Ralph Gean Is Denver's Greatest Unknown Rock Star

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

Ralph Gean hasn't played many shows in the last couple of years. So you might think the local rockabilly legend might be a little bit off his game. But that notion was quickly and handily dismissed over the weekend at Mutiny Information Cafe, when Gean got up in front of a small crowd for something like two hours. It's hard to know what Gean is like in his time off stage, but the guy played with his usual high spirits and good humor and engaged with fans. Some musicians who experienced some early success get a little bitter in their later years, but not Gean. If he has, it sure didn't show in the performance. Instead, Gean played covers and originals as though sharing a new song he dearly loved.

See also: A Weekend at Mutiny Information Cafe, Denver's Most Unexpectedly Great Music Venue

Gean also treated us to numerous anecdotes, casually telling us about having seen his heroes in various places in the country. He covered a song by a local artist present for the performance --Gregory Ego. Of his originals, Gean played pretty much everything from the new ten inch record being released by Baast Records this night. Along the shelf space near the windows, Baast's Mike Buckley had out records: Gean's as well as the new Nightshark single and a small format vinyl of the Japanese Spiderman theme song.

When a fan called out the name of a favorite song, without missing a beat, Gean went right into it. In that way he lived up to his reputation as a human jukebox. None of it was obvious, top 40 material from the '50s or '60s, and that made the show that much better. Gean never made it like his some of his contemporaries, but we've heard all that music ad infinitum since childhood, so hearing Gean's songs live is like getting to see lost gems by someone that survived the vicissitudes of rock and roll excess by virtue of that not having been a big part of his experience. Halfway through the show, Andrew Lindstrom of Nightshark joined Gean and brought just a touch of his considerable, jazz-trained skills into the performance. He relied on his experience with improvisation to lay down solid rhythms. Though coming from widely different generations and backgrounds, Gean and Lindstrom displayed that music does indeed span generations and connect people in ways that the usual social patterns don't. Even though Gean was never a rock star in the classic sense, he became one: he clearly still loved performing and was willing to throw himself into a performance.

There isn't a long past career of fame for Gean to fall back on for support. He's not rich from his music. No one's pampering the guy or telling him he's great and a genius. Not in the way his talent deserves, anyway. But because there isn't a high level of confirmation of his talent by strangers, he was more of a real rock star at Mutiny than some pampered millionaire would be. With no entourage, not even a guitar tech or personal sound engineer, or manager, Ralph Gean was the real deal.

Critic's Notebook

Bias: I saw Ralph Gean years ago at Monkey Mania when it was on North Lipan and didn't know what his deal was. But his songs were good and he performed like he didn't know he was playing some warehouse. He hasn't changed and is even better now.

Random Detail: Ran into artist Matt Brinkman at the show.

By the Way: Baast and Meep will be having another event in six months to display offerings from the two Denver-based lathe cut labels.

• BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS • - Seven of Denver's Most Underrated Bands - You'll Never See Another Show Like The One Chimney Choir Has Planned - Why DIY Venues Are Vital Are Vital to the Health of the Entire Music Scene - DIY or Die: Why Denver Need Under-The-Radar, All-Ages Arts Spaces

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 would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.