Ralph Gean Is Denver's Greatest Unknown Rock Star

Ralph Gean at Mutiny Information Café
Ralph Gean at Mutiny Information Café
Tom Murphy

Ralph Gean hasn't played many shows in the last couple of years. So you might think the local rockabilly legend might be a little bit off his game. But that notion was quickly and handily dismissed over the weekend at Mutiny Information Cafe, when Gean got up in front of a small crowd for something like two hours. It's hard to know what Gean is like in his time off stage, but the guy played with his usual high spirits and good humor and engaged with fans. Some musicians who experienced some early success get a little bitter in their later years, but not Gean. If he has, it sure didn't show in the performance. Instead, Gean played covers and originals as though sharing a new song he dearly loved.

See also: A Weekend at Mutiny Information Cafe, Denver's Most Unexpectedly Great Music Venue

Gean also treated us to numerous anecdotes, casually telling us about having seen his heroes in various places in the country. He covered a song by a local artist present for the performance --Gregory Ego. Of his originals, Gean played pretty much everything from the new ten inch record being released by Baast Records this night. Along the shelf space near the windows, Baast's Mike Buckley had out records: Gean's as well as the new Nightshark single and a small format vinyl of the Japanese Spiderman theme song.

When a fan called out the name of a favorite song, without missing a beat, Gean went right into it. In that way he lived up to his reputation as a human jukebox. None of it was obvious, top 40 material from the '50s or '60s, and that made the show that much better. Gean never made it like his some of his contemporaries, but we've heard all that music ad infinitum since childhood, so hearing Gean's songs live is like getting to see lost gems by someone that survived the vicissitudes of rock and roll excess by virtue of that not having been a big part of his experience.  

Ralph Gean with Andrew Lindstrom at Mutiny Information Café
Ralph Gean with Andrew Lindstrom at Mutiny Information Café
Tom Murphy

Halfway through the show, Andrew Lindstrom of Nightshark joined Gean and brought just a touch of his considerable, jazz-trained skills into the performance. He relied on his experience with improvisation to lay down solid rhythms. Though coming from widely different generations and backgrounds, Gean and Lindstrom displayed that music does indeed span generations and connect people in ways that the usual social patterns don't. Even though Gean was never a rock star in the classic sense, he became one: he clearly still loved performing and was willing to throw himself into a performance.

There isn't a long past career of fame for Gean to fall back on for support. He's not rich from his music. No one's pampering the guy or telling him he's great and a genius. Not in the way his talent deserves, anyway. But because there isn't a high level of confirmation of his talent by strangers, he was more of a real rock star at Mutiny than some pampered millionaire would be. With no entourage, not even a guitar tech or personal sound engineer, or manager, Ralph Gean was the real deal.

Critic's Notebook

Bias: I saw Ralph Gean years ago at Monkey Mania when it was on North Lipan and didn't know what his deal was. But his songs were good and he performed like he didn't know he was playing some warehouse. He hasn't changed and is even better now.

Random Detail: Ran into artist Matt Brinkman at the show.

By the Way: Baast and Meep will be having another event in six months to display offerings from the two Denver-based lathe cut labels.

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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.

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Mutiny Information Cafe

2 S. Broadway
Denver, CO 80209

303-778-7579

mutinyinfocafe.com


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