By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
With only fifty bucks in his pocket, Rupp couch-surfed with some friends -- the only people he knew in town -- and did time on the cover circuit while he acquired the means to get a place of his own. After toiling behind the counter in a handful of local record stores, he finally saved up enough for a humble abode on Dahlia Street. In the seminal days of original music in Cowtown, the place served as a rock-and-roll flophouse for half a dozen local bands, as well as the Rumble, the first of a slew of outfits Rupp kept time for.
Rupp lets out a laugh as he recounts the wild times on Dahlia. "The Rumble was living there, pretty much. We had Dick and the Chicks living there. We had the Rabbits there every night. They didn't rehearse there -- they had their own place -- but they were there almost every night," he recalls. "A jazz band, You Guys, was living there. So at that part of the scene, almost the entire original music scene was based pretty much at my house. Six or seven bands were rehearsing at my house at all times, and then we'd all go to the clubs and play and then come back and party. It was really a high-energy scene."
Only a handful of clubs supported original music in the late '70s and early '80s: Walabi's, the Mercury, the Pearl Street Music Hall. That was it, the underbelly of the scene.
"You had all these great fucking bands -- killer bands that were just doing it with no idea what the hell was going on," Rupp says. "Because the big thing back then was cover tunes -- you know, like Mr. Lucky's, My Sweet Lass and Godfather. You'd go in there and play sets of cover tunes. I was kind of doing that, but I quit doing that and started playing original music with the Rumble."
Mr. Lucky's was all covers, all the time. But it wasn't the music that attracted local scenesters. "They had a law there in Glendale where you could get in there as an eighteen-year-old girl," Rupp recalls. "You were allowed to dance but not drink. That was the whole thing: Dance but don't drink. But eighteen-year-old boys couldn't get in. It was the weirdest thing ever. So what'd you have in that place was sixteen-year-old girls with a fake ID going in as eighteen-year-olds and getting drunk all night. It was decadent and just a really fun rock club. Needless to say, a lot of people got arrested in the parking lot.
"So, we were living there -- 1979, 1980 and '81 -- I mean, I was there every night; it was just magical," he continues. "So, I kept bugging the guy that booked it about putting original music in there, and he wouldn't hear of it; he didn't think it would go over. So finally the Rumble went in and did a set, and it went over huge."
For the next couple of years, Mr. Lucky's ruled the original scene. And by the time the club shut its doors, Rupp was already on to something else. Not only had he started booking Aspen City Limits, across the street -- the club eventually became Bangles, where decadence was taken to new levels in the late '80s -- but he'd quit his day job as a car salesman. "Selling cars, what a terrible job that is," says Rupp. "I just walked out one day. I said, ŒYou guys are nuts. You lie to the customers. I can't lie to people; I'm a very bad liar.' Honesty always prevails, 'cause at least you speak the truth."
The unemployed Rupp started selling Denver's Dragon Drum kits to pay rent. Sensing an opportunity, he acquired Dragon's entire inventory through a buyout and started making drums for people to give as Christmas presents. That led to the birth of Rupp's Drums on January 4, 1984, in the living room of his 400-square-foot house. During its infancy, the shop was open only on weekends.
"I did two years in my living room as just a guy selling drums to my buddies, pretty much. I really had no inventory. I had nothing. I had zero," says Rupp. "My first year in sales was like $27,000. I thought, 'That's cool.'"
City agencies didn't find it quite as cool. Nor did Rupp's competitors, who'd ratted him out to the city's zoning authorities. So Rupp found a proper storefront location and wound up outlasting all of his competitors, buying their inventory when they went out of business. "We were just an honest shop that was making deals," he says. "I was terrified to go into retail. I didn't know what sales tax was; I didn't know any of that shit. So after struggling and struggling, it just slowly grew. All of a sudden, I'm a retailer with no business background. But I knew drums and I knew drummers. Plus playing in Denver, you knew everybody.
"I tried to touch every drummer -- not physically, of course," he adds with a laugh. "No, I mean get to know the drummer and become friends and pals with that kind of guy. That's what kept the business surviving, was me working the streets every night."