Kyle King was a guy you'd see at several Denver shows up through his untimely death on August 24th, 2009. As a student at Green Mountain High School, King was an avid music fan whose unmistakable, loud, silly and infectious laughter is something everyone remembers. The King, as he was known, was full of life and had a contagious enthusiasm. I barely knew the guy, but he stood out among many other people as a person who clearly loved music and went to a wide variety of shows and as someone else who seemed to be documenting what was going on at the time in Denver music, whether local or touring acts.
When you go to enough shows, you get to know a few people whether you intend to or not, and that is largely how I've come to know many people in the Denver music world over the years. King was another person I saw all the time and came to view as a comrade in capturing in photos the music we were seeing. King seemed to go to at least every other show I attended and between him and former Reverb photographer, Joe McCabe and I were at many of the same events. To be fair, McCabe was and is a far better photographer than King or I, but King had a unique eye for things and was quickly developing his skill as a live music photographer. McCabe and I had been shooting live shows for a handful of years before King, but in the short time he got into photography he at least had a keen sense of where to be where the great underground music was happening and that is key to the significance of a music photographer's work. Ed Colver, Janette Beckman, Pushead, Charles Peterson, Bob Gruen, Jenny Lens and countless others have done the music world and the history of popular music by being there and capturing moments that would otherwise be forgotten, a half memory in the minds of people that were drunk or otherwise altered at the show or it was simply something so long ago it's no longer immediate and vivid. Photos clearly help to jog the brain cells and take people back. I'm not comparing King or myself to any of the aforementioned photographers in any way but for Denver at a certain time in certain circles if not for the work of a very small group of people, especially including King, there would be scant visual record of that time.
It is safe to say King was aware of the power of photos because he got into photography later in life than a lot of people. At a guess, I would say in the last year or two of his life. King had spent a short time working at a small Chicago record label before returning to Colorado and becoming an important fixture in the local music world, especially in Fort Collins where he was one of the photographers for the Fort Collins Music Experiment. But his extensive forays into Denver were where I ran into King and I learned, after he passed, that he had sent folders of photos to Warren Bedell of Rhinoceropolis who passed them on to me knowing I'd find them interesting and because King was a mutual friend. My own photo filing system is pretty rigorous in its own idiosyncratic way, but so was King's. The files have the date of the photos and the band's identified as best King could determine that sort of thing. In a few cases, I was able to determine a band or two that King wasn't sure about from my own archives. That he meticulously identified the date and subject of the photos so thoroughly is a testament to the fact that King had some sense that his photos mattered or would matter to someone someday. Chances are he knew someone would be interested in checking them out and it was his kind of service to the community that it couldn't supply for itself.
King died just shy of his 30th birthday, which would have been September 14, 2009. It was hard to find out details at the time, especially with someone you know only casually from going to shows and the cause of King's death were more or less shrouded in mystery.
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On September 9th there was a tribute concert to King held at Surfside 7 in Fort Collins and there was a tribute event at One Eyed Jack's organized by his old high school chum Desirée Gonzales of Midnight Society and White Dynamite. He is still talked about some to this day because he left quite an impression on you. I meet a lot of people in my line of work, but I knew it was his face in the Old Time Relijun photos at Rhinoceropolis in 2008. He was a supporter and a good friend of the highest order, and I still miss running into him some six years hence.
What follows is a selection of King's photos. I do not possess the originals, just the stuff King sent to Bedell years ago and so the resolution for web isn't as good as it could be. But perhaps a more extensive and proper showing of King's work in its full fidelity down the road could make up for any obvious image flaws. As it stands, King got some great photos of shows I went to as well and a handful I didn't, and what he shared with Bedell several years ago is an important document of Rhinoceropolis in its heyday. At the end, you'll find a couple of photos with King in them. One by his old friend Kell Baldwin and the other from that Old Time Relijun show in 2008 at Rhinoceropolis.
*Author's Note on the High Plains Underground Archive: In the late 1990s, I started going to local shows on a regular basis. Growing up in the '70s and '80s, I didn't know there was such a thing as local music worth checking out. But I was drawn in after seeing a band called Rainbow Sugar (an all-female punk/hip-hop/experimental guitar rock extravaganza) opening for Sleater-Kinney's first show in Colorado at The Fox Theatre in October 1998. Next, I learned about a show at the now-defunct Rebis Galleries. From there I went to the first Monkey Mania show, and there was no looking back.
Rainbow Sugar was the first local band I photographed at Herman's Hideaway in 1999. But it was in 2005 when I got my first digital camera that my extensive photo archive started. In this series, called High Plains Underground Archive, I will share a small fraction of the tens of thousands of those photos, focusing on specific venues, bands, time periods, movements and whatever else seems to make sense. The title of this series comes from the working title of my book on the history of underground music in Denver 1975 to the present.
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.