Shock waves rippled through the tight-knit Denver metal community late last month when the news came that Shawn Tyler Chavez had passed away in Las Vegas. A Denver native, Chavez played a fundamental role in the formation of legendary local thrash-metal band Havok.“Next to me, he was in the band longer than anyone else,” says Havok vocalist and rhythm guitarist David Sanchez. “Without him dedicating six years to the group, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I’m in debt to his willingness to be down for the cause. He never worried about not getting paid or the usual worries up-and-coming musicians have. Shawn was always ready to go play and get on the road. He was my number-one partner in crime, and he helped Havok get where we are.”
Richie Tice of Speedwolf was Havok’s drummer in those early years, and he agrees that Chavez played a critical role: “Shawn was a great, kind, caring and funny dude. He was very dedicated, very talented,” he says. “Shawn taught me a lot about being in a band and working out ideas with other members; he would try any riff.
“To just have Dave and Shawn to work with was a great experience,” Tice continues. “They both are insanely talented and driven. They didn’t seem like bandmates — they were brothers. It was a very motivating time for us all, I think.”
Chavez developed his love for many genres of music at an early age. Nick Krenning, one of his lifelong friends, says, “We all grew up with a rap influence; he was a lot like Snoop Dogg, in a sense. He was just the coolest guy.”
“Shawn must have been about fourteen or fifteen when he had an acoustic guitar and played it all the time,” remembers Sarah Curtis, another childhood friend. “That was really when Shawn came into his own, and he didn’t feel like a goofy teenager just waiting for life. We weren’t old enough to understand the Internet, and the Internet was new for us at that point, but Shawn figured out immediately how to look up guitar chords. There were sheets and sheets of guitar chords all over the house.
“Led Zeppelin was a huge influence, but also Jimi Hendrix, Guns N’ Roses, David Bowie and early Weezer,” Curtis adds. “Again, Shawn didn’t want to just learn the songs; he wanted to embody the music and the connection he felt with it. You have to imagine discovering the classics and classic bands for the first time at thirteen, fourteen and fifteen years old. We pored through albums and lyrics, swapping cassettes, learning to burn CDs, watching old interviews and documentaries and reading everything we could, feeling alive in the light of all of this raw talent and the ability to mediate and grapple with our realities through the music.”
Curtis also recalls Chavez’s gift for playing, which developed early. “I can remember going into Guitar Center together and people snubbing their nose at us because we looked like teenage punks. Once Shawn started to whale on a guitar, people’s jaws just dropped,” she says.
Chavez made as much of an impact with his personality as he did with his playing. “Shawn also came to my house once to bring me flowers when I was sick, and I was too shy to answer the door, and he was too shy to ask me to,” says Curtis. “So he just sat on the porch and talked to me through the door for like an hour.”
Krenning also remembers Chavez’s humor, wit and love for conversation. “Shawn was a very funny guy when we all hung out. It was almost like a comedy club; we would just laugh for hours. I haven’t met many people like Shawn. We could just feed off him, and it would just go back and forth. He was the comedic relief for a