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.

But the pursuit of fame was hardly the glamorous experience they'd hoped for. "I worked for some pretty big stars," Dick says, "but just because they've got money doesn't mean you do. They didn't pay much." For Lois, a growing workload had a bigger price. "I was getting better jobs and getting out on the road, and I was about to go to a new label," Lois says. "But I couldn't take all the traveling and being away from my kids. Tex Ritter told me once, 'When you're out on the road, you need to forget about your family back home.' When he told me that, I thought, 'What does he mean? I can't do that.'"

Facing that reality, the Meises walked away from Nashville and returned to Denver in 1966 for a more normal life. Back on Colorado soil, they focused their energies on the regional country scene. They've played thousands gigs in the state over the past 35 years. It's a practice they continue today, playing virtually every weekend (as Lois Lane & Superband) in lodges, halls and bars around the city. Doing so has required an ability to adapt to their surroundings and changes in the local scene. Such flexibility led Lois to take up bass seven years ago so that she and Dick could play as a trio and earn more dough in a market dogged by shrinking pay.

"I have no regrets," Lois says today. "We decided to put our marriage and our family first, and that's what we did. You know, you set goals, and mine was to be on a major label. It's strange, but I achieved that, so I was happy. It wasn't the kind of life I wanted to live. I love to be a homemaker and decorate my house and take care of my family."

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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Making a living as a country-music outfit involves digging up gigs wherever possible.

Tonight the Superband is booked into the Family Bar in Littleton's downtown "LiDo" neighborhood, a place they play often, in part because its operating hours mean the Meises can finish the job earlier in the evening.

Dick, Lois and drummer Denny Maw are squeezed into a tiny spot behind a small bar. Patrons sit in arm's reach of the group as the trio runs through a set of expertly played vintage country covers.

"I want to hear something with steel guitar," says one patron.

"Me, too," replies Dick, taking his hands from his Stratocaster and reaching for the Mullen pedal steel before him. He leads the band through song after song of steel-driven thrills, peppering each tune with head-spinning runs, sometimes shifting from steel to Strat and back in mid-song. As Dick wows the small but enthusiastic crowd, Lois plays impeccable bass lines dropped squarely between Maw's grooves. She sings each song with consummate control and soul, slipping effortlessly from brittle ballads and twangy raveups to a stunning display of yodeling during a rendition of "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart." She smiles politely through each song, making eye contact with the crowd members, some of whom are moving on the dance floor. When their first set ends, the Meises mingle with patrons and chat, lending a family-reunion feel to the evening.

Such customer service, says Family Bar owner Barbara Griffith, is part of what has made the group a staple of her establishment for five years. "Dick and Lois are two of the nicest people I've ever met," she says. "I just love 'em to death. As musicians, they're good, too, and I like them because they're country-and-Western and they do the old country music that my crowd wants." She cites their professionalism as another asset, though it may pale in comparison to the pair's personal appeal. "They'll sit and talk to some aspiring musician and tell them what it's all about. And quite often they'll let somebody sing with them that they probably shouldn't. But they give them a chance to perform."

While the Meises' work in trad-minded establishments has endeared them to an older country crowd, they've gained hipster credibility with the younger set by playing each Monday night behind Denver's outlaw-country legend, Denver Joe, at Cricket on the Hill. The vibe at the Cricket is several cultures removed from the wholesome scene at the Family Bar: Under a blanket of black ceilings and walls and a cloud of smoke, they take the stage with drummer Larry Ragero. While handfuls of country traditionalists and guitar geeks swoon, the three play an opening set before being joined on stage by Joe.

Invariably, the Denver Joe/Dick-and-Lois show involves plenty of back-and-forth banter between Joe and Dick, with the latter serving as straight man to Joe's raw-boned irreverence. The Meises' stellar playing recently helped Denver Joe land a surprise win in the country category of this year's Westword Music Showcase, even though his schedule consists almost exclusively of the Monday-night Cricket gigs. The honor is evidence of the cool factor that the Meises add to Joe's status (although, Joe notes, the award "nearly ruined me").

"Uncle Dick is the best musician and friend I've ever had in my whole dirty, rotten, stinking life," Joe says. "Aunt Lois? I would've run off with her years ago if it weren't for Uncle Dick." As for why they're playing with him here at the Cricket, his answer is simple: "I think God's punishing them for something they did somewhere along the line."

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