Reno Divorce frontman Brent Loveday considered bassist Johnny Crow a brother, and took to calling him “Junior” when he joined the band in 2011. Loveday says he came up with the nickname because he saw some of himself in Crow, even if the bassist was younger, taller, better-looking and more musically talented than his elder bandmate.
“He hated it at first,” Loveday says. “He mistook it for a cheap dig at his age and naiveté to the rock-and-roll depravity of being in Reno Divorce in those days.”
Crow died at age 36 on July 31 after a fall at his house. He is survived by his wife, Laci, and children, Ruby and Cassius. Loveday says Crow's family is continuing to work through the loss.
Reno Divorce's lineup is now made up of Loveday, guitarist Tye Battistella, bassist Andy Brown and drummer Michael Lindau. The Denver punk band is headlining a benefit for Crow's family on Saturday, November 19, at the Oriental Theater. The bill includes ska band the Dendrites and punk bands Record Thieves, Kenny's Login and Curious Things. Comedian Ben Roy will perform a standup set, and there will be a silent auction with items from FashioNation, the Oriental, BC Barber, Luxe de Vil Salon, EARTH Skateboards and more.
Crow struggled with alcoholism for much of his life. It interfered with his music career and personal life, and sadly, the disease directly contributed to his untimely demise. In spite of his troubles, Crow’s friends and family remember him as a talented musician, woodworker and carpenter. In addition to several years as Reno Divorce’s bassist, Crow played for bands Roseonix, Home Made Tank and Gimpy and the Rollers.
Reno Divorce, which plays Orange County-style punk rock combined with roots music and twang, found itself without a bass player after Loveday kicked the window out of the group's tour van in Oklahoma City while drunk. It happened to be the most expensive window in the van, so most of the money made from the gig went to replacing it. The band spent the night in the van to protect the gear, and Loveday slept it off in a nice hotel room. The bass player was not amused.
“That bass player immediately quit as soon as we got home,” Loveday recalls. “He said, ‘This is too fucking wild.’”
The search for another bass player began in earnest, and Crow, who came highly recommended, tried out for the spot. Loveday wasn’t there for the first two auditions because the Oklahoma City episode meant a stay in rehab. But it didn’t really matter, because the rest of the band was impressed with the young Crow’s bass acumen.
“After the first one, Tye, the guitar player, calls me and goes, ‘The fucking search is over,’” Loveday recalls. “‘This fucking kid is so badass.’ I’m like, ‘Slow down, dude,’ because I knew everyone in town, I thought.”
When Loveday finally played with Crow, he was duly impressed. Crow was in.
Crow played with Reno Divorce from 2011 to 2016. It was in 2016 that the band, including drummer Jason Labella, toured Europe as a three-piece. It was Crow’s first transatlantic tour, and the band recorded a live show in Berlin that later became the double live album Outsider! Escape From Berlin.
“That was probably the most prolific time of the band,” Loveday says. “That particular lineup was like Rush. It was just three dudes who were meant to play together.”
The bassist in a punk band can be in that spot because he’s the worst guitar player, but Crow didn’t fit that description. He was committed to the ins and outs of the instrument. Loveday says the band really broke out of its mold during Crow’s tenure, and he credits a lot of that creativity to Crow, who he says “painted with a broad brush when it came to music.”
“He learned to play drums and bass listening to Cream and Ginger Baker, stuff like that,” Loveday says. “It wasn’t just that he bought a Rancid record and now he wants to be Matt Freeman. He really got music at a root level.”
Loveday adds that many entertainers and creative people make music and art because they're trying to fill a hole within themselves. Sadly, alcohol and drugs are always ready to take up residence, and Crow’s struggles with booze eventually made it impossible for him to function as a member of Reno Divorce. It wasn’t easy, but the band fired him following a tour because he couldn’t stay sober. Crow would later play one final show with the group, but it ended up being one of consequence. “The Gretsch [guitar manufacturer] rep was there,” Loveday reflects. “I got that Gretsch endorsement because of Johnny. I owe it all to him. If he hadn’t played that gig, I wouldn’t have gotten it.”
At the benefit show, Loveday plans to play songs that he, Crow and Labella wrote during their “Rush” period but never recorded. People who've been to Reno Divorce shows might recognize them. Another song, “The County’s Ward,” is by Loveday’s other band, Brent Loveday and the Dirty Dollars, but the song meant a lot to Crow.
“I sang it to him on the phone the day before he died,” Loveday says. “We are going to shout out to him, connect with him, and try to bring that energy when he was a part of it.”
Benefit for the Family of Johnny Crow, 6 p.m. Saturday, November 19, Oriental Theater, 4335 West 44th Avenue, Tickets start at $20. A GoFundMe page has also been set up for Crow's family.