Long before Lee Aronsohn got into producing and writing for a number of sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory and Two and Half Men (which he also co-created), he was a student at the University of Colorado Boulder in the early 1970s — and a huge fan of the band Magic Music. Hailed as Colorado’s first jam band, Magic Music left a lasting impression on Aronsohn, and now he’s directing and producing a documentary on the band.
Aronsohn, who retired from television in 2012, started shooting the documentary in February, traveling to Colorado, Nevada, Alabama and Massachusetts to film original band members in their hometowns, adding that one of the members lives in Mexico and they might go there as well. Aronsohn and his crew will be filming Magic Music's reunion concert this Sunday, November 22 with original surviving members, including Chris “Spoons” Daniels, Will Luckey, George “Tode” Cahill, Rob Galloway and Kevin “CW” Milburn. Drummer Michael Wooten will perform as well.
“We’ll be set up to do mini interviews with people after the show,” Aronsohn says. “We’re also asking people to dig up any archival photographs and footage they have, both of the band and Boulder. Part of the story I’m telling, really, is not only the journey of the band members from 1972 to now but how Boulder has evolved too.” (People can send archival footage and memories to line producer Fleur Saville at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Aronsohn says after they finish shooting, they’ll edit close to a hundred hours of footage and hope to have it finished within a year. He’d like to see the film play in festivals to begin with and hopes a soundtrack will be released as well.
“I just want to share what was so important to me with other people,” Aronsohn says.
Since Magic Music never released an album (although there were offers from Asylum, Columbia and Flying Fish), Aronsohn just had the music in his head from all the Magic Music gigs he’d seen in the early ‘70s, and he was usually in the front row. He also sang the band's songs to his children. Besides digging the band's original primarily acoustic material that included four-part harmonies, two guitars and flutes, and eventually bass, tabla drums and other instruments, Aronsohn also liked their personalities.
“It was like they were the quintessential Colorado hippies,” Aronsohn says. “I thought it was just too hip to even talk about how hip it was. Living in the mountains in school buses, and smoking dope with all the pretty girls. So it was a certain amount of hero worship and a love of the music that attracted me in the first place. Then over the years I never got the songs out of my head.”
Aronsohn also wondered what happened to the musicians, and through an online search a few years ago found Daniels, now a member of the Colorado Music Hall of Fame and leader of Chris Daniels and the Kings for the last three decades. In November 2011, following leukemia treatment in Houston, Daniels returned to Denver, and Magic Music played a reunion show at Swallow Hill. This was the impetus to get in the studio to start work on finally recording the first Magic Music album.
Tim Goodman, co-founder of the Colorado band Woody & the Too High Band and later country rock pioneers Southern Pacific, took over production on the album in 2012. The self-titled album, which is slated for release next spring, will also feature guest spots from Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne, Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip and violinist Scarlet Rivera, who recorded on Bob Dylan’s Desire and was part of his Rolling Thunder Revue.
Aronsohn says he was very anxious to hear the music the band was recording, and he’d ask Daniels every few months to see how the album was coming along. “And then he told me they were coming to LA to do some rehearsing,” Aronsohn. “That’s when I decided I wanted to make a documentary on these guys. It’s a subject that nobody’s touched.”
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With the release of the documentary and new album, a much wider audience will have a chance to hear music from Magic Music and learn its history. The band's roots date back to 1970, when the members, who lived in school buses and teepees, met as troubadour musicians on the CU-Boulder campus. The group's first gig, featuring original players Lynn "Flatbush" Poyer, Cahill and guitarist Marty Trigg, took place in July 1970 at the Sink, which was booked by Chuck Morris, now president and CEO of AEG Live Rocky Mountains. Luckey joined in the fall, the same time Trigg left the band and Galloway joined on bass. In the fall of 1972, Poyer had a falling-out with Cahill and Luckey, and they asked Daniels to join the band. The band experienced a few more lineup changes over the years, and played shows around the country, opening for acts like Cat Stevens, the Youngbloods, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Steve Martin and Richie Havens.
One of the keys to understanding the origins of Magic Music, Daniels says, is that the members went down to the university and played for tips where they’d pass the hat, and they depended on busking and odd jobs for their income. He says the songs reflected that struggle with lines about "going down to the university," or "chopping wood to stay alive" in ‘”Eldorado Canyon," since the musicians used to sell cords of wood. In the song "Haying,” Daniels says, “the line is ‘at six cents a bail you can't go far/ work all day in the hot hot sun/ bust my balls but it sure is fun/ haying it ain't paying.’”