Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Boulder's Fairview High School

I'm a sucker for high school records. Unfortunately most of the ones I happen upon don't adhere to that whole separation of church and state thing, and sound more like Sunday cathedral recordings.

Then there are the musical offerings of Boulder's Fairview High School band, Excalibur vocal group, and its jazz ensemble.

Fairview has had, at certain times in its 50+ year history, various music programs including eight choirs, numerous bands (including The Classic Knights), three jazz bands, jazz combos, and a string orchestra. With all of this homegrown talent, it seemed obvious to record albums.

The first one I came across was a 1972-1973 standard issue band recording (Audicom 5672).  Lots of classical stuff here.  


The second release I found was completely different.

I Write the Songs was recorded and released in 1976 (Audicom 8714). You can tell these kids are having a blast belting out the pop songs, much like one of my other favorite high school finds, from CaƱon City High.


Side One:
It's a Miracle
All I Know
Skin Tone
Freedom for the Stallion
Lennon/McCartney Medley

Side Two:
There's Nothing Like Music
Happy Together
Willow Gold
Bandstand Boogie
Nice 'N Juicy
I Write The Songs

Yes, there are three Barry Manilow covers. Personal preference has me favoring the uptempo "It's a Miracle."


Unfortunately, the "Lennon/McCartney Medley" is a Muzak sounding selection of the Beatles slower hits, "Here, There, Everywhere," "And I Love Her," and "Long and Winding Road."

Maybe because I just finished reading the outstanding Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc., by Howard Kaylan and Jeff Tamarkin, that my favorite cut on here is "Happy Together."

Wow.

Excalibur and the Jazz Ensemble were no strangers to recording.  I also found a 1979 LP, Riders to the Stars (Audicom 3703), which features a Beatles cover of "Got to Get You Into My Life," and yet another Manilow standard, "Copacabana."



Tuesday, October 1, 2013

John Susi


John Susi interviewed Aug.-Sept. 2013

John Susi has had a life that could easily be the envy of any music fan.  Having spent most of his adult life working for the legendary Colorado music promoter Barry Fey, he has come in contact with a literal who’s who of rock-n-roll music.

It probably would have never happened, if it hadn’t been for the Electric Prunes.

“I had dropped out of Bear Creek High in Morrison CO., and took a job working at Amp City in Denver, on Broadway.  Around the corner from the store, the owner rented a rehearsal space.  She mentioned that a band was coming in, and asked if I would help them unload their gear – it was the Electric Prunes.”

After effortlessly bringing in Marshall speaker cabinets by himself, the band asked if he wanted to be their roadie. He jumped at the chance.

"The Electric Prunes eventually lost their record deal and broke up. That led to my working with Sugarloaf,” he said. “They needed a guy to go on the road with them, to lighten the load of their road manager Keith Rhodes. This was during the band's work on their second album--but when the shows ended again, I had no gig.

So Susi went back to Morrison, and back to Bear Creek High, and at the age of 20, graduated. Then, as fate would have it, another chance meeting would change his life again.


“Joel Brandis, who I knew from Sugarloaf, invited Richard Whestone (Prunes) and myself to check out this band Barry Fey was bringing to Denver – it was Led Zeppelin. It’s a funny thing, that night I was introduced to Barry Fey, and he took one look at me and started yelling at me. Then he fired me! I didn’t even work for him…yet

Fey assumed, based on Susi’s large frame and imposing appearance, that he was one of Feyline’s roadies. “Later that night, Tony Funches [who worked for Fey, after stints as both Jim Morrison’s and Mick Jagger’s bodyguard] asked if I wanted to work for Barry.”


Susi joined the ranks in the exclusive Feyline Peer Group Security Force, otherwise known as the Goon Squad – working crowd control and neutralizing the gatecrashers. After several years protecting every band Feyline promoted, Susi himself was promoted.

“I started doing ticket outlet work, distribution, delivery, and then after that, I moved to stage production. All the big stadiums shows, I was a part of.

Susi’s life wasn’t always on the other end of the stage. Before he hooked up with Barry Fey, he too was a performer. “When I was 15 my friend Michael Frazier had a band, Commercial Appeal. I tried out as the bass player and got the gig. Fast forward ten years and Mikey and I meet up again. This time I wanted to play guitar,but was self taught and dumb as a box of rocks, but I had written a few songs. Mike had his challenges, but he taught me anyway. We then put together a band, Hundred Acre Wood."

Hundred Acre Wood also included drummer Paul Folis and bassist Troy Taylor.

“We played some shows at Ebbets Field in Denver. Someone saw us, liked us, and a friend introduced us to a producer. Everything was going great, but there was a catch. The producer liked Michael and myself, but not the other guys in the band. He told us the band had to go or no deal, so we let Paul and Troy go.”

Armed with a new rhythm section with impressive credentials, including Loggins & Messina's Merle Bergante on drums and Larry Sims on bass, the rest of the group included Al Garth (the Eagles), John McEuen on banjo (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), keyboardist Pete Wasner (Vince Gill), and guitarist/vocalist Jerry Stringer. The new Hundred Acre Wood headed to Applewood Studios in Golden.

"A totally killer record was made, and we had some good interest from Leon Russel's label, Paradise/Shelter, and from Janis Records (Al Stewart – Year of the Cat). Then we discovered that our producer, who was acting as our manager, mishandled the contract negotiations, and we ended up with nothing.”

In spite of not having a record deal, Hundred Acre Wood would get some airplay on KDKO radio, Denver’s soul station.

“We released a reel tape of our music to radio stations. Doctor Daddy-O heard our song 'Thoughts of a Woman,' and played it on the air. The phone lines went crazy. He called us to do an in-studio interview, and when we got to the station, the receptionist was wondering why these white guys were in the lobby – they had no idea that Hundred Acre Wood wasn’t a black band. Even with the response of radio listeners, there was no money to keep everybody going and Hundred Acre Wood broke up."

About this time Susi wanted to put down his acoustic guitar and rock out. While keeping busy with Feyline, he continued writing music. The subject matter was plentiful, being surrounded by rock stars for inspiration.

“I had been doing a bunch of shows with Aerosmith and there was a lot of talk about Steven Tyler at the time – his sexuality, behavior and vices, all that kind of rock star stuff. I was tired of hearing it. Everybody wants to take a shot at someone on the top."

The result was the song “No Wimps.” In 1983, armed with a title cut and other songs, Susi headed to Applewood Studios to lay down tracks for an EP. He was joined by his friends Michael Pfeifer on guitar and drummers Merle Bergante, and Bob Baugh (Bad Bob). Rounding out the band were Ian Campbell and Gary England on bass, and Peter Parks and David Zychek on guitar.



Listen to a sample of "No Wimps"

The release caught the attention of The Denver Post music columnist G. Brown, as well as local radio stations KAZY, KBPI, and KBCO.

(click to enlarge)

“David McKay, who was running the Rainbow Music Hall, and received a copy of the record. He heard it and liked it. He called me to ask if I could really deliver, I laughed and said, 'Of course!' He asked if we wanted the gig opening for Steppenwolf. All of a sudden I had 30 days to get the guys together as an actual live band.” 



After putting John Susi on the bill, the stalled Steppenwolf sales picked up, and the show sold out.

“We ended up in Billboard, as one of the highest grossing shows in the nation that week. But again the money just wasn’t there to keep us going. After playing with Steppenwolf, Michael Bolton, and Savoy Brown we had been booked to open for Leslie West, Joe Walsh and the Neville Brothers, but we still couldn’t make enough cash for expenses and a living. We all had to have other jobs to stay alive, so the band broke up."

In between making music and guarding rock stars, Susi discovered another passion – wine. 

“I was working security for Alice Cooper, during the Billion Dollar Babies tour, and was used to Budweiser and Jack, and really bad concert wine. This gal took me to a wine tasting, and that was it. I started traveling to Northern California to learn about wine, and spending a lot of time at wineries. Then I started making it." 

After serving the fruits of his labor to friends and family, he discovered that tasters wanted to buy it. So he opened Raven Hill Winery, in Bailey, Colo. 

“I then moved to Conifer and started J. Susi Winery. I would still be there today, except the lease expired on the property, and they sold it, and the new owners didn’t renew it. I was devastated. So I got in my car, filled it with my wine, and went to every winery I could find along the way. I found Natchez Hills, and fell in love."

Now making his home in Hampshire, Tenn., Susi says the move was a perfect fit, as the winery holds regular live music events on both indoor and outdoor stages, and even has a recording studio. However you won’t find him standing guard at the stage--but he will ask for your ID should you want to taste the wine.