. The guys in plaid jackets pounded our heads into the pavement. They kicked my skinny little rockabilly butt right up between my shoulder blades. They left us literally speechless. My hair is standing on end just thinking about seeing this act. Everyone was in rock and roll ecstasy. I ain't kidding these guys stole the whole weekend. Everyone sang along, shouted, danced, swayed, whooped, hollared. We knew the words to every shouted chorus. It was damn near a rock and roll riot. I could have cared less if the lead singer sounded like Kurt Cobain but I'll be damned if that guy didn't sound JUST LIKE BILL HALEY. Carl Sonny Leyland came on stage to play pianio for a few tunes along with the bass player for the Lucky Stars. You had to be there. Hell, you ALL should have been there. This was beyond sex. This was beyond drugs. This WAS ROCK AND ROLL!! To hell with factionalism in the rockabilly music scene. Screw the east-coast vs. west coast rivalry. Damn the fashion police. To hell with the bickering and petty back-biting. We were all amazed. The Teds, the tattoed tank topped tossers, the english dogs, the yanks, the bikers, the greasers, the hippies, the punks, the posers, the elite, the aloof, the ass kissers, the back stabbers, psychos, trads, east coast, west coast, black, white, hispanic, oriental, european, Jewish, Christian and otherwise.... This was rock and roll heaven. This was rock and roll unity. We shared the same moment. Breathed in the same thin smoky Denver air. Man, what a beautiful thing this was. These guys that help start it all some 40 years ago can still rock with the best of them. To top things off they sat in the lobby and signed autograghs for well over an hour. I stood there and watched all the happy faces in line to get an autograph. I snapped a picture of Frank Novicki literally beaming after he got the back of his Telecaster autograghed. My freind "B" Sharpe was near totears at having the Comets sign a poster for him dedicated to his pal "Rockabilly Jim". I got my poster autograghed too! Damn what a humble and kind group of gentlemen. If you weren't there you missed out on a great moment in Rock and Roll history. 'Nuf said, OK!
The Planet Rockers: Damn Good!! I didn't think ANY band could tread on that stage after the Comets burned that sucker down. I was wrong. God I love this band. Sonny George is a real live rock and roll rebel. That guy really scares me. Clad in black leather from head to toe, with a Confederate flag tank top, a little soul patch under his lower lip, non-greased flowing black hair that pokes out from under his hat. A smooth Tennesee drawl as he tips his hat, "My name is Sonny George...at you're service". Yeah right. A true bad ass Tennesee Volunteer. Scary menacing rock and roll. I dig that. If I had a daughter I would lock her away when this band came to town. And damn, Eddy Angel, Bill Swartz and Mark Winchester...man, what a group.
Sunday July 13 - The great bands playing Sunday night: The Hellbilly Hellcats: Damn Good. These guys were a refreshing change from the more traditional acts playing that weekend. I saw them last year and it seems as if Chuck has only got better on guitar. Chuck looks healthy and appears to have lost a little weight. His playing is presision like clockwork. Something about Chucks guitar style reminds of Johannes Bach. We got to see Chuck whip out a slide and and torture his Gretsch too. This is a great three piece act with great inventive original songs. The new bass player resembles Lance Romance a little...tall, dark and handsome.
The Rollin' Rocks: Damn Good! What a happy sight to see those eight smiling Japanese faces on stage! This was one happy band folks. What a loveable bunch of goofy grins! What a real fun act to see! I found myself standing there just grinning at their performance. After each song the lead singer reached into his Gurnsey cowskin jacket pocket to retreive notes to read an introduction to the next song. At one point they all shouted in a chorus of broken english, "Wollin' Wock got the sock!!!" That was too cool. The lead guitarist does a real amazing job at affecting a southern accent. Sara was amused. This was the most joyous and happy act all weekend. We called them back for three encores. They too signed autograghs in the lobby for about an hour after coming off of stage. I watched as a few of them proudly and carefully folded the Rollin' Rock flag that Ronny had made by hand and cart that sucker off to Japan. After their show I tried to talk to Ronny Weiser. He couldn't speak...all he could do was smile like a proud papa.
Jump Cat Jump: Good. This was the first British rockabilly group I have seen perform live. They were fairly proficient musicians giving a flawless performance.
Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys: Damn good! I don't need to say much here. If ya' aint seen Big Sandy yet - face it, your square. They get better all the time and I am convinced that Robert has the best singing voice in the world since Elvis was a pup. I listened to him add all kinds of new elements into his singing style. Slurs, stops, bends, trills, and vibrato. I really get the feel that Robert is making all this up as he sings along. Once or twice I saw him look down at me in the crowd after he did a tenor vibrato roll on ONE syllable of a word as if to say, "This is how ya' sing ya' stupid hillbilly!" Truly amazing. Ashley played a borrwed aniversiary issue Gretsch that night too. The real treat of this Big Sandy gig was getting to see and hear Carl Sonny Leyland in action with the Fly-Rite Boys.
Russell Scott and His Red Hots: This IS a red hot rock and roll trio. Very tight in the turns. The guitarist is a fireball that plays a real pretty Guild guitar. Russell has a hoarse voice that turns amazingly beautiful and smooth when he harmonizes with his lead player. The drummer has that "just a cats whisker ahead of the beat" feel that gives the music a tilting forward momentum. Truly exciting. I enjoyed this act and would have enjoyed it even more had I not been so dang worn down by the long day.
God bless, Tony O'Bryan - The Midway Rebel, Lone Jack Missouri USA