By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
Before Gregg Stone quit drinking nearly five years ago, playing metal was just "something to do while I got drunk," he declares without the slightest hint of irony. These days, the Horse frontman is far more focused. He's got to be: His former lifestyle nearly cost him what could be his biggest asset — his voice.
Stone's distinctive, gravelly voice is the sound of Denver metal, and has been for most of the past two decades. Better known by his radio handle, Uncle Nasty, Stone has been using the airwaves to champion aggression — particularly the heavy music and artists from here — since before Denver had much of a metal scene.
Stone got his start in Plainview, Texas, where he was weaned on the likes of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. But it wasn't long before he moved on to bands that were much harder and faster. "That's what we listened to in middle school and high school," he recalls. "And that evolved into Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and Saxxon and the Scorpions and Motörhead. And then you started hearing about this band called Metallica, and Anthrax, Slayer, Megadeth. Testament — that whole Bay Area thrash movement that came out. And Pantera, in the late '80s. Being from Texas, we'd known about Pantera for quite some time."
His early work in radio helped broaden his tastes. Stone began pulling air shifts in his home town before he could drive, and one specialty show in particular, at KFMX, a station in Lubbock where he worked after college, had a sizable influence on him. "This kid was the music director, and he had a six-hour metal show Saturday nights from midnight to six in the morning," he recalls. "It was brutal. I heard shit that I had never heard before. That's when I got hip to a lot of Death, and from then on, I became just this flag-waving fan of metal."
And soon Stone was rocking the Rockies, at a station that had been waving that same flag for years. As fortune would have it, the KFMX morning-show host came up to Denver to apply for a job at KBCO, and while he was here, he heard that KBPI happened to be looking for someone to work nights, a jock who was young and full of piss and vinegar. Stone fit that profile perfectly, so the morning man passed along his name to the program director.
"I got this phone call while I was on the air — I was the music director and the six-to-ten guy at FMX," Stone remembers. "People would call and pull those types of shenanigans all the time: 'Hey! I'm really interested, I like your voice, you're funny, play me a song.' And so I kind of blew him off the first couple of times. And then he called back a third time, and he's like, 'I'm fucking serious.' So I sent him a week's worth of shows, ya know? I overnighted each one, and after that, he flew me up here and hired me."
That was in January 1990. Soon after, mutual friends introduced him to bassist Doug Tackett, who'd moved up from Pueblo to attend the University of Denver, and the two began wreaking havoc together as Nasty's Nightmare. This was back when the still-burgeoning metal scene revolved around Bangles and the Broadway; tales of debauchery from that era abound. But by the mid-'90s, the band had run its course. Stone's radio career took him out to San Jose, while Tackett headed to Texas.
Stone and Tackett kept in touch over the next few years, though, and at one point, the latter even moved out to California for a short time, where he roomed with Stone's sister. But at the end of the decade, after a stop at KBER in Salt Lake City, Stone made his way back to Denver. By then, Tackett was here, too, and he wasted little time lobbying Stone to get the band back together. The pair recruited Kevin Martinez and Jim Strickler from Angellic Rage to join them. But Martinez opted out before the act played its first (and only) show as U-Joint, and Assassin guitarist Donnie Crisp, with whom Stone and Tackett had previously shared bills, took over on guitar duties. The lineup change was followed by a name change, to A Band Called Horse. "I saw A Man Called Horse on TBS," Stone explains, "and I was like, 'Dude, fuckin-A! This is who we should be, man. It's all about the pain to get what you want, about rising to the top, about trust.'"
Led by Crisp as chief songwriter, the group released Free Thinking Society in 2001. "It sounds like a hard-esque jam band," Stone says today. Drummer Steve Patt, a scene veteran who played in Cerium and Retribution, joined up shortly after that, even though he blew his first audition when, whacked out on "more Ecstasy than most people could stand in one fucking lifetime," he recalls, he couldn't keep much time. Three days later, though, he nailed it after the guys agreed to give him another go. With Patt on board, they were going strong until 2003 — which is when Stone developed polyps on his vocal folds.