Music News

How Hazel Miller Helped CW & Twenty Hands High Take Off

The band has performed 300 shows in the last two years.
The band has performed 300 shows in the last two years. CW & Twenty Hands High
During one eventful night in 2016 at a bar in Morrison, Chad Wooten had a serendipitous encounter with Denver music icon Hazel Miller.

“It was a karaoke night at the Morrison Holiday Bar," he recalls. "And after I finished my song and was walking off stage, this lady met me halfway and asked, ‘What is the name of your band?’ When I told her I didn’t have one, she replied, ‘Fix that.’”

Wooten, who goes by his initials, CW, had always thought about digging his heels into music. “It’s one of those things I wanted to do. I grew up listening to vinyl records and would sing along with George Jones, Conway Twitty and Ray Charles," he says. "So it’s always been part of my life, from the time I learned to play the recorder and the trumpet in elementary school to picking up the guitar at twelve.”

He says that when he crossed paths with Miller, he had only been in Colorado for two years and didn’t know of any other musicians he could reach out to about starting a band. So he settled on karaoke nights. “Singing country songs through that platform was how I got my music fix,” he says.
CW & Twenty Hands High's frontman formed his country/Southern rock band after some nudges from Denver music icon Hazel Miller.
Mark Leffingwell Photography
That brief conversation he had with Miller, in addition to a second-chance meeting with the gospel/R&B singer a few months later, lit a spark in him. “When Hazel saw me, she asked me if I had put my band together yet, which I hadn’t. She again said, 'Fix it,' in this authoritative voice,” Wooten recalls, chuckling. "‘I know a good voice when I hear one. You need to be on stage.’" That was all the nudging the then-49-year-old, former U.S. Navy electronics data technician needed.

Wooten heeded Miller's advice and found a country band to jam with for seven months before forming his own group, CW & Twenty Hands High. The band’s name, he says, comes from his height of 6 feet, 4 inches. “When I was trying to come up with names, I thought, ‘If I was a horse, I would be nineteen hands high barefoot. With boots and a hat on, I would be twenty hands high,'” he explains.

The country crooner, who hails from Gallipolis, a small town in West Virginia, says he was fixated on writing songs, practicing his guitar more, rehearsing with his bandmates and booking shows for his country and Southern rock outfit. In November 2017, CW & Twenty Hands High played its first show. The following month, Wooten quit his full-time job as a federal auditor for the U.S. inspector general in Denver, which he had held from 2014 to 2017. “I knew I never wanted to come back," he says, "so I let Hazel know that whatever she wanted to teach me — suggest I do — I would get it done.”

“The most important thing to me,” he continues, was “I just wanted to book more and more shows.”
click to enlarge
CW & Twenty Hands High plays to a packed house at the Boot Grill in Loveland.
CW & Twenty Hands High
The lack of a fan base didn’t stop Wooten from walking into bars and venues and pitching his band to promoters. “Early on, when I would tell people, ‘Here is what we’re going to do…,’ I would get an eye roll," he recalls. "I think they thought I was just another lead singer talking a big game. But I persevered. I would tell them, ‘If you give me one shot, with the crew I have assembled, we’ll blow the roof off this joint. If you don’t think we’re good, you don’t ever have to have us back.’”

Sometimes it worked; other times, he says, he wouldn’t hear back from a booking agent until two years later, when the band had earned some cred in the local music scene. But as Wooten worked relentlessly to grow CW & Twenty Hands High’s popularity among venue promoters and country music enthusiasts, he also built a solid set list of original songs.

The band’s budding fan base took a shine to some of the originals, such as “Back to Wichita,” which has accrued 350,000 streams since the single was released two years ago. What’s more, the songs “Live by the Sword,” “Tin Roof Romance,” “Hillbilly Heart” and “Same Ol' Star” have also fared well, becoming two-step dance favorites at the band's shows.

In addition to its original work, CW & Twenty Hands High plays a variety of music from the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny Cash, George Strait and Merle Haggard, as well as more recent country hits from Chris Stapleton, Luke Combs and Cody Johnson.

“We play a lot of up-tempo songs because we like to keep the party going," Wooten says. "Our show has to make people want to dance. My motto is, 'I want to keep the dancers on the floor the entire night, period.'”

As the band’s popularity grew, Wooten would check in with his mentor, Miller, to give her updates. “I would let Hazel know what I had accomplished — ‘Hey, I’ve booked these shows; we’re starting to charge more money to play because we’re filling these rooms; we’re getting these types of crowds; we’ve added this to this song; and we stopped doing that’ — just these little things," he says. "She always has and continues to give me sound advice and encouragement.”

Last February, Miller invited Wooten to be on the bill for the Musicians for Marshall Fire Benefit Concert. That night, Satir DeMarco, the music promoter for Niwot’s Rock & Rails Summer Concert Series, saw CW & Twenty Hands High open for Miller, and extended an invite to the band to be part of this summer’s lineup, which runs from June to August on Thursdays.

“Hazel has performed at Rock & Rails, so I really give thanks to her for connecting us,” says Wooten.

The hard work seems to have paid off for the now-54-year-old vocalist and rhythm guitarist. Along with lead guitarist Mark Gabert, bassist Jodie Woodward, drummer Scotty Rivera and keyboardist Jim Ayers, who recently passed away from cancer, CW & Twenty Hands High has opened for national acts including Pat Green, Wade Bowen, Pam Tillis, Chancy Williams and more. Another impressive feat is the band’s online presence on its Facebook page, which boasts a fan community of 56,000 followers.

“It has been an incredible privilege to see how far the band has come so far,” Wooten says, reflecting on the past five years. “We’ve been able to perform 300 shows in the last two years, playing throughout Colorado and parts of Kansas, Montana, Nebraska and Utah.” Last week, the band performed to a near-full capacity venue in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

CW & Twenty Hands High will headline a free show this Friday at the Englewood Tavern in celebration of venue co-owner Denise “Mama D” Frazier’s birthday. “I’m having the best time of my life right now,” Wooten says.

Mama D's Birthday Bash with CW & Twenty Hands High, Friday, 8 p.m. February 24, Englewood Tavern, 4386 South Broadway, Englewood.
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