By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
Our hard-hitting media colleagues have spent the past several days eulogizing John Denver, who died in a plane crash last weekend at the age of 53, not as a drunk driver and a gasoline hoarder, but as an environmental activist and a boon to Colorado tourism, and that's fine; I hope when I'm in the ground, folks will overlook my screwups, too. However, it was Denver's music that made the biggest impact on my life--and I must confess to hating it with undiluted purity. As a native of this state, I was subjected to his noxious warbling from an early age, and long before I was in this line, I resented the fact that far-flung listeners associated my home with him. Moreover, the passage of time hasn't improved the quality of his work: To me, his lyrics remain as drippy as a tarpaper shack in the path of Hurricane Pauline, and his piercing yodel of a voice makes the flesh on the back of my neck bunch up like a tumor. But while I may have fantasized about his being struck mute a time or two, I never wished for him to join the Calypso in the undersea world of Jacques Cousteau. Even I'm not that mean.
In the October 2 edition of this column, I noted that the members of Sweet Water Well had announced their intention to break up from the stage at the Bluebird Theater, where they were accepting a prize in conjunction with the third annual Westword Music Awards. This week, allow Tony Achilles, a singer and guitarist with the band, to give you some insight into the move.
"Really, what happened was that I started to realize that we weren't particularly going in the right direction with our career," he says. "It just occurred to me that the band's music may have been great, and the way we were doing it was great, too. But since it wasn't helping us to achieve our personal goals, I approached the band and told them how I felt--and I told them that I thought we should try some other avenues in our lives as opposed to Sweet Water Well."
This comment sounds firmer than it actually turned out to be. Achilles first considered making such a statement in April of this year, when Sweet Water Well (which also includes David Jackson, Molly Bowers and Chris Helvey) was in the midst of touring Texas. Upon the outfit's return, Achilles wrote his fellows a letter noting his concerns. The band subsequently sat out the entire month of May in order to mull over the ramifications of a split, after which it was more or less agreed to abandon the Well. But when opportunities for shows came up, the players took them--and in an interview for the Westword Music Awards Showcase guide, which appeared in our September 18 issue, Achilles pussyfooted around the issue of calling it quits. "We're tapping other resources, so that when we come back together, we'll all have fresh ideas," he said at the time.
Today Achilles insists he wasn't fibbing. Rather, he was vacillating. "I'm so sentimental, and Sweet Water Well provides such a sense of comfort for me that it was really easy for me to say, 'Okay, let's do a few more gigs,' and so on. But if we're still playing, we're all still living with Sweet Water Well--and that makes it even harder to leave it. I haven't been able to pick up a guitar without becoming confused and frustrated.
"This band has been going since I was a teenager," he continues. "David and I started playing together in late 1988, and we started playing out in 1989. That's a lot of time, and over the years the band has really developed such a distinct sound and personality. But people change, and it's hard for a group to change with the people. When the band was fresh for me, I was hearing David Wilcox and James Taylor and loving it so much. But now there are a lot of different styles of music that are turning me on--things like Morphine and 16 Horsepower and Digable Planets. And with Sweet Water Well so established, it's been hard for me to incorporate different kinds of things into the sound. It was limiting, and I knew it--which is why I finally decided that I had to do something."
Complicating the situation was Sweet Water Well's relationship with Denver's Alley Records, which had just ordered another pressing of Watermelon, the band's 1996 CD, prior to the dropping of the Bluebird bombshell. "The people at the Alley are shocked. They're really the victims in this, because the timing of it couldn't be worse," Achilles concedes. "I'm not sure how everything will be worked out with them. We had a one-record contract with an option to do a second record--and since we're not going to be together, obviously they won't pick it up. But they've got another thousand copies of the CD, and they're worried that the sales will die if word gets out." He adds, "It's worth saying, though, that the record is still available--and that it's a great record and worth having."