Denver Pop Music Heroes the Babysitters Reach the End of Their Remarkable Run

The Babysitters are playing their final show this Friday, July 3, at the Walnut Room, with ...and the Black Feathers and Super Phoenixes. The latter is Babysitters' singer and primary songwriter Greg Hill's new band. Hill has a real gift for a good bad joke and deadpan-humor observations — all of which inform not only his entire body of music, but also his two novels, 2012's East of Denver (which won a Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction) and his latest, The Lonesome Trials of Johnny Riles.

But at heart, Hill is a rock-and-roll musician. Growing up in rural Joes, Colorado, Hill had to make his own fun, and this involved becoming a rock musician at a young age. He had three tapes growing up: an Everly Brothers greatest-hits compilation; the red-cover compilation of the Beatles' music from 1962 to 1966; and a dubbed tape of some fifty television-show themes that he and his siblings listened to endlessly. He got an acoustic guitar sometime in high school, and learned to use two tape decks to record and do overdubs before starting his first band.

“In Denver, if you have a kid who's a pain in the ass, you have a cousin in Joes, so you send your kid to Joes as punishment for a semester at Liberty School,” says Hill. “We would get cool kids for a semester who were supposed to be reforming, but they would be corrupting us. I had a friend named Andy Spence who was exiled to Joes for a while, and we played a couple of Quonset-hut concerts. Our band was called the Screamin' Cowz. That was before it was cool to drop the 'The.' He loved the Cure, and I was a big David Bowie fan.”

Naturally, the band didn't really go anywhere except to play some local concerts. But Hill did eventually move to the big city and meet other musicians, including those in the Muckrakers, the first band that his future wife, Maureen Hearty, got to witness while she was in college. Hearty and Hill traveled in similar social circles and, early on, got to see the Apples in Stereo, including a show in 1992 at Club 156 on the University of Colorado Boulder campus, when the legendary band was pretty much just starting out. In later years, the Apples' bassist, Eric Allen, would join the Babysitters.

Before any of that came to pass, however, Hill became a member of the short-lived (but well known locally) Mr. Tree and the Wingnuts.

“We played our first show on August 13, 1997,” says Hill. “We thought we were going to be rockabilly, but we didn't have the full commitment to rockabilly. What I love about a good rock-and-roll band is that you don't have to make sense. You just see where the crowd is and adapt to them as the show goes on, and by the end, hopefully, you've got them waving their arms around. It was Mr. Tree, aka Paul Muller; Shawn Gilbert, later of DeVotchKa; Matt Shupe; and me. “Here's the key to being successful in Denver: getting somebody on your side. I worked at Twist & Shout when that band first started, and a couple of people there got to vote for Westword Music Showcase. After one gig, we were on the ballot, and that made us legitimate. We played this derivative rockabilly stuff, but that got us a following, too, that got us off and running. And we ran right into a wall.”

Mr. Tree and the Wingnuts split in 2000. Shawn Gilbert became Shawn King of DeVotchKa fame, and Hill joined the bluesy Marty Jones and the Pork Boilin' Po' Boys for a time before going on to form the amusingly named Six Months to Live. The band, which lasted far longer than six months, put out some of the best power-pop songs in Denver in the past decade. Around the time of that band's final show, in November 2009, Hill formed the Babysitters with Hearty, and the duo played its first show together in Portland while traveling for business. It was Hearty's second-ever live gig. But Hill and Hearty have been having interesting experiences together since becoming a couple in the '90s. One night in particular was Hill's first time seeing the Apples in Stereo.

“Went to the show with Maureen and a bunch of friends,” recalls Hill. “The show hadn't started, and my buddy was sitting at the bar with his girlfriend, and this woman dressed up like Marilyn Monroe — back when people were doing that — starts flirting with my buddy. I tried to intervene, because my buddy's girlfriend was there. And she got upset and said, 'What? Are you gay?' My buddy and I looked at each other and said, 'Maybe we are.' Which just infuriated her. She started yelling at us and pointing.”

“I was out in the alley hanging out with Robert Schneider, and I came in and thought I could solve everything by talking,” remembers Hearty. “That's when she started attacking me.”

“All of us buddies jumped in between, and 'Marilyn Monroe' punched us all in the face,” adds Hill. “And we get thrown out of the bar because 'Marilyn Monroe' was dating the bartender. So we didn't get to see the Apples at all. As we were walking out of the bar, 'Marilyn Monroe' starts coming out and yelling and screaming at us again for whatever reason, and one of my friends yells back, 'You're a horrible person and nobody loves you!' She comes after us and slips and falls on her ass. It seemed like some kind of justice.”

From Lucas Richards, Master of Felt, the very first video from our new album, Split Seams. Our final show EVER (or at least for a while) is at the Walnut Room on July 3rd.(Facebook is not a book. Nor is it a face. It's a tar pit.)

Posted by The Babysitters on Thursday, 11 June 2015

The Babysitters' final show this weekend will also serve as the CD-release show for the band's final album, Split Seams, recorded for the first time not at Hill's home studio, but at E-Town Studios. It is, however, released on Hill's label, Sparky the Dog, with a catalogue number of 93.

Although the Babysitters are coming to an end, Hill is continuing with Super Phoenixes, and Hearty is taking a break from music for the moment and waiting for a “country funk” band to manifest. In the meantime, she's involved in establishing a community arts center, for which she recently received a grant, in Joes, where a small group of musicians has come together to play a monthly performance through the warmer monthsin a town with fewer than a hundred people. So far, the performers at these shows have been from far outside of Joes proper.

Hearty and Hill now split their time between their northwest Denver home of thirteen years and a family farm in Joes. And Hill maintains his small home studio, where he does recording projects for a bevy of artists — including, through his bandmate and friend Eric Allen, a remix project with Neil Michael Hagerty of Howling Hex and Royal Trux fame. Hagerty has made Denver his home the last few years, with Allen on board as the bassist in Howling Hex.

“Neil asked Eric if he knew anybody who had a small, really cheap studio where he could do a remix of a song by Hot Chip, whom I had never heard of. I had never even heard any of Neil Michael Hagerty's stuff at that point, either — my ignorance is both broad and deep. So Eric referred him to me. So he brought over what had to be these 64 tracks recorded completely, including five tracks of steel drums. I'm struggling to keep up. He didn't bring a guitar, and asked if I had one. He doesn't tune it, and I told him the guitar was in another key, but he said he was just playing. I was getting paid to mix a song by an artist that was nominated for a Grammy. We tweaked the song in little bits here and there. He didn't seem to give a shit about anything. Then it comes time that he decides to put in backing vocals, and he wants to do it in the style of Michael McDonald on a Steely Dan song. It's just fuckin' funny, and I realize the guy is a riot.”

“He seemed not to understand the [guitar] well but I come from a background of theory, and you learn the song and play it,” says Hill. “But to see him have complete command of rhythm and time and be so loose about how things were recorded actually affected my life in a positive manner. Plus, he's a huge Denver Nuggets fan. He, Eric Allen and Eric Van Leuven and I went to games together, and we corresponded for a while about basketball. But I stopped because I didn't want to bug him.”

If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.