Here's a statement that demonstrates a keen grasp of the obvious: Most local record companies fail because of a lack of money. Realizing this, Le-Jon Vivens, LaQuin Starks and Steve Jackson, three of the men behind Under Pressure Records, went to the trouble of lining up backers before launching their label--and in Stephen Torres and Scott Oler of Vision One Technologies, an area Web-site enterprise, they found a pair with what they see as the right combination of cash and creativity. "Stephen and Scott saw the hard work and the effort that we were putting in," Vivens says, "and they told us, 'We want to invest and help you guys make this thing a national label.'"
Vivens, Starks and Jackson (who is no relation to the Westword staffer of the same name) have a ways to go before they can rightfully claim to have accomplished this goal, but they're on the right track. On Friday, June 18, at the Ogden Theatre, the firm is tossing a party in honor of Dez's Under Pressure, its first CD. The disc is slated to be officially issued a week later, and thanks to a distribution deal with Valley Orchard, an outfit that ships to giant chains such as Sam Goody and the Wiz, buyers from coast to coast should have access to it.
Although Vivens is new to the record business, he's worked as a club-level promoter in Denver for several years. In the process, he's come across plenty of artists specializing in R&B and hip-hop who simply aren't getting the opportunities they deserve to showcase their skills. "Colorado is one of the most unheralded states out there when it comes to this kind of music," he says. "But there's plenty of talent here--so for us, it's just been a matter of tapping into it and putting it out there."
Dez, aka Desmond Ross, is a case in point. Vivens, who is no stranger to hype, describes the frontman's style as "immaculate and laid-back. He's not a gangsta rapper. He's very creative, and his songs have a lot of conceptual thoughts in them, and a little humor, too." But Under Pressure hasn't put all of its eggs in Dez's basket. The company has already inked five other area artists, among them Allison Wright ("She does R&B that's very sultry and powerful--and she writes and arranges all her own lyrics, which is getting rare for female artists anymore," Vivens says); Dae-Dai ("He's an R&B vocalist that I'd put in the class of the great balladeers, like R. Kelly"); Sethe ("A very mature, very elegant singer with a nice, jazzy, soft feel"); Sherm DeMarco ("He's our rough-type rapper, our street enforcer"); and London ("He's the wave of the future; he's taking rap to the year 2000 and beyond"). All of these signees appear on Under Pressure, making the recording something of a teaser for future releases. Wright's bow is tentatively planned for September, with the debuts of Dae-Dai, Sethe, DeMarco and London slated to appear at regular intervals over the next nine months or so.
Like most fledgling label chieftains, Vivens is effusively optimistic about the odds for success. But he acknowledges that launching so ambitious a project from Denver, a community that isn't renowned for nurturing R&B-oriented music, presents a considerable challenge. "There needs to be more support around here," he points out. "We need the support of radio and the public to really make something like this happen."
That's not to say that Vivens and company are content to sit at home and hope that the nation at large embraces their products. Dez, who opened for Denver dates earlier this year by Ginuwine, Naughty by Nature and Salt-N-Pepa ("Seasoned Performers," April 1), is in the midst of assembling a fifteen-city jaunt that should be road-worthy by July, and other Under Pressure acts are expected to support their platters by touring as well. Doing so won't be cheap, but Vivens knows it takes money to make money--and fortunately, he has some at his disposal. "Stephen and Scott have invested what we needed to make this dream come true," he says. "And the rest is kind of like history that's about to be made."
No one has ever questioned the good intentions of the folks behind the Rocky Mountain Music Association: The organization has struggled throughout the Nineties to make an impact in what is in many ways a diffuse, widely scattered scene. However, a new batch of local-music lovers led by Dolly Zander, who's overseen the nuts and bolts of the Westword Music Awards Showcase since its 1995 birth, are making another attempt to revitalize the institution. Several committees have been formed, and a Web site (www.RMMA.org) is up and running, thanks to David Barber, the Webmaster at Herman's Hideaway, and Scott Taylor, who's providing a server free of charge. "We'd like to add as many of the local performers, musicians, songwriters, etc., etc., as possible--particularly those without a Web presence of their own--and invite them to contact us for inclusion," Zander says. "We also want feedback on what the local music community would like to see included at the site." In other words, your participation would be much appreciated.
Farewell to the Casino, which closed earlier this month. Another great place to hear music down the chutes.
The Janus Jazz Aspen event in Snowmass isn't filled with artists who can be easily described as jazzy; R&B is the dominant flavor. On Thursday, June 17, Roberta Flack joins Lavay Smith; on Friday, June 18, Ray Charles and Diana Krall fill the bill; on Saturday, June 19, Al Green and Jonny Lang are the key attractions; and on Sunday, June 20, the Isley Brothers shout at Bruce Hornsby--which seems like a good idea to me. Want info? Call 1-970-920-5770.
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Local musician Rob Benjamin e-mailed a couple of comments about the May 27 Feedback mention of In Remembrance, a Columbine benefit CD with which he's associated. After providing an easier Web address for ordering the disc (www.mp3.com/columbinehsbenefit), he offered an explanation for why only one of the tunes on it has even a tangential connection to the "remembrance" theme: "The artists involved...did offer to write new songs specifically geared towards Columbine, but from a marketing perspective, that would take forever to get together and would have had little impact six months after the tragedy." He added that the money raised by sales of the album, which totals in the "hundreds of dollars" thus far, "is sent directly from mp3.com to the United Way, so this is truly to help the families, not myself or the other artists involved."
If you go to see the following, it won't help me, either. On Thursday, June 17, Lee "Scratch" Perry returns to the Fox Theatre; Fuck watches its language at the 15th Street Tavern, with Dressy Bessy; and Slim Cessna's Auto Club headlines a local band showcase sponsored by KVCU-AM/1190 at the Bluebird Theater (the same format will be repeated the following night). On Friday, June 18, Paul Galaxy and the Galactix rock at Cricket on the Hill. On Saturday, June 19, onetime New York Dolls member Sylvain Sylvain, accompanied by the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs (profiled two weeks ago in these pages), suffers a personality crisis at the 15th Street Tavern; saxophonist/eccentric Eric Bard, who was profiled in these pages a couple of years back ("The Bard of Denver," January 9, 1997), brings his latest show, "Bard Shakes Beer," to the Rebis Gallery, 1930 South Broadway; Marcia Ball bounces at the Arvada Center; Great Big Sea, the Mary Jane Lamond Band and Lindisfarne are part of Festival Internationale at Chautauqua; Sol Gypsy celebrates the arrival of a new CD at Cadillac Ranch; and Anti-Flag waves at the Aztlan Theatre, with Good Riddance and No Motiv. On Sunday, June 20, Cake and Silverchair rock at KTCL's Big Adventure at Fiddler's Green; the Ernies flip the big bird at the Lion's Lair; and the Tom Irwin Band drops by Quixote's. On Tuesday, June 22, the Boredoms liven things up at the Fox. And on Wednesday, June 23, the Hillbilly Hellcats get down at the Rock Bottom Brewery, and Mary Dolan sings at Stella's, a coffee shop that shares its name with my cat. Who doesn't seem to care one way or the other.
Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com.