With the legalization of cannabis for recreational use starting January 1, 2014, Colorado has become a destination for touring bands. However, a steady stream of artists have been moving to the state for years. Some seem to use it purely as a base of operations, but some have engaged with the local community in at least semi-regular local performances and collaborations. Here are a few of the big names who now call Colorado home.
Fritz Fox was one of the vocalists for San Francisco's artsy punk band the Mutants, one of the most popular groups out of the first wave of West Coast punk. With only a handful of seven-inches and compilation tracks and their classic full-length album, 1981's Fun Terminal, the Mutants established a legacy of imaginative left-field rock music. Though the band has been back together since 2004, Fox currently calls Denver home, and the Mutants played a rare show at the hi-dive on June 2, 2012.
The Nuns are perhaps best known to punk history for being one of the two San Francisco bands (the other being the Avengers) that opened for the Sex Pistols on the last night at the legendary Winterland venue in February 1978. It was, as it turns out, the final Sex Pistols gig until the 1990s reunion tour. The Nuns, like many of San Francisco's punk acts, didn't get the memo that everyone needed to sound something like the Ramones or the Pistols, and many of its songs include the use of electric piano and predated the new-wave aesthetic. One thing consistent across much of the band's relatively lengthy career and changing musical styles was Jeff Raphael's able timekeeping as a drummer with a flair for expressive flourishes. Raphael spent time playing in the Sleepers and Tuxedomoon and had a brief stint playing with one of Johnny Thunders's bands. In recent years, though, he's given up the drums, and he currently makes imaginative collage art. Raphael moved to Boulder a handful of years ago and to Denver in 2013. He's still interested in playing music, but not in playing color-by-numbers punk.9. Johnny Hickman -- Cracker
When David Lowery's legendary folk/punk/psychedelic band Camper Van Beethoven broke up in 1990, Lowery moved to Richmond, Virginia, with his childhood friend Johnny Hickman and started a band called Cracker, possessed of similar stylistic roots but with more bombast and straight-ahead rock-and-roll songwriting. For the past several years, Hickman has been living outside of Fort Collins.8. Waleed Shabazz -- C-Rayz Walz
Born and raised in the Bronx, Shabazz, who performs as C-Rayz Walz, was exposed to the music of the man who is said to be directly responsible for the development of hip-hop as we know it: DJ Cool Herc. With hip-hop in his DNA from an early age, Shabazz went on to collaborate with Aesop Rock and Immortal Technique, as well as establish himself as a true talent. He also runs his own label, Sun Cycle. For several years, Shabazz has been living in the southeastern part of Denver; you might even run into him at a vegan restaurant.7. Terry Ilous -- Great White
Terry Ilous was and is the frontman for hard-rock band XYZ. During the heyday of hard rock in Los Angeles, XYZ was a popular band. Now that its style of music has come back into vogue, XYZ has enjoyed a renewed career. In 2012, Ilous became the new singer for Great White, a band with whom he had crossed paths in 1980s Los Angeles. At a recent Great White performance at the Buffalo Rose, it was revealed that Ilous is living in Denver, and he was referred to jokingly/affectionately as the "Denver Demon" by Michael Lardie.6. Nathen Maxwell -- Flogging Molly
Nathen Maxwell used to sneak into Flogging Molly shows as a teenager before joining the band as its bassist. The Irish-music-inflected punk band became popular in the milieu of late-'90s pop punk. Within the last several years, Maxwell moved to Colorado and started a Colorado-based band called the Bunny Gang while continuing to be a member of Flogging Molly.5. Ozric Tentacles
Ozric Tentacles formed in Somerset, England, in 1983. A psychedelic and space-rock band in the vein of Gong and perhaps Hawkwind, OT became a cult band in its own right evolved from a rock band into an outfit more extensively employing dub beats and trance-inducing atmospheres. In late 2008, the band relocated to Fort Collins. The 2012 wildfires burned down the band's house, but the group is up and running, with European tour on its agenda.4. Tim Holland -- Sole
Holland helped found the influential Anticon. label in the mid-'90s and helped to extend the presence of experimental hip-hop into a wide public consciousness. A native of Maine, Holland has lived in San Francisco and Arizona. But it was his visits to Denver that reminded him of Geneva, Switzerland, because of its proximity to the mountains and the easy availability of vegan food. Moving to central Denver in 2009, Sole found an passionate activist community that he found as inspiring as -- if not more than -- any musical community, as well as an active avant-garde and noise scene.3. Neil Michael Hagerty -- Howling Hex
Hagerty was a member of influential rock bands Pussy Galore and Royal Trux in New York. After the latter split in 2001, Hagerty embarked on a solo career. He is also an author with one science-fiction novel under his belt (1997's Victory Chimp and a collection of essays called Public Works, from 2005). Since 2003, Hagerty has been performing as the Howling Hex, a band that blurs Mexican musical styles as interpreted by Hagerty's imaginative songwriting. Having recruited Eric Allen of the Apples in Stereo, former Anti-Scrunti Faction/Cavity/Breezy Porticos drummer Eric Van Leuven and DYAD keyboardist Charles Ballas after moving to Denver in late 2011, Hagerty is forging ahead with some of the most original guitar music currrently being made.2. Bill Stevenson -- All/The Descendents
Bill Stevenson moved to Fort Collins in the mid-'90s and helped found the Blasting Room. He merits attention as the engineer of several gold records. But Stevenson was also a member of Black Flag and is currently still a member of All, the Descendents and Bill the Welder.1. Gordon Gano -- Violent Femmes
Chances are if you went to high school or college in the 1980s or 1990s, you heard the Violent Femmes fairly often. Its idiosyncratic combination of punk, folk and even country has aged remarkably well. That's because Gordon Gano's signature vocals aren't often imitated. But mostly it's because great songwriting never completely gets stale.
For the past few years, there have been bills around town with the band "Dirty Femmes" performing. Yes, it's a Violent Femmes cover band, but one fronted by Gano himself. He currently lives in Denver and has been known to perform with the organic avant-garde/abstract jazz group Animal/Object after attending one of the band's monthly Denver Avant-Garde Music Society nights at Strange Grounds coffee shop.
• BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS • - Anticon Co-founder Sole Finds Inspiration in Denver's Activists. - Holy Crap, Great White was incredible at the Buffalo Rose this weekend - The ten best jazz drummers of all time - The ten best jazz pianists of all time
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.