Way back in our January 1 issue, I wrote about Sire Records' decision to license Tone Soul Evolution, a fine CD by the Apples that was originally emblazoned with the spinART logo. Now Sire has climbed into the sack, business-wise, with another Denver artist: Sherri Jackson, whose eponymous debut on Hybrid Recordings hit stores last year. Thanks to a marketing and distribution pact, future copies of Jackson's album will appear under the Hybrid/Sire umbrella.
According to Ted Guggenheim, who manages both Jackson and the Samples, this propitious development was precipitated by the collapse last summer of Indie Distribution, the company that had been working with the fledgling Hybrid firm. "Within a matter of a year or so, Indie ran out of money and went out of business," says Guggenheim. "They left a lot of people high and dry; Indie had about a hundred independent labels, like [Boulder-based] W.A.R.? and Aware."
Within a month or two of the severing of their relationship with Indie, Hybrid execs had gotten Sire on board. "John Scher and Michael Leon, who own Hybrid, have had a long relationship with Sire," says Guggenheim. "And I'm told that Sherri's record and the success that it's been having was also of substantial interest to them and helped them make the decision."
The disc in question is not yet a national hit: Before Indie went bust, it had moved approximately 5,000 units, and Guggenheim estimates that Jackson has sold around that many more at venues while touring as a supporting act with artists such as John Hiatt. But Hybrid remains committed to the platter, which has been its only piece of product for the better part of a year (the enterprise contracted with a second act, Guster, a few weeks ago). "One of the reasons we signed with Hybrid is that we knew that they would stick with us for the long run," Guggenheim says. "Lately, it's been taking a year or so to break a lot of artists, like Tonic and the Ben Folds Five. There's a lot of luck and timing involved, and it's a big country; it takes time to create pockets of awareness and then string those pockets together. And that's what Sherri's doing right now."
At present Jackson is entertaining offers to appear on bills this spring with several acts, including Paula Cole and recent Westword profile subject Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise ("Blackwater Runs Deep," January 29). In the meantime, Psychodelic Zombiez keyboardist Jeremy Lawton has been sitting in with Jackson's trio on an experimental basis, and while it's too early to know if he will become a permanent member of the ensemble, all involved seem pleased by the resulting sound. With a new single due to appear soon (possibly "Rice and Beans"), Guggenheim is optimistic that the Sire teaming will help his client take the next step. "I'm hoping it works out over the long run for everybody," he says.
Things haven't worked out for the AUTONO. Hailing from Colorado Springs, the group made a lot of great music during its thirteen years of life, but it never received its due, and this lack of acknowledgment finally caused the combo to cash it in.
Chuck Snow, the group's leader, notes with pride the AUTONO's many good reviews (the recording This Is won a 1991 Best of Denver award) and its pair of trips to Russia in the company of Mark Junglen, a Springs-based composer whose Stalingrad--A Rock Concerto was twice performed by the Volgograd Philharmonic (see "Rockin' to Russia," April 19, 1995). But when the 1996 CD Machines failed to lift the band to a new level, Snow and his comrades (bassist Ivor Young and drummer Kirk Moore) sank into a malaise from which they never emerged. "We had a show back in November, and after it was over, we didn't have anything else booked," he says. "So we decided to take some time off and think about where we were at. And after a while, it seemed to me that we'd gotten to the point where people weren't getting along and we weren't learning anything new. And to tell you the truth, I was kind of burned out. So I just felt it was time to call it quits."
Interested observer Junglen pins additional blame for the AUTONO's demise on the reputation of its hometown. In his view, the community, despite a population of approximately 300,000, suffers from a severe shortage of venues that book groups specializing in original rock music. Moreover, Junglen believes that the city's reputation as a headquarters for right-wing zealots (the James Dobson-led Focus on the Family organization is based there) makes bookers in other communities reluctant to extend invitations to local musicians. "If you tell them you're from Colorado Springs, you can just forget it," he claims.
Fortunately, these challenges haven't prompted Snow to hang up his hat. His new, thus-far-nameless project involves drummer Steve Schaarschmidt of Big Backyard and a couple of AUTONO alums: Alan Stiles, the group's first rhythm guitarist, and Mike Amend, who was manning an ax at the time of Westword's profile of the band ("Just Say AUTONO," September 14, 1994). Snow doesn't expect the result to represent a radical departure from the style he's been refining since the Eighties. "The AUTONO was always kind of a power-pop thing, and I imagine it'll stay along those lines. But I think it may end up maybe being more melodic."
Like Snow, the other members of the final AUTONO lineup are moving on; Moore is already drumming for another Colorado Springs act, while Young is still a part of Former Fetus, a Junglen group. Snow will continue to be involved with Junglen's Big Ball Records, but to a lesser degree than before. Right now he's more concerned with finding a way to make music fun for him again. "I put a lot into the AUTONO for a lot of years, but it finally got to the point where I felt like I was beating my head against the wall," he says. "It was time to try something else."
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By now, most of you probably have grown tired of hearing from acquaintances who were gassed in LoDo during the celebration of the Denver Broncos' startling victory in Super Bowl XXXII--and since a significant portion of Westword's editorial and sales staffs were among those rubbing their eyes well into last week, I am, too. But this one last tale, courtesy of the 15th Street Tavern's Scott Campbell, is worth telling. Campbell reports that the Tavern was hosting "Den One," a regular Sunday-evening event in which hip-hop DJs are given an opportunity to scratch their musical itches, when a tear gas canister was lobbed directly through the venue's front door. "I was inside, and you wouldn't believe how bad it sucked," he says. "The bar was packed, and everyone tried to escape at once. In less than two minutes, there wasn't a person in the bar; even the bartenders were out of there." This weekend, the Tavern has a full slate, highlighted by a Thursday, February 5, show starring Sunshine (which hails from the Czech Republic), Acrobat Down and the Shortwave Channel. And since no major sporting events are scheduled around that time, you'll probably be safe.
Denver Nuggets games don't count. On Thursday, February 5, the Reejers, Badragaz and Half Way There participate in "UnVailed," dubbed the "ultimate band and board event," at the Fox Theatre, and Third Eye Blind, Smash Mouth and the Space Monkeys grope toward the Ogden Theatre (the same acts also play the next night at CU's Balch Fieldhouse). On Friday, February 6, the Minders put on their thinking caps at the Lion's Lair; Judd Grossman strums at the Acoustic Coffeehouse in Nederland; Misery Loves Company provides the music for an art opening at 8 Oz. Fred, 26 Broadway; and Preacherman and the Congregation lift spirits at 'Round Midnight. On Saturday, February 7, Al Ferguson & Fascinating Rhythm introduce selections from the new CD Happy Birthday, Mr. Gershwin for the first of two nights at the Acoma Center, and Neil Slade, fresh from his triumphant appearance on Art Bell's radio show, holds the floor at the Glendale Community Center, 999 South Clermont. And on Sunday, February 8, Soapy Smith greets Tim Mahoney and the Meenies. Show up or they'll be blue.