By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
One of the long-running success stories in the Colorado music industry is adding a new chapter. Mark Bliesener, the vice president of Morris, Bliesener & Associates, the single most profitable music management company in Denver, will leave the firm on September 1, after a decade, to reactivate Publicity Services, which he ran from 1985 to 1988. He has also founded Mark Bliesener Consults, an operation that will reach out to local, national and international artists. "I'm really excited to explore new areas," he says. "The music business is changing literally before our eyes. So I want to ride the crest of that wave for a bit and do something that portends the future."
Bliesener's departure is only the latest major change to shake Morris, Bliesener & Associates during 1998. Earlier this year, Chuck Morris, the enterprise's chieftain, got together with Bill Graham Presents, a Bay Area concern, to form Bill Graham Presents/Chuck Morris Presents, a promotions outfit that's rapidly become a major player in the Denver market. (Bonnie Raitt and Blues Traveler performed here under the partnership's auspices this summer, and its upcoming schedule includes turns by Jonny Lang and Buddy Guy.) During the same period, Morris, Bliesener & Associates has winnowed its list of management clients down from nearly ten to just three: Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Leftover Salmon and Leo Kottke. Morris insists, though, that this decision had nothing to do with either Bliesener's decision to go solo or his diversification into the concert game. "We wanted to really focus intensely on a small group of acts so that we could be more hands-on than ever," he says. "And Mark wanted to do some things outside management. We've had a great relationship, but we both thought it was time."
Although he's made his biggest musical impact behind the scenes, Bliesener got his start in front of them. He began drumming professionally in late-Sixties Chicago, playing with groups such as Humpback Whale and the Prophets: "No one will remember them," he predicts. Bliesener also pounded the skins of ? and the Mysterians, a group that was then attempting a comeback several years after making an indelible impression with garage-rock classic "96 Tears." But the biggest stamp Bliesener put on pop culture came via his friendship with punk icon Jello Biafra. Bliesener was hanging out with the former Boulderite (who, like him, was an inveterate record collector) when he mentioned that he had thought up "a great band name that nobody could ever use." To prove Bliesener wrong, Biafra subsequently affixed the moniker--the Dead Kennedys--on the group that would make him notorious. "That's my one footnote," Bliesener says.
In 1976, Bliesener "retired" to Colorado, but he didn't stay retired for long. He taught what he claims was the country's first course in rock-and-roll history at the Community Free School in Boulder and wrote articles for a variety of mags, including Boulder-based Rocky Mountain Express. Toward the Seventies' end, the folks at Feyline, the concert firm owned by Barry Fey, hired him to do publicity for the Rainbow Music Hall. He soon graduated to the position of Feyline's publicity director, handling the hype for a number of mammoth events, including the 1981 tour by the Rolling Stones. He left Feyline in 1985 to run Publicity Services, where he worked with everyone from Lyle Lovett to the World Wrestling Federation; then, in 1988, Morris, another man with heavy Feyline connections, asked him to become part of his new management company. During the Nineties, Bliesener's contributions to the breaking of Big Head Todd (his first clients at the reborn Publicity Services) led to his being promoted to the firm's vice presidency. The position was a long way removed from his humble beginnings, but Bliesener says it was still linked to his earliest musical experiences. "Pretty much everything I do everyday has its roots in those days when I was eighteen and dragging my drums around," he says. "Things have changed for me, but I still work with musicians who have to drag their equipment around, and it gives me a really good empathy for what they go through."
The consulting business should give Bliesener an opportunity to work overseas, as he's done frequently during his career; he's toured foreign lands with Lovett, Kottke, Big Head Todd, Suzy Bogguss and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, among others. "I'm really excited about that part of it," he notes. "With the world getting smaller, the international markets are more accessible than ever." But that doesn't mean he isn't still interested in the Denver scene. He's paid closer attention than many of his peers to what's happening in town for years, and he isn't about to stop now. He understands why locals grouse about the difficulties of making it from here, especially at a time when so many established groups are calling it quits; he admits that "the geography can be a curse." However, he adds, "Bands in Denver and Boulder have a certain freedom to be creative that they might not have in other markets where you have to be worried about playing exactly what the club owner wants you to play or else you don't get the gig. So this can still be a very good place to come from. Look at the Apples--the amount of international attention they've received is phenomenal.
"That's the kind of thing I'd like to help people accomplish. I've given years and years of free advice, and I still want people to call me. But I'm going to run the meter now."
Morris, meanwhile, isn't planning to stand still. He says Jan Martin, a longtime associate, will likely take on more responsibility at the management company, and he's talking to other parties about coming aboard in the near future; he expects to make an announcement in a month or two. Whoever joins up will immediately have several big projects on which to work. Todd Park Mohr has already written several numbers for the next Big Head Todd studio album, which should be out in June 1999 on Giant/Reprise (the imprints merged after severe downsizing at Giant). The Monsters are also plowing through live recordings made on their last tour, with an eye toward the possible release of an in-concert album before Christmas this year. Leftover Salmon is in the planning stages for a new disc, too; it will likely be made up of duets with band pals such as John Prine. And Kottke is making his first all-instrumental record since his 1972 landmark platter Six- and Twelve-String Guitar. "With Mark going, it gives us a chance to do some new things with some new blood, and it could make things even better," Morris asserts. "But he leaves some big shoes to fill."
Club Mecca, a hip-hop nightspot located at 1360 College Avenue in Boulder, allegedly closed its doors for the last time in November 1996. But now some of the original principals involved in the venue are breathing new life into it; Mecca returns on Friday, August 14, and your presence there would be appreciated. Also on August 14, a benefit to save the Denver Civic Theater, located at 721 Santa Fe Drive, takes place from 7 p.m. until the wee hours of the following day. Entertainment will be provided by Coy Kindred, Otis Roach and a number of DJs to be named later. But not by me.
Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com.