The topic of the June 13, 1996, edition of this column was a change in the membership of 16 Horsepower, a terrific Denver band whose major-label debut--the A&M release Sackcloth 'n' Ashes--had hit stores just a few months earlier. Keven Soll, who'd been playing bass with cohorts David Eugene Edwards and Jean-yves Tola for the three years or so that the combo had been in existence, was relieved of his duties for what Edwards and Tola described as musical reasons. His replacement was Rob Redick, who'd served as a guitar tech on a couple of the act's previous tours. Edwards and Tola both spoke glowingly of Redick's prowess but resisted declaring him a permanent part of the group. Instead, they said that they would evaluate the situation following their next series of live performances.
It's clear that they were wise to take the cautious approach. Redick is now officially out of 16 Horsepower. "It was kind of a mutual unhappiness," notes Tola, just returned from a holiday in California. "When we took him in, it was for a trial, and it just didn't work out the way he wanted or the way we wanted. There were no hard feelings--nothing bad. It was just a difference of opinion. It's very difficult, you know, to find musicians who can really evolve into a band and feel comfortable. We realize that it's hard for somebody from the outside in that situation, and it's hard for us to get used to somebody new, too. But with us getting ready to make our second album, it seemed like a good time to try and get a lineup that's more definite."
So who's in? Two new players--Pascal Humbert, who played with fellow Frenchman Tola in Passion Fodder, an outfit that predated their association with Edwards; and Jeffrey-Paul, longtime leader of the Denver Gentlemen. (Those of you accustomed to seeing Jeffrey-Paul's surname in print will have to get used to its absence; he asked that it be omitted from this article because "it seems weird that whenever I read about 16 Horsepower, everybody has three names.") Humbert has actually been part of the unit for a while: "We did a tour with Grant Lee Buffalo with him, and it was great," says Tola. "He liked it and we liked it." As for Jeffrey-Paul, he was taken aboard at his own request. "I asked David if I could join," he reveals. "I was shocked that it even occurred to me to ask, but when I did, everybody said, 'This makes sense.' And looking back on it, I guess there have been some premonitions of this happening."
Indeed, Jeffrey-Paul and Edwards are pals of long standing. "We've known each other since we both lived with our parents," Jeffrey-Paul says. "My first band, back in '84 or '85, was called Pavilion Steps, and David was in it. And then, in maybe '88 or so, we both decided to put down our electric guitars at the same time. That was the beginning of the Denver Gentlemen. At first, it was just him and me."
A year or so later, Jeffrey-Paul, his brother Bradley and Edwards relocated to Los Angeles. There, they met up with Tola (who, like Edwards, made ends meet by building movie and video sets) and Humbert. Jeffrey-Paul subsequently returned to Denver, where he put together several new combinations of Gentlemen; Slim Cessna was among the band's graduates. More recently, the group consisted of Jeffrey-Paul, Mark McCoin, Valerie Terry and David Willey, whose solo album Songs for the Hamster Theatre earned deserved recognition from Westword as one of the ten best CDs released in Colorado last year ("Get Local," January 2). These instrumentalists combined to make some of the most stirring and original sounds ever heard in these parts--an accomplishment of which Jeffrey-Paul is deservedly proud. "It's true that I didn't have any success finding someone to finance us," he says, "but I reached a real happiness with the band. The songs were coming easily, and I felt like I'd come to peace with what the band had been, and what it would be."
Still, Jeffrey-Paul acknowledges, "I was feeling lonely--and the guys in 16 Horsepower are some of my finest friends. And I also think something spiritual hit me on the head. It just seemed to me that they had some needs that I might be able to fill. I wanted to help make sure that they stayed an excellent band."
The unfortunate side effect of this decision, of course, is the end, at least for now, of the Denver Gentlemen. (A tape the Gentlemen made at the Bug Theater is also in limbo.) When contacted about the unit's demise, McCoin expresses his regrets--an opinion with which Willey concurs. "It's sad to see the band end," he says. "I'm going to miss the music." He adds, "I just hope that Jeffrey-Paul writes for them, because his songs--and especially his lyrics--are just incredible."
That they are--but don't count on hearing his ditties coming from 16 Horsepower anytime soon. "I'm coming in to play their songs," Jeffrey-Paul confirms. "I don't have any agenda to bring my own songs to the band--and I'm fine with that. I think in any other situation, it might be frustrating, but not in this case. If something else happens in the future, that's fine. But if it doesn't, that's fine, too."
At press time, the 1997 version of 16 Horsepower is preparing to begin rehearsing the material that will wind up on its next album, which the instrumentalists will start recording in Lafayette, Louisiana, in February. The producer of the sessions will be John Parish, a longtime associate of P.J. Harvey who shared credit for the 1996 disc Dance Hall at Louse Point. Tola says the foursome will warm up for this challenge with a date at the Bluebird Theater, probably on either February 7 or 8. This scheduled appearance came as news to Jeffrey-Paul. Upon hearing about it, he laughs before muttering, "I guess I've got more work to do than I thought."
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S.A.C., a disc released in the final quarter of 1996, is the fruit of a brief romance between the Psychodelic Zombiez and 16 Horsepower's imprint, A&M; the tracks for the CD were cut mainly at the company's Los Angeles studio. As you might expect from that reference, the sound quality is on par with any national release, effectively spotlighting the Zombiez' stellar instrumental skills. For me, there was a certain over-cleverness at play during some of the arrangements: In "Desert Flower," "The Healing" and "Insecurity Mishap," the melodies were either buried or delayed until their impact was lessened. But the raucous "Babaghanouj," the swingin' "Spank Your Wanky Doody" and the back-and-forth funk workout "Judas" struck me as the sort of bags that Papa would enjoy--and apparently I was right. The group's Kurt Moorehead discloses that the Zombiez have just completed a new demo financed by another major, MCA. "Our producers, Michael Douglas and Alex Reed, knew Mitch Brody, one of MCA's A&R guys, and he came to see us in L.A.," Moorehead says. "And he liked us so well that he arranged for Michael and Alex to fly to Colorado." A week spent at Kerr-Macy studio resulted in the completion of three cuts--a new version of "Sleeping Bag" and two fresh offerings. MCA representatives should review the results sometime this month, and Moorehead is confident they'll like what they hear. "Basically, I think they want to know if we have a radio hit in us--and I think we do. The whole thing turned out slammin'."
The Denver music scene suffered two important losses during December. Bassist Harry Bruckner died in his sleep on Christmas Eve. As Jim Ratts, Bruckner's bandmate in Runaway Express, told Westword during a previous profile ("Ratts Patrol," June 12, 1991), Harry could "read minds on the bass guitar. He learned how to follow in front." Two days earlier, on December 22, blues guitarist Bob Hornbuckle lost his fight with cancer. "Last Call," in which writer Steve Jackson chronicled Hornbuckle's final struggle, appeared on Westword's cover on October 31, 1996, and is still available online at www.westword.com; it serves as a fitting eulogy for an impressive musician and a true character. Both Bruckner and Hornbuckle will be missed.