That Denver DJ Larry (L.L.) Bishop remains deeply involved in dance music is a tribute to his resilience. After all, his wife and constant companion, Wreath Rose Bishop, died in an automobile accident in Boulder a mere five months ago, and thoughts of her continue to fill his head; his conversations are peppered with references to their time together. Fortunately, he has plenty to distract him from dwelling on her demise: He runs Soul Flower, a shop in Denver's blossoming Broadway Terrace district that's widely seen as the city's hippest venue for DJ mix tapes, import vinyl, electronica CDs and fashion accoutrements, and he spins at after-hours events like the Rampant 3 party held earlier this month. It isn't always easy to get through the days, but Bishop does so by concentrating on the future, not the past.
Like a surprising number of dance-music slingers, Bishop, a native of Dallas, was initially infatuated with the rock-and-roll division of the pop-music spectrum; he proudly proclaims his attendance at last year's KISS reunion tour. His tastes began to broaden after he met DJ Robert Vaughn, one of the biggest names in Dallas's dance world. Motivated by Vaughn's example, he quit his job selling cars and moved to Colorado in 1991. He promptly landed a DJ position at the Boulder Express, then the sole contemporary dance mecca in the People's Republic of Boulder, by using a tried-and-true method. "I basically lied through my teeth and fooled everybody," he admits in a staccato speaking voice that still bears the mark of his Texas upbringing. "I told the owner that I was the hottest thing to come out of Dallas on two legs, when the fact of the matter was that I had never been behind of pair of turntables in my life and I really had no idea how to mix two records together. But it was the easiest way to get my foot in the door, and I winged it on my first night. Thank God the people in Boulder didn't know as much about DJ skills as they did about records, or I would have been out the door before midnight."
As it turned out, the Express--which recently changed its name to Millennium--was an ideal place for Bishop to improve his chops. William Logan, who remains active in the area as a club promoter, preceded Bishop at the Express's DJ booth and helped establish a clientele as eager to dig into dance sounds as Bishop was. "I taught myself everything I needed to know about DJing," he says, "and I'm proud to say that I'm damn good at it to this very day."
Bishop is just as forthright about the reasons he was drawn to his new career: "I saw the potential for the spotlight there, if you know what I mean--a little celebrity." Before long, he had risen into the ranks of the Colorado DJ elite alongside up-and-comers such as Hipp-E, Jonas Tempel, Craig C, John Chamie and Julian Bradley, the future Nebula 9 figure who helped Bishop land prime slots at several of the state's first and finest raves. Bishop approached these opportunities with an almost religious fervor: "Music was my absolute focus. I was one of those DJs who would mix twelve hours a day until three or four in the morning, then go to sleep, wake up and start all over again."
During this period, Bishop met Wreath, who was then a student at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She soon became so important to him that he didn't know how he'd ever gotten along without her. "Thank God for Wreath in those lean years," he declares. "I can tell you, I would not have been eating as well in the early Nineties if it had not been for her. And she had an even deeper understanding of the electronic scene than I did, so we really made quite a pair."
By the summer of 1994, the couple was looking for another creative outlet--and they found it in Soul Flower, a store inspired in part by Casa Del Funk, a failed project formed by DJ Hani, a onetime Denver resident who's gone on to do remixes and production work for artists like Michael Jackson and Joi Cardwell. "Hipp-E and I and a handful of others were his only customers," Bishop notes. "Hani was just too ahead of his time. He was smart, and he went and mixed it up with the big boys. I respect the hell out of that, man."
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Likewise, the Bishops deserve admiration for making Soul Flower a financial success without sacrificing its underground viability. Unlike those Denverites who thought they were tapping into the developing electronica movement by promoting the terminally pointless smart-drink phenomenon, the Bishops were familiar with the dance subculture. As a result, Soul Flower became for technophiles what Imi Jimi and Fashionation had been for previous generations of music lovers. Today the firm is being targeted by neighborhood competitors that include Fat Tuesday and Synaptic Records, but the Soul Flower staffers, including co-founding partner Alan Cally, seem to be holding their own despite what Bishop sees as Denver's inability to fully shake off its cowtown image.
"It's just like what happened with Hani," he says. "The man is absolutely huge the world over. He's in the light, he's hit the big time, and he was a local DJ from Denver--but nobody here wants to talk about it. It's like he doesn't exist. The people in this city's scene don't like to acknowledge the accomplishments of those around them. They are not concerned with loyalty or excellence or morals in any shape or size. You go to other cities and do your thing, play your sets, and you hear about it when you're done. If you burn the dance floor down, the people let you know. Here, it's like dead silence when you perform above and beyond the call of duty. This city needs to grow up. It needs to grasp the meaning of loyalty."
Bishop is as pleased as anyone by the recent electronica explosion, but he wants to avoid the appearance of trendiness. "I've always mixed a certain number of drum-and-bass records into my sets over the last six years. But even in 1995, we were still calling it 'break-beat.' We had no idea that it was going to be this huge phenomenon featured in television commercials and that twelve-year-olds would be talking about it. That just blows me away." However, he adds, "I think the current electronica and DJ-culture fad can be done in the right way, without selling your grandmother--and I have no qualms about wanting to be a part of that. I've earned the right."
But even as Bishop looks at ways to capitalize on the latest rage, he strives to keep things in perspective. Wreath helps him in this regard. "I miss her very much," he says. "We were going to do this life together, and she's the reason I've come as far as I have. I'm dealing with her death and I'm living with it, but I want her back. I just miss her.