Music History

R.I.P., Chris Forsythe: Much More Than a Sound Man

Chris “Sizzle” Forsythe passed away in the early hours of October 14, 2015. Not long before that, he'd been dropped off at his home after a night serving as sound engineer at the Black Sheep, the club in Colorado Springs where he'd been working for a decade. He was among the most beloved and respected members of the local music community. Tonight, there will be a visitation from 4 to 7 p.m. and a memorial party at the Black Sheep to follow. More details are at the end of this post.

Forsythe leaves behind a young daughter named Allie Kat. He lived a rock-and-roll life as honorable and rich as any, and much more positive than most. He died of an enlarged heart and liver. “That's pretty ironic for us,” says Black Sheep general manager Jeremy Grobsmith, who was among Forsythe's many longtime friends. “The dude that would give you the shirt off his back, was your best fucking friend and was the most honest, comforting guy ended up having an enlarged heart.”

Forsythe had been working the sound booth since at least 1996, starting at Pure Energy, a club that became the Black Sheep in 2005 (the space has also been called Industrial Nation, the Velvet Underground and the Darkside). Promotion company Soda Jerk Presents took over while it was the Darkside, and that's when Forsythe and future Black Sheep cohorts Geoff Brent and Mark Peralta first truly started working together as a team.

Born September 1, 1973, Forsythe grew up in Calhan, Colorado, a small town east of Colorado Springs. When he graduated from high school in 1991, Forsythe spent a couple of years going to college in Kansas before returning to the Springs area to throw himself fully into the music world. He's been in bands more-or-less ever since.

One of his earliest was a short-lived glam rock metal group. But the first band of Forsythe's that made a real splash was Erased, which got big enough to sign on a manager and go on tour.

Grobsmith's first encounter with Forsythe was when Grobsmith first moved to Colorado in 1996 at the age of fourteen. He was playing in a hardcore band called Sworn to Justice. Over the years, the two became friends and taught each other about corners of metal that perhaps the other did not know.

“We started talking about metal and realized we had similar tastes and formed this tape trade style relationship,” recalls Grobsmith. “We would get together and listen to records, have a drink and talk about our favorite parts and our favorite riffs and talk about why we thought metal was awesome.”

Forsythe played in mostly metal bands — including his most recent projects Malakai and Tree of Woe — but his appreciation for and taste in music was far broader. He experienced success booking concerts as well, putting together things like metal vs. hip-hop shows at the Black Sheep. 

“He was open-minded,” says Geoff Brent, who now works at the Summit Music Hall in Denver. “I think that's why you see such a broad outpouring of love and respect for him. Everybody thinks he's like this older metal dude, but he didn't pigeonhole himself at all. He was friends with everybody, he was respectful with everybody. He worked with all sorts of different bands professionally and was very supportive of the entire music scene in Colorado Springs for, like, twenty-five years.”

As a sound man, Forsythe was known for being bluntly honest with bands and he pushed people to do their best. And he did so with love and humor. “He was a funny fucking guy, just the best stories,” says Soda Jerk head Mike Barsch. “He was kind. There wasn't a bad bone in his body.”

“Chris really loved irony,” says Grobsmith. “He showed up to work one day with a video from that rapper Stitches. It was so ridiculous and over the top. This white dude from the suburbs with an AK-47 tattooed on his face and all of a sudden he's a thug. Blew up his rap career. But I can't tell you how many experiences Chris and I had dying laughing together over the dumbest stuff.

"He pushed people to be their best. And I think all these local guys were offended initially but then secretly wanted to impress him and make him think they were a good band. Chris was very honest about whether he liked your band or not. He wouldn't be too brutal, but he would give you honest pointers. I do think 99 percent of the bands in this town earned his respect. They started as a new local band and by the time they played their last show with Chris, he would tell them they had come a long way and that he was proud of them.”

“He was like most of the people firmly entrenched in the music industry,” says Brent. “He was realistic and somewhat jaded but always really funny about it and really nice about it. Chris would tell you what he thought in a constructive way. But when he said something positive it was the best thing that ever happened. 'We have the praise of crusty Sizzle!' It was a big deal.

"So many bands came through the Black Sheep and were fourteen or fifteen [years old] when they started, and everyone would roll their eyes, but if they stuck around for a year and started to improve he would be the first person to say, 'You guys are really getting it together.' He was always invested in the music scene and her never wrote anybody off or hated anybody. He would tell you if your band sucked, but he would also tell you if your band got better.”

During the course of his career, Forsythe touched 100 percent of the Colorado Springs scene, across scenes and musical styles. Since his passing, there has been a tremendous outpouring of love and condolences on social media and elsewhere. There is currently a Go Fund Me page to help Forsythe's family with expenses and a tribute show benefit is in the works.

“Working in rock clubs you don't really get health insurance and it's easy to let yourself live an unhealthy lifestyle,” concludes Brent. “But at the same time I can't picture him do anything differently. If he went to the doctor and they told him he had to quit drinking and start exercising and take medicine, he would have been the same guy. It sounds like he was totally happy until his last breath.”

A visitation will be held today, October 19, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Springs Funeral Services, 3115 E. Platte Avenue, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 80909. For more information visit here. Following that will be a memorial party at 7 p.m. at the Black Sheep, 2106 E. Platte Avenue. 

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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.