By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
As alluded to in Backbeat's lead article ("Our Gangstas," page 71), gangsta-rap artists who sell albums in the millions have been unable to cash in at arenas across the country. The primary reason remains security fears. Promoters are afraid that given the slightest provocation, gangsta fans will start shooting at each other, thereby raising the likelihood of lawsuits, criminal proceedings and other bad things. Since these are the very sorts of headaches that bookers spend their days trying to avoid, the overwhelming majority of them have steered clear of hardcore hip-hop entirely. To the best of my recollection, Fey Concerts, the area's largest promotions firm, hasn't brought a single gangsta headliner to Denver in the Nineties--and the last gangsta concert I recall having been promoted by Doug Kauffman of nobody in particular presents was an Ice Cube date at the Gothic Theatre three or four years ago. Moreover, the Cube concert failed to sell out despite the Gothic's modest, 900-seat capacity. Why? Perhaps because gangsta rap demands promotion to consumers that the standard media outlets don't always reach. It's also possible that some listeners who might have been interested in attending stayed home for fear of violence that, in this instance, never materialized.
In fact, only a handful of rap shows in Colorado have ended in violence--and as a result, more promoters are booking acts that operate in the genre. Small Axe Productions, headed by Bill Bass, has brought numerous hip-hop artists to Colorado rooms such as Boulder's Fox Theatre and did well with the Smokin' Grooves tour, which starred the Fugees. (Bass is also promoting a series of dates by Spearhead to take place throughout the state in early December.) However--and this is key--the aforementioned outfits don't fall into the gangsta category. They're from hip-hop's positive school, and they draw an audience that's varied in terms of race and gender.
The same cannot be said for Ice Cube's latest project, the Westside Connection, but it's coming to Colorado anyhow--although not under the auspices of any of the state's name promoters. Instead, the Tuesday, November 26 Connection date (also featuring Too Short, E-40 and Mo' Cash) is being brought to the Denver Coliseum by Rocky Mountain Entertainment, in conjunction with Fabian Garcia, one of the driving forces behind two Denver acts that also appear on the bill: the Arapahoe Trues and Westword profile subject Deuce Mob ("Join the Mob," February 14). Rocky Mountain Entertainment has some experience with big shows: The company is responsible for a recent Isley Brothers turn. But Garcia is dipping into big-time promotion for the very first time. He says he first got the idea for backing the show while appearing this summer at a Los Angeles concert sponsored by Lowrider magazine.
"There were 40,000 people there," notes Garcia, who performs under the name DJ Fame. "It just showed me how many people love this music. And that made me realize that we could do something like this ourselves. We've all got the knowledge, we've got the money, and nobody else was going to bring them here. So we just did it."
When asked if he is worried about security issues, Garcia initially tries to downplay the dangers. "We're not even really looking at this as a hardcore concert," he claims. "Ice Cube is the hardest one who's coming. E-40 is more like party-type music, and so is Too Short. He's been around--he just released his tenth album, and he's retiring after this tour. So the timing was just perfect." Nonetheless, Garcia concedes that "we'll have metal detectors, extra security inside and extra patrols outside, even after the concert. We're taking all these precautions, even though I don't think we're going to have any problems."
The concert is hardly Garcia's only current venture. The Arapahoe Trues have just released a single entitled "Money Murder Thing" that's getting some spins on KS-104; a full-length is expected this spring. In the meantime, Garcia is busy completing Mile High Underground, Volume 1, a compilation featuring a variety of Denver hip-hop and R&B artists, including D-Town Brown, Apostle, Billie Jean and G-Som. "I think it's going to go over really big, because there's a real blend on there," Garcia says. He's speaking with several industry types about distributing the package, which he hopes will be available for purchase within the next couple of months. But when he's asked if Thump Records (the company that released Going Solo, Deuce Mob's debut CD, earlier this year) is one of the enterprises with which he's negotiating, he replies in the negative. "Thump won't be involved in this," he states. "They kind of went to sleep on us with the album. I don't know why. Maybe it was because we weren't out in L.A.; it's hard to have as much effect over the phone as you would if you were out there. But I'm not tripping on that at all. We've got too many other things going on."
Those things include the promotion of more concerts. Garcia says he and the powers at Rocky Mountain Entertainment are planning to bring a slate of shows to Colorado in the first months of 1997. "We're going to do some big ones and some smaller ones, too--R&B acts in clubs or whatever," he says. Adds Garcia, "We're trying to do this for the people in Colorado, so we'd appreciate it if everybody who comes to see the Connection keeps the peace so we can keep doing it over and over. Other people don't want to bring these artists out here--we're taking a chance. So hopefully everyone will stand behind us and support what we're doing."
Sherri Jackson, who's been on the cusp of a record contract for quite some time, has finally signed on the line that is dotted. The company with which she'll be recording, however, is something of a surprise. Instead of going with a prominent major label, Jackson will be hooking up with Hybrid, a spinoff of New York's Metropolitan Entertainment Group. The firm isn't headed by nobodies: Its president, Michael Leon, served as head of A&M Records' East Coast branch for fourteen years, and distribution services are in the hands of the Velvel Records Group, fronted by industry legend Walter Yetnikov. Nonetheless, Hybrid is just climbing into the starting block: Jackson is its first signee. She admits that the imprint's fledgling nature initially gave her pause.
"If somebody had told me two years ago that I would sign with a brand-new company, I wouldn't have believed it," she says. "But the way things are going, with major labels dumping on so many people who haven't even gotten a chance to show what they can do, I'm glad I went the way I did. Besides, Metropolitan has done so well with promotions and management for a long time, and they've already helped me out a lot. They got me on a tour with Rusted Root, and they got me on some of the Further Festival shows, too.
"They've kind of spent the last year proving themselves to me," she goes on. "Other companies that were interested--some of them would disappear after a month or so, or a different A&R person than the one before would come out to see me. But Metropolitan was the most solid--and when I flew out to meet with Michael Leon, he made me feel really comfortable. He said his goal was to build me as a career artist. He'd like a hit, but he won't die if there's not one right away."
Ted Guggenheim, Jackson's manager, echoes that observation. "Major labels can really only work two bands of a particular genre effectively at the same time," he says. "And most of them have a lot more than that. But in Metropolitan's case, Sherri will not only be the only singer-songwriter, she'll be the only artist on the label for the next six to twelve months, period. That means they'll have nothing else to do but work on developing her career. And to say the least, we're not working with neophytes here. They know what they're doing." He acknowledges that there is "some risk" in going with an unproven organization but feels that "in this case, the artistic and creative control outweighs the lack of a track record."
Hybrid is certainly not sparing any expense on Jackson's label debut. Producing will be Los Lobos' Steve Berlin, who in addition to helming projects by his own band has been behind the boards for discs by the Crash Test Dummies, John Wesley Harding and Faith No More. Jackson, who met Berlin while playing the Further Festival, says, "I wasn't really sold on him at first, but when he came out to Colorado and talked about his ideas, I realized that he was really up to date. He definitely said some things that were in line with what Ted and I were thinking."
Jackson and her band--bassist Glenn Esparza and drummer Brian McRae--were scheduled to begin cutting at Bob Lange Studio in Seattle on November 19. The material earmarked for the disc is mainly new, but Jackson may also put together fresh versions of one or two numbers from her independently produced Moments in Denial package. With luck, Jackson and company will be finished recording by Christmas in anticipation of an early April release date. After that, Jackson expects to be on tour--but unlike many artists, she would initially prefer to open for a more established unit rather than headlining. "From my experience, if you go out on your own and play a club that holds 200 people, you might convince twenty of them that they should spend some money on your CD," she says. "But if you play in front of a Rusted Root crowd of 5,000, you're going to convince a lot more people and spread the word a lot faster. Besides, you get treated a lot better on the big tours. People will help you load in and load out, whereas if you're by yourself, you'll have to climb 20,000 steps carrying an amplifier, and you'll be lucky if you get any free drinks." She laughs. "It's a nightmare."
This prospect aside, Jackson is "psyched" by the Hybrid/Metropolitan signing. The deal is for two albums, with options for more, and while she declines to talk dollars and cents, she calls the advance "fair. It's not like I'm going to be buying a Rolls-Royce or anything, but I don't have to worry about paying the bills for a while, and that's all I wanted. If my career builds, the rest will come."
Rel, spokesman for Denver's Whores, Pigs and Ponies, admits that completing his group's self-titled debut disc, set for release November 21, was more difficult than expected, thanks to the spicy nature of the front-cover artwork. How spicy? "Well, there's full frontal nudity of both males and females," he says, "as well as assorted male parts--like there's a penis with legs. And the worst part of it is an ad from a West Coast swingers' magazine from the Eighties: It's a picture of this guy with a huge hard-on. I guess you could describe him as really ugly but hung like a horse." In Rel's opinion, these images are "juvenile, but certainly not obscene." This viewpoint was not universally shared, though; every CD company the group approached passed on the opportunity to manufacture the platter. ("Their biggest concern was that somebody on the assembly line would be offended by it and sue them for sexual harassment or something," Rel insists.) Finally, the players were able to reach an agreement with a California company that, according to Rel, "makes interactive, pornographic CD-Roms. They were used to stuff like this." Now that the disc is available, Rel is hoping to get Whores, Pigs and Ponies into some of Denver's finer original-music venues--particularly Seven South, where an October performance nearly led to disaster. "I usually do some flame-spitting when we play," he notes. "And on this one night, the torch that I was using wasn't burning like I wanted it to. So I poured this flammable liquid from a gas can I have straight onto the torch, and the thing went off like a goddamn rocket; the gas can burst a seam and crushed itself against the wall. The rug got kind of burned, too." Rel hasn't spoken to representatives of Seven South since the incident, but he wants them to know that he's awfully sorry. "Please let us play there again," he says. "Please."
Chris DePinto, best known as half of Chris and Maggie, is looking for places to perform as well--because he's stepping out on his own. While he and Maggie (last name Simpson) are still a team romantically, they've found themselves drifting apart creatively. "I've been wanting to get back into a band," DePinto says. "I wanted to play some electric guitar and pretty much play some rock." To that end, DePinto, drummer Pat Gill (of Feds fame), bassist Shark and Australian guitarist Jason Manell have assembled an act they've dubbed '76 Pinto. "We have nine and a half songs," DePinto boasts, "and if you come to see us, you can bet we'll play all of them." Hold him to that pledge on Friday, November 22, at Boulder's 'Round Midnight, where '76 Pinto opens for Sponge Kingdom, and Saturday, November 23, at Acoustic Coffee in Nederland. Hopefully, Whores, Pigs and Ponies won't be in attendance; otherwise, the Pinto's gas tank may explode.
In less destructive news, steel guitarist Tim Whitlock is issuing a call for help regarding his band, the Dalhart Imperials. The band is scheduled to play the Hemsby Festival in England next spring and is in the midst of planning a swing through Germany, France and Switzerland around the same time. Current Imperials guitarist Dave Devore has a new baby, and he's decided that, unfortunately, he no longer has enough time to devote to the band. For this reason, the Imperials are looking for a new guitarist--one, according to Whitlock, "who's familiar with jazz stylings and can play the Westernized kind of bop we're doing nowadays." If you think you qualify, call Whitlock at 369-9229, extension 229.
Oh, yeah--the conflict between singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb and Boulder's What Are Records? label that you read about in this space some months back has been "amicably resolved." According to a press release from W.A.R.?, the lawsuit filed against Loeb by the company for allegedly breaking a management contract seconds after inking a contract with Geffen Records is being withdrawn. The statement concludes, "The parties have agreed not to comment further on the termination of the lawsuit or its resolution." Where's the fun in that?
Non-legal matters. On Thursday, November 21, Godflesh feasts at the Mercury Cafe; Genuine celebrates the release of its new CD at Herman's Hideaway, with Carolyn's Mother; the Radiators begin a two-night run at the Fox; and C-Ment Gypsy does likewise at Josephina's. On Friday, November 22, Carrie Newcomer warbles at the Swallow Hill Music Hall; Dave Gershen drinks up at Javastop, in Longmont; and Gamelan Tunas Mekar gets worldly at the Naropa Institute (call 444-0202 for more details). On Saturday, November 23, Five52Fern sneaks into the Lion's Lair; Mocket visits CU-Boulder's Club 156; Zeut suits itself at Herman's; Baldo Rex and Boss 302 play with the Drags at Seven South; Upsidasium! gets down at CU-Boulder's Fiske Planetarium; Jim Salestrom entertains at Golden's Silverheels Southwestern Grill; and the Connells go to the Fox. On Sunday, November 24, Moot battles the Czars at the Lion's Lair. On Monday, November 25, the Chocolate Hippies get their just desserts at Cricket on the Hill. And on Wednesday, November 27, "Tore Up," the rockabilly dance session hosted by the Dalhart Imperials' Kurt Ohlen, re-emerges at the Key Club, and the Bluebird Theater presents a pre-Thanksgiving show starring Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Jetredball and Denver Joe. Not a turkey on the bill.
Backbeat's e-mail address is Michael_Roberts@ westword.comMichael_Roberts@. While you're online, don't forget to visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com