In 2015, Westword's then-music editor Kiernan Maletsky sent an email to his stable of regular contributors seeking ideas for a story he wanted to put together. The Colorado Music Hall of Fame was set to release its annual list of inductees, and Maletsky thought it would be nice to run a piece with our picks. There are a lot of people who would make great additions to the HOF, but only one popped into my head immediately: Wendy Kale. For nearly three decades, Wendy wrote about music for the Colorado Daily, where I was an editor for ten years. I probably edited a quarter of everything she wrote during her career. We were co-workers, but also good friends.
I was a little surprised when, a few minutes later, he agreed to include Wendy in the story. For one thing, the list of inductees is nothing short of incredible. Firefall. Chris Daniels. John Denver. Barry Fey. Chuck Morris. On and on the list goes. It’s not a big group — the HOF has been around less than a decade — but the people it honors are giants in the state’s music history. Indeed, many are important figures in the national and international music world, as well. Colorado’s contribution to music is glorious.
Wendy was a tiny speck in that universe. As far as I can tell, she never wrote for any publication outside of Boulder. Her entire career was spread out over the space of a city block, so just having her in the piece felt like a big deal.
I wrote the blurb, two short sentences that ran alongside others venerating music legends like Ron Miles, Glenn Miller and Jello Biafra. I always thought Wendy deserved more acclaim than she got, so this was my chance to sing her praises. The story ran a few days later, and that was that.
Four years later, I was sitting at my kitchen counter, making my way through the glut of press releases that clog my inbox, when I noticed the 2019 Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductees had been announced. When I saw Wendy’s name, I literally gasped. It was as if I’d been transported back to that day in 2011 when I found out she had died, and I was overwhelmed with emotion. I was sad, yes, but also a little shocked the HOF had included my friend. I can’t think of a person more deserving of the honor, and the fact that other people felt the same way filled me with joy. Wendy spent her entire life on the periphery of fame, rubbing shoulders with stars but never getting to shine. Well, she’s shining now.
People called her “Wendy Rock ’N’ Roll.” And when I say “people,” I mean rock stars. Wendy knew everybody. Her desk was next to mine for roughly ten years, and in that time I eavesdropped on hundreds of interviews she conducted with musicians big and small, locals you’ve never heard of and superstars even your grandmother would recognize. For nearly three decades, Wendy wrote the Club Notes column in the Colorado Daily. She was there when the paper’s employees owned it in the late ’80s, when it nearly folded and was resurrected in the late ’90s and on and on until her death in 2011. Wendy succumbed to acute pneumonia and was found in her apartment after failing to show up to work, the only time I’m aware of that she missed a deadline.
Wendy navigated the rock world with ease, but journalism did not come naturally to her. She was not a talented writer and sometimes struggled with relatively simple nuances of the trade. Her transitions were often clumsy or nonexistent. She sometimes let her fandom overflow onto the page in a way that’s typically frowned upon by editors. I tell people she wrote like a raccoon digging through the trash: She’d sit down at her computer, lay a half-eaten sandwich on top of the desk and proceed to vomit copy. Her stories spewed out onto the screen, as muddled and clunky as I imagined they were in her mind, already written, just waiting to be loosed. I don’t think I once saw her read over her work or edit out a mistyped phrase. It was what it was.
“The thing that I’ve been telling people is, Leland [Rucker], and you and I and others worked our fingers to the bone to make Wendy into a rock journalist,” says Bronson Hilliard, assistant vice chancellor for strategic academic communications at the University of Colorado Boulder and former managing editor of the Colorado Daily. “She wasn’t a journalist. She was a fan.”
Her methods, he adds, were not cutting-edge. She spent most every night hobnobbing in Boulder’s music clubs, where she kept her ears open and gathered information. She was truly one of the people, a part of the scene she loved.
“That’s why people liked her,” says Hilliard, “but most importantly, that’s why they told her things. She wasn’t a rock journalist. She was the biggest fan and promoter that music in Colorado ever had, and certainly music in Boulder. Because she came across as a fan, people told her things they wouldn’t tell a journalist.”
One of the first to spot Wendy’s zeal for music was Rucker, an editor at the Colorado Daily from 1986 until 1993. Rucker helped create the Colorado Daily’s Friday entertainment section, which included space for a column highlighting musicians performing in the coming week. In the fall of 1986, he hired Kale to write what would become Club Notes.
“What she lacked in writing and journalistic skills, she made up for with enthusiasm and reliability,” says Rucker. “Her column included the first mentions of Big Head Todd and the Monsters and The Samples in any publication, when they were just playing local bars.”
Clint Talbott is the Assistant Dean for Communications at CU-Boulder. In the early ’90s, he was managing editor of the Colorado Daily and worked with Wendy until 1998, when he left the newspaper. He says Rucker’s decision to take Wendy on at the paper was wise.
“She loved her beat, and it showed,” says Talbott. “Week after week, she produced a Club Notes column that kept our readers apprised of the music scene. She did this faithfully and with good humor, despite our inability to pay her much of anything.”
Talbott marveled at Wendy’s staying power in the Boulder music scene.
“She kept doing it long after I left the Daily and even daily journalism,” he says. “She was a pleasure to know and a treasure to have on our team.”
Mark Collins was another Colorado Daily editor for whom Wendy worked. He says Wendy was the perfect person to write Club Notes.
“I didn’t need a great writer. I just needed somebody who would tell me what’s going on, and she was great at that,” he says. “You didn’t have to tell her anything to do. She just knew who to cover and got it done. It made my job easy, which is the dirty little secret of journalism. That’s really what you want as an editor.”
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Being a part of the music scene was everything to Wendy. She and I didn’t like any of the same bands, but in her I always saw someone very much like me, a lifelong fan of music. Because we covered different genres of music, our paths didn’t typically cross outside of work. In the office Wendy kept to herself for the most part and wasn’t the kind of person that draws a lot of attention. She wore jeans and a sweatshirt almost every day and didn’t seem to put much effort into her appearance.
Then one night, I was at the Fox Theatre in Boulder for a show. Standing in the crowded room, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. I turned to see Wendy, her hair neatly coiffed, wearing makeup and a dress. She was smiling ear to ear.
This was her world.
The Colorado Music Hall of Fame’s Going Back to Colorado concert and induction ceremony take place at 7:30 p.m. December 3 at the Mission Ballroom, 4242 Wynkoop Street. Tickets, $40 to $200, are available at AXS.
Correction December 2, 2019: An earlier version of this story misspelled Clint Talbott's name. We regret the error.