Inside Kenny Passarelli and Amy Loper's Unusual Musical Love Story | Westword

Inside Kenny Passarelli and Amy Loper's Unusual Musical Love Story

Passarelli has worked with some of rock's greatest acts.
Amy Loper and Kenny Passarelli are an unusual musical love story.
Amy Loper and Kenny Passarelli are an unusual musical love story. Photo by Martin Summer Loper

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Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductee Kenny Passarelli has worked with some of the most famous singers in rock and pop. But Amy Loper, the other half of a duo they've dubbed Forever Is Now, is easily the most unlikely vocal partner in his storied career.

Before she met Passarelli, Loper wasn't a musician at all. She was a divorce lawyer whose only performances were in court, not on a stage. "I'd never written a lyric or even stood up and sung in front of anybody," she says. "But now we've performed together in New York City. It's mind-boggling."

Passarelli, who was once my in-law through a previous marriage, understands that this musical match may seem bizarre at first blush, but it makes perfect sense to him. "We've found something really incredible," he says, "and the great thing is, we do it together."

A Mile High City native who attended both East High School and the University of Denver, Passarelli became a master of the bass guitar. "I ended up getting my first big break with Joe Walsh in 1972," he says. As a member of Barnstorm, a trio that included the future Eagles guitarist and drummer Joe Vitale, Passarelli co-wrote "Rocky Mountain Way," a classic-rock staple that became the theme song for the Colorado Rockies.

After a couple of years touring with Walsh, "I left to work with Stephen Stills, and from there, I got the best gig ever, playing with Elton John in 1975 and 1976, mostly in stadiums," Passarelli recalls. "Then, when Elton decided to take a hiatus, I went to work with Daryl Hall and John Oates for almost three years, touring and recording. After that, I got a call to come back to Colorado and work with Dan Fogelberg for [the 1981 album] The Innocent Age. It had four top-ten singles; it's Dan's masterpiece."

In 1986, Passarelli "semi-retired," in his words, but he remained active musically, playing on and producing some of the finest work by bluesman Otis Taylor, among other things. He also focused on songwriting, "and by the time I met Amy, in 2015, I had an enormous amount of music that didn't have lyrics."

Loper hardly seemed to be the most likely candidate for filling this gap. "I practiced law from 1980 to the end of 2018," she says. "I did commercial trial law, but because I was the only woman at the firm and divorce law was considered women's work" — she laughs — "I did divorce work, too. And when I left that firm in 1995, I concentrated on divorce until I retired."

The couple connected romantically before they did as songsmiths. But in August 2019, Loper contributed her first set of lyrics to a Passarelli melody. Not long thereafter, they produced "Otra Vez," a strongly theatrical composition that "was kind of the beginning of Forever Is Now," says Loper, who's gifted with a deep, commanding contralto. "The phrase is in the song. 'Otra vez' means 'another time' in Spanish, but it's actually more complicated and layered than that. And there was magic between us right away — a magic connection between this complex melody and words by someone who'd never written lyrics before."

Since then, the creative combination has flourished. "We have over 100 copywritten songs," Passarelli reveals. "Amy being a slave-driving lawyer and me being a bum musician, she wrangles me, and we work really hard. That's why we've gotten really good. We practice every day."

The pair subsequently created a show that tells the tale of their relationship, complete with dialogue between Loper and Passarelli that highlights their unexpected team-up.

"The stories don't necessarily unfold in chronological order," Loper reveals. "It starts out with the idea of who these people are, and through music, we tell a couple of funny stories about what it's like to be a rock-and-roll superstar."

To that end, the original material is interspersed with "Life of Illusion," another Walsh hit for which Passarelli wrote the music, and an unusual rendition of "Rocky Mountain Way." "I play it on the banjo," he says. "Try that on for size."

The production was staged at an off-Broadway theater in Manhattan last year. But Loper feels tweaks made prior to its scheduled Denver debut at Dazzle on Wednesday, July 26, have made the piece even stronger. "We've created a new art form, and part of that is not really knowing how to do it," she says. "But now we've learned how to tell the story."

Adds Passarelli: "I think just the sheer craziness of two people coming from such different worlds, who have a domestic life and this creative presentation, will invigorate and inspire."

Forever Is Now, 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 26, Dazzle Denver, 1512 Curtis Street. Tickets are $25.
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