Ballad of John Elway: DJ Lisa Wheeler on Long-Lost Broncos Jams
Forget Queen this Super Bowl as you prepare to celebrate the Broncos impending victory. This Sunday, February 7, Lisa Wheeler of KCMJ will be spinning obscure Broncos-themed anthems from long-forgotten Colorado locals like The Orange Crushers and Chris Taylor who, through the '70s and '80s churned out vinyl records celebrating the best football team in the world, including "The Son of Elway," and "Super Bowl Game of Love." Wheeler has worked in broadcasting on and off since 1980, working as a TV anchor and reporter in Texas, and as a media spokesperson for the state before retiring in Colorado Springs, not far from her hometown of Pueblo. Now she has plenty of time to pursue her passion: excavating old, unheard of records from her home state, which she features on her program at the Springs station KCMJ 93.9. Read our interview with Wheeler below, and tune in this Sunday on the radio or online to hear her selection of dusty Broncos 45s.
Lisa Wheeler of KCMJ hunts for Broncos-themed 45s
Courtesy of Lisa Wheeler
Westword: What attracts you to the obscure, the forgotten and the unheard records you collect?
Wheeler: I think collecting unheard, unloved and forgotten Colorado vinyl originally started out as Pueblo pride. I’ve been a record collector since I was a child. About ten years ago, while I was digging for vinyl, I found a record from my hometown. It never even dawned on me that records were being made in Pueblo, so I started researching it, only to find that there was very little documentation back then about obscure, privately-released records coming out of Colorado, between the 1930s and 1980s. I mean, when the average person thinks of Colorado music it’s usually John Denver, Firefall or The String Cheese Incident, which is all great, but there is a neglected, long-lost part of the state’s musical history now found languishing in thrift store dollar bins or garage sales. In 2009 I started a blog to display the southern Colorado collection I had amassed and began tracking down the performers…or at least the ones that were still alive. Unfortunately most of this history is often lost, due to death or forgotten memories. The collection took on a life of its own when I decided to target my search statewide, and start collecting obscure, forgotten,or unheard recordings from the entire state: We’re talking everything from big-haired gospel, spoken word, children’s records, garage rock — anything with a Colorado address, I grab. So in 2012 I started a second blog. I thought it would make a good radio show, so I approached stations with the idea. They were all lukewarm, saying that the topic was too esoteric, but the folks at KCMJ-FM loved the idea, and so was born the North of Pueblo radio show (airs on KCMJ.org and 93.9FM Wed. 10am and Sun. at 9pm). The show just took off, and now I’ve been approached about syndicating it.
What is it like connecting with some of the original artists?
Through my blogs, I’ve been able to track down several of these performers. Many of their stories are documented on there. It’s a fantastic feeling to make a call, and hear the reactions of these long-forgotten performers when I tell them that I’ve unearthed their record and want to talk to them about it. For a few, this is long-buried history, but for most, they are thrilled to talk about these recordings. Most of the time the first response I get is, “How the hell did you find THAT record?"
When did you start collecting Broncos records?
I think the Broncos records started collecting me—haha… It just became an extension of my vinyl hunt. I’ve been a Broncos fan since 1978, when I first moved to Colorado with my family. Once I realized that there were all of these Broncos tribute records out there, the search was on. There are a few I’m still missing, but that’s what makes the hunt so much fun.
What are some of those Broncos records you are missing? There are "holy grails" of Broncos vinyl?
Ha ha, no, no holy grails. I'm sure they are out there. Just haven't stumbled upon them, yet.
What is the highlight of your Broncos record collection?
Oh lord, that’s like picking my favorite kid (if I had any). They’re all so endearing and heartfelt. Lots of pride in those recordings. Probably the one I tend to listen to the most would be “The Ballad of John Elway” by the Fulcrums Image, a local prog-influenced band out of Denver. Fantastic record, made in 1983, as a tribute to the Broncos (then-new) quarterback. Love the lyrics:
"You looked like you could have been me, after all we're both 23...although I'm not a superstar, a human being is all you are."
Of course! I’m actually in San Francisco right now! I wasn’t going to miss being a part of this huge game — win or lose — I’m here to support the Broncos (and do some record digging, of course).