Kurt Ohlen is a rockabilly connoisseur. He works at Wax Trax's oldies branch, collects rockabilly recordings and fronts his own authentic rockabilly band, the Dalhart Imperials. But even so committed a bop cat as Ohlen is, he was in the dark until recently concerning the whereabouts of Hardrock Gunter (see page 67).
"To be perfectly honest with you, I'd heard his songs but I thought he was dead," Ohlen confesses. "But then Rollercoaster Records in England just released a new Hardrock CD [Gonna Rock 'n' Roll, Gonna Dance All Night], and I was reading through the liner notes when I saw that he currently resides in Golden. So I looked in the phone book and, sure enough, there he was--Rock Gunter. After that, I just called him up, and it turns out that he's the nicest guy in the world."
The timing of this discovery was propitious because Ohlen was in the midst of planning the biggest event of his fledgling promotion career: The Denver Rock N' Rhythm-Billy Weekend, scheduled to take place Friday and Saturday, July 12 and 13, at the Regency Hotel, 3900 Elati Street (call 455-8408 for more information). The idea of staging such an event struck Ohlen when he and his wife, Rhythm-Billy Weekend co-planner Karen Ohlen, attended England's biannual Hemsby Festival last year.
"They get four or five thousand people there twice a year," Ohlen notes. "And they have the top rockabilly, Western swing, hillbilly and R&B bands--and when I say R&B, I mean old jump R&B. We were amazed, and we had a great time. And when we got back, we realized that there's nothing in the entire U.S. like this going on." The closest thing to Hemsby in America is Indiana's Fairmount Festival, staged in James Dean's hometown. But Ohlen, who visited Fairmount some years ago, claims that the fest is "really poorly organized and poorly run--embarrassingly so. So it seemed to me that there was really a need to do a festival dedicated to the music in this country. Americans invented it, so we thought, why don't we do something to celebrate it? That's when we decided to take the bull by the horns."
The Ohlens set out to assemble a truly global rockabilly lineup for the Rhythm-Billy Weekend, and they've succeeded. Denver, a hotbed for rockabilly, will be represented by the Imperials, the Hillbilly Hellcats and the Spuddnicks, featuring internationally recognized Rock-A-Billy Records founder Willie Lewis. Also slated is High Noon, an Austin band with notable Denver connections (Arvada native Kevin Smith is the act's bassist); L.A.'s own Dave and Deke Combo; Chicago jump-blues experts the Mighty Blue Kings; Voodoo Swing from Salt Lake City; popular touring attraction Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys; and two European groups, Finland's Barnshakers and Sweden's Wildfire Willie and the Ramblers. And, oh yes, Hardrock Gunter will be there, too, backed up by the Imperials. "When I told the guys in Big Sandy about that, they were all so jealous--like, 'Oh, I wish we could do that,'" Ohlen says. "I understand how they feel, but, well, I guess this is one of the perks we get for organizing everything."
In the meantime, Ohlen has another proj-ect to keep him busy: "Tore Up," a regular Thursday-night record hop that takes place at the Aeroplane Club, 3312 West Alameda. Ohlen serves as disc jockey on these evenings, bringing with him samples from his extensive collection of rockabilly, R&B and rocking blues. He's also booking the occasional live band into the venue; the next such date is Thursday, March 7, when Chicago rockabilly revivalists the Three Blue Teardrops pour into town. (The Teardrops will make an in-store appearance at Wax Trax at six the same evening.) "We try to get a lot of people out dancing," he says. "There are free dance lessons at the beginning of each night. Our goal is to create a regular thing on Thursday nights so that people can go out and enjoy each other's company and listen to some good music."
Ohlen hopes to achieve much the same end with the Rhythm-Billy Weekend, and thus far the feedback he's receiving from rockabilly lovers has been positive. He's placed only a few advertisements for the bash, in rockabilly-friendly publications such as England's Continental Restyling, Salt Lake City's Put Your Cat Clothes On and Chicago's Screaming, and yet, he enthuses, "we've already gotten responses from all over the world. We've got one guy from Spain coming, a bunch from England, some from Japan and Germany, and people from all over the U.S. Which makes me really happy, because I think we've got an unbeatable lineup. I mean, with Hardrock Gunter, how can you go wrong?"
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A belated memorial for Kellis Etheridge, a local jazz guitarist who died of cancer earlier this month. Etheridge is best remembered for his appearances at the Telluride Jazz Festival and his Eighties recording Tomorrow Sky. He was 46.
Meanwhile, the organizers of the International Drag Poets Ball, an event scheduled to take place in the area on May 25, are soliciting submissions from potential participants; they're looking for (and I quote) "spoken word/action poetry/avante vaudeville/performance art/freakish sideshows/drag queen extravaganzas/experimental musicians/short films, videos/and anything else interesting." If you fall into any of these categories--and I can't imagine any human being who wouldn't--send your particulars to Grant R Productions, P.O. Box 33267, Denver, CO 80233, or call 970-785-0912 to learn more.
Bombs away. On Thursday, February 29, Simi Valley's Ten Foot Pole pokes into the Mercury Cafe. On Friday, March 1, Cricket on the Hill stages the finals of its latest Battle of the Bands contest; Chixdiggit makes the ladies happy at CU-Boulder's Club 156; Neil Haverstick provides the music at the Carol Mier gallery, 1408 Wazee; and Brainbone gets hard at Penny Lane. On Saturday, March 2, Vance Gilbert sings songs from his new Philo Records release, Fugitives, at the Swallow Hill Music Hall; pianist Jordan Oliver showcases his CD, Purely Piano, at Wells Music Hall; C-Ment Gypsy forms a caravan at the Skyline Cafe; Jackopierce croons at the Bluebird Theater, with Sherri Jackson; 16 Horsepower celebrates its new A&M long-player at the Ogden Theatre; and blues guitarist Jimmy Thackery plays twelve bars or so at Herman's Hideaway. On Monday, March 4, the hip-hop masters in De La Soul visit the Fox Theatre, with Xavier. On Tuesday, March 5, Five52Fern and Sponge Kingdom soak up acclaim at the Boulder Theater. And on Wednesday, March 6, 2 A.M. gets up early at the Skyline, with Space Team Electra, and Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers roll the joint at the Paramount Theatre. Go ahead and inhale.--Michael Roberts