Forget the Denver Sound: Rockmount Ranch Wear Defines the Denver Look

The members of Los Angeles-based country-rock band the Shelters did what many musicians do when they’re in Denver: They shopped at Rockmount Ranch Wear.

It wasn’t their first rodeo with the store. Multi-instrumentalist bandmates Chase Simpson and Josh Jove knew about Rockmount from their collaborations with Tom Petty, who co-produced the Shelters’ 2016 debut album. In 2014, Simpson and Jove contributed to Petty’s Hypnotic Eye. In advance of his show at Red Rocks that year, Petty, too, stopped by Rockmount to pick up new duds.

Rockmount, which has been in the same spot on Wazee Street since it opened in 1946, is a bit of an anachronism in a downtown that has seen countless businesses open and shutter their doors with the booms and busts of Denver’s turbulent economy. What’s kept the store going for more than half a century are the Western designs sought out by generations of musicians wanting to adopt the Old West authenticity of the company’s brand. When customers walk in, they encounter a dazzling array of rustic clothing they may have only seen in photos of their musical heroes.

“It’s something uniquely American and has the same cachet as jeans,” says Steve Weil, president and head of design at Rockmount. “It’s more of a lifestyle than a fashion.”

Rockmount’s downtown location puts it within easy reach of most major Denver music venues. Lady Gaga stopped in before a concert at the Pepsi Center, Robert Plant before performing at the Fillmore Auditorium. Musicians as varied as David Bowie, Sade, Bob Dylan, Jack White and Hall & Oates have all shopped at Rockmount on various tours and have since incorporated that Western status and way of life into their mystique as performers.

Eric Clapton has sported Rockmount shirts for more than four decades, and even wears a signature style designed by Weil. In 2016, the estate of John Denver asked Weil to produce five special designs in honor of the late singer-songwriter, who adopted Denver as his surname because it fit his image as a musician better his birth name, Deutschendorf.

Even as Denver undergoes rapid growth, the city still evokes a Western Americana ethos that Rockmount taps into.

“Denver is special because it’s a major cultural center with theater, music and outdoor activities, including access to skiing,” says Weil. “[I love] the Western history [and] quality of life here. Now it’s going through an explosion with craft beer and all the young people moving here and all the tech startups. We were underappreciated until recent years. Maybe thirty. We’ve come a long way since our cowtown days.”

Weil’s grandfather, Jack A. Weil, founded the company when he was 45 and served as its CEO until his passing in 2008 at age 107. His aim was to develop a distinctive Western look, at a time when pre-recorded country-and-Western music spread nationwide. He designed hundreds of Rockmount clothing items and ties that were worn by Hollywood stars in numerous films, such as Clark Gable in The Misfits and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain. Today, Jack’s grandson continues the tradition.

“We do something new every day,” says Weil. “We have a constant stream of product coming in, whether it’s shirts, silk scarves, ties, hats or boots.”

Although Rockmount sells its wares in stores worldwide, Weil says he never reaches out to musicians to promote the store, fearing that doing so would be rude. Fortunately, he hasn’t needed to: His famous customers find Rockmount on their own.
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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.