The West is not a place," Jack A. "Papa" Weil, the founder of Rockmount Ranch Wear, was fond of saying. "It's a state of mind."
Jack A. entered that state for good in 1928, when the then-27-year-old salesman for Paris Garters drove his brand-new Chrysler Roadster across the plains from Memphis to open a new Denver office, which covered the West from El Paso to the Canadian border. Tired of travel, he later joined Denver-based Stockman Farmer Supply Company, convincing his partner to get rid of the "Farmer" and focus on cowboy clothes. And in 1946, Jack A. Weil founded his own company, Rockmount, which specialized in Western shirts with sawtooth pockets fashioned with distinctive, diamond-shaped snap buttons that could be made after the end of World War II eased the metal shortage. We've been fans of Rockmount since the moment we met Jack, who worked at the LoDo warehouse that housed Rockmount -- and added a retail store a decade ago -- until well after his hundredth birthday.
See also: The Magic of Cowboy Music
Today that warehouse has been renovated to turn-of-the-last-century splendor, and the company is run by grandson Steve Weil, who's putting more and more people into a Western "state of mind." This past weekend, it was Robert Plant, who visited the store not once, not twice, but three times -- and wore a Rockmount shirt to his concert at the Fillmore Saturday night.
Word of mouth has brought many musicians to Rockmount -- Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Phil Lesh, Jack White -- and Hollywood stars have worn Rockmount shirts in everything from Brokeback Mountain to Longmire. But the Plant visits were unprecedented. Steve Weil had just left the office Friday afternoon when he got a call that Plant was in the house, and he hurriedly returned. "The man was like a kid in a candy store, beaming," recalls Weil. "He tried on several shirts and a leather jacket, and took each one to the counter. After waiting what seemed an eternity. I asked if it would be okay to take photos. He graciously said yes."
When Plant said he'd first played Denver on December 26, 1968, Weil asked how he could remember that date. "Because it was my opening concert on my first U.S. tour," Plant replied. Rockmount employee Heidi Alfonso caught that show at the old Auditorium Arena; she was thirteen at the time. (Led Zeppelin started the tour as the opening act for Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly, but according to Jimmy Page, by the time they reached San Francisco, the band had eclipsed the headlining acts.) Continue to page two for the story of Plant's two return visits, more photos and a list from Weil of other musicians who have shopped at Rockmount.
Plant came back to Rockmount the next afternoon for more shopping and to hand out tickets to the concert that night, where he told the crowd it had been "16,718 days since the first time he played Denver." And he made a plan to return to Rockmount again the next day with his bandmates, one of whom, John Baggot, had worn a vintage Rockmount black shirt (no. 640, Weil says) that he'd bought at a thrift store in England. Plant helped everyone with their shopping. "It's a rare moment to meet someone famous and successful, particularly a rock star, who remains friendly, gracious and grounded," says Weil, who was still flying high Monday.
"Did I mention that Tom Petty's band came in Friday morning?" he adds. "That's another story."
Papa would be proud.
Musicians who have personally shopped at Rockmount Ranch Wear, according to Weil Bob Dylan David Bowie Phil Lesh Slash Mumford and Sons The Replacements The Pretenders John Fogarty Chris Isaac Arctic Monkeys Avett Brothers Jack White Gene Simmons Steve Earle Mark Knopfler Rambling Jack Elliot Don Henley
Musicians who have worn Rockmount Ranch Wear on stage Dwight Yoakam Don Henley Paul McCartney Eric Clapton