For Love of Country

Now part of Denver Joe's "family," Dick and Lois Meis have strummed, plucked and picked their way across five decades of Western music.

Country music has had its power couples over the years -- married musicians who made music on stage and off. Some had great musical success at the expense of their personal lives (George Jones and Tammy Wynette, for example), while others (Johnny Cash and June Carter, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, to name a few) achieved the near-impossible feat of lasting success in the marketplace and at home.

In Denver, there's a husband-and-wife team who are as loyal to each other as they are to traditional country. Since 1956, Dick and Lois Meis have played hand in hand across five decades in a career that makes Faith and Tim seem like rookies. The Meises may not be household names in Nashville (although they enjoyed success there in the '60s). But in the minds of their fans -- from seniors at Moose Lodges and VFW halls to the tattooed and tattered alt-country types who watch them play in seedier bars -- "Dick & Lois" are Colorado's first couple of country.

"Well, I don't know," demurs Lois Meis, sitting close by her husband on the couch of their Denver home. "I guess you could say that." Dick shrugs off the title, too, but a wall of plaques and photographs in the couple's basement makes it clear they deserve the crown. Framed photos show the two on various stages: with their Frontiersmen act in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in the late '50s, and at outdoor venues around the nation in the '60s. One promo shot shows a strapping young Dick Meis with Fender guitar in hand. An old flier announcing one of Lois's shows identifies her as a recording artist for Acuff-Rose, the revered publishing outfit. Beneath two photos are matching faded buttons, each bearing Dick and Lois's names and a familiar inscription, "Grand Ole Opry" -- tokens of their stint in Nashville. One picture shows a glammed Lois in stretch cowboy flares and shirt next to country legend Kitty Wells. ("She didn't care for my clothes," Lois whispers, in reference to her modernized cowgirl garb.)

Husband-and-wife team Lois and Dick Meis were country when country wasn't cool.
James Bludworth
Husband-and-wife team Lois and Dick Meis were country when country wasn't cool.
The way they were: Dick and Lois in publicity stills taken in the early days of their careers.
The way they were: Dick and Lois in publicity stills taken in the early days of their careers.

Details

The Denver Joe Show, with Uncle Dick and Aunt Lois, 9 p.m. Mondays, Cricket on the Hill, 1209 East 13th Avenue, free, 303-830-9020; Lois Lane & Superband, 8 p.m. Thursday, August 26, Colorado Country Music Hall of Fame Awards Induction dinner, Holiday Inn Southeast, 3200 South Parker Road, $25 members/$30 non-members, 303-745-4781.

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There are also shots of Lois from various TV and stage appearances, evidence of a 1963 major-label deal in Nashville that landed her on bills with Wells, Pap Wilson, Tex Ritter, Ray Price and Johnny Cash, for starters. Dick Meis did some equally lofty work as a sideman for a host of big names, including Loretta Lynn, Tex Ritter, Webb Pierce and Bobby Bare. Proof of the pair's more recent accomplishments is found in a row of newer awards: twin plaques announcing each of the Meis's inductions into the Colorado Country Music Hall of Fame (in 1999 for Dick, 2000 for Lois) and certificates from various steel-guitar groups honoring Dick's work. (There's also an Employee of the Year award from the Adams County Mental Health Services, where Lois used to work days as a stenographer.)

Not bad for a couple who met in Fort Morgan, Colorado, while playing in a seventh-grade 4-H Club band.

"He didn't pay much attention to me then," Lois says, grinning. A few years later, when the two were in high school, they were playing music together and dating. Lois played guitar, sang and hosted a radio show in Fort Morgan; Dick played electric guitar. After graduating in 1956 they married and moved to Cheyenne, where they pursued their musical dream in that city's hearty country scene.

Later, they moved to Denver, Phoenix and a few other western cities in pursuit of more work. Lois signed with Wizard Records in 1961, but the label didn't have the muscle to push her first singles. However, after gaining the ears and respect of various touring players (particularly the members of Marty Robbins's band), the Meises moved to Nashville with their two baby sons, Greg and Gary, and chased the bigtime. They soon found it. Lois was inked to United Artists (then the home of a young George Jones), which put her in the studio to record four songs. Two of them -- "The Worst of You" and "I Must be Going Out of Your Mind" -- made up Lois's first major-label single, which gained modest chart success in a few domestic markets. It also put her on the stage at the famed Ryman Auditorium, home of the Opry.

"I think I was paid ten dollars," she says. "I remember being so scared. I played a shuffle -- I think it was a Ray Price song." Lois was invited back for a few more Opry appearances and soon landed road gigs across the country that paired her with such stars as Cash and Minnie Pearl.

Dick also did time at the Opry, though he never made it to the stage. At the time, musicians were allowed in the Opry's backstage rehearsal room, where they would pitch their services to the featured performers. It was a game Dick refused to play. "I could have backed up Bill Anderson; he came into that jam room quite a bit," he recalls. "But I couldn't bring myself to beg him for a spot. I was behind the stage, playing with all these good steel players, learning licks." That focus on his instrument paid off, and soon Meis was moonlighting as an instrument repair man while touring as a steel guitarist for Loretta Lynn and others.

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