By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
Colorado has never provided fertile ground for independent labels: With only a few exceptions (most notably, Boulder-based W.A.R.?), most area imprints that started with high hopes wound up quickly dying on the vine. But that hasn't stopped hearty local entrepreneurs from attempting to buck the trend--and Fort Collins's Morris Beegle is arguably the heartiest of the bunch. His creation, Hapi Skratch Records, has been around for a little over four years, and he sees no reason why it shouldn't survive for several more. "I see this as a slow, grassroots type of thing," he says. "And if one or two people explode out of here, it could turn into a lot more."
Beegle's plans are certainly ambitious. This year he expects Hapi Skratch to release approximately twenty CDs, most of them by local artists, and to distribute the discs internationally via a variety of avenues, including the Internet. He's also involved in publicizing live appearances by his signees and sponsoring showcases intended to prove to music lovers and industry big wheels alike that Hapi Skratch artists are worth hearing. His latest events take place this week: Dave Beegle (Morris's guitar-playing brother), Latin warbler Juliana Munoz, the ska act Crypto Star and Wyoming blues merchants Blinddog Smokin' are set to appear at the Supreme Court (located in the Adam's Mark Hotel, 1550 Court Place) on Friday, April 16, and at the Aggie Theater in Fort Collins on Saturday, April 17. In Beegle's view, these performers "are some of the cream of our crop, and I'm going to do what I can to drag people from New York and L.A. and Nashville out to check them out. And then we'll see what happens."
Clearly, Beegle could use some help: Although Blinddog Smokin' is one of the most successful acts in the Hapi Skratch stable, the band has sold only about 6,000 discs thus far. But Beegle sees these numbers rising, thanks to recent agreements with VNR Distribution (a Kansas company that works with Best Buy outlets nationwide), Baker and Taylor (an Illinois wholesaler), and Florida's Alliance Entertainment (which services most major U.S. music chains as well as 3,000 mom-and-pop accounts and Internet sites such as cdconnection.com and borders.com). In addition, Hapi Skratch has its own Web address--www.hapiskratch.com --where the label's wares can be sampled and purchased. And an arrangement between Beegle and broadcast.com gives computer users the chance to listen to more than thirty Hapi Skratch offerings in their entirety.
Lining up such pacts comes naturally to Beegle, who worked for others in the record game before taking matters into his own hands. He grew up in Loveland and, after graduating from Loveland High School, enrolled at Colorado State University. But after a year at CSU, he moved to Atlanta and became a student at the Music Business Institute there. After completing his coursework, he got a job at the Handleman Company, a rack jobber that supplies music to mass merchants such as Wal-Mart. He put in seven years with Handleman--three in Atlanta, four in California--and during that span, he learned the ins and outs of music retailing so well that he decided to try flying solo. "I wanted to start my own company," he says, "and rather than doing it in California, where there are hundreds of businesses like that, I figured I'd come back here."
Hapi Skratch was born on April 1, 1995, a couple of months before Beegle relocated to Colorado permanently, and it soon put out its first album: Finesse and Fury, a reissue of a 1992 long-player by Fourth Estate, a band co-starring brother Dave. The next year brought with it the first Hapi Skratch turn by Beth Quist, one of the state's most idiosyncratic talents, and a CD by Indica Gypsys that Beegle remembers ruefully. "Indica Gypsys was a real learning experience for us," he allows. "We ended up financing the project a lot more than we anticipated because we wanted to make them into a national thing. But the maturity wasn't there, and when the band self-destructed, it ended up costing a lot of money."
This flop was a painful experience for Beegle, and so was his split with Mike Swann, an original partner in Hapi Skratch who left after a year. But Hapi Skratch kept going, issuing four other full-lengths in 1996, six more in 1997 and a whopping seventeen in 1998. The discs are a diverse lot: For instance, Lalla Rookh's Book One: Tales and Traditions features traditional Celtic sounds; Reconcile's Bed and Breakfast finds singer-songwriter Mike Lopez swimming in pop; Jonny Mogambo's Colorado Golden spotlights funky bar-band stylings; and Danny Vertli's Hymns and Prayers operates within the contemporary Christian genre. However, the recordings have at least one thing in common: impressive production values. Simply put, Hapi Skratch discs exude the kind of professionalism that's rare on the local level. "I think that's been a big part of the local-music problem in Colorado--that bands continue to put out inadequate-sounding records," Beegle says. "That's why we try to have the bands talk to us before they go into the studio--so that we can play them examples of why you get what you pay for. And we've been fortunate to work with some really good engineers and people who care about putting out a good piece of product."