Lee Aronsohn has a long track record producing and writing for a number of sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men (which he also co-created), but before moving to Los Angeles, he was a student at the University of Colorado Boulder in the early 1970s. The self-described high school hippie, who tried to get into New York City’s Greenwich Village clubs with a fake ID, first heard Magic Music, hailed as Colorado’s first jam band, about a month after starting at CU.
He was struck by the band’s harmonies, and he says the melodies were like earworms, even though that term didn’t exist back then. While Magic Music never released an album (although there were offers from Asylum, Columbia and Flying Fish), those melodies stuck in Aronsohn’s head for the next four decades. He sang the band’s songs to his children, and he'd always hoped to hear the band play again.
After retiring from television in 2012, Aronsohn knew he wanted a new project that was more personal, and began to wonder what happened to the guys in Magic Music. What initially started as an email correspondence with Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductee Chris Daniels — who'd joined the band two years after Magic Music formed in 1970— got Aronsohn thinking about doing a documentary on the band. The result is 40 Years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie, which he wrote, produced and directed. The film is screening in Boulder and Denver this week and will be released digitally in September.
Aronsohn says his initial vision was to document a new version of the band that started working on an album after a reunion concert at Swallow Hill in 2011, but “what developed was a desire to get the original version of the band together and have them play together.”
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In the documentary, which chronicles the highs and lows of the group, Aronsohn and his crew amassed a hundred hours of footage, including a sold-out reunion concert at Boulder Theater in November 2015 with Chris “Spoons” Daniels, Will "Wilber" Luckey, George “Tode” Cahill, Rob "Poonah" Galloway and Kevin “CW” Milburn, who hadn’t played a live show together in four decades. Earlier that year, Aronsohn had traveled to Colorado, Nevada, Alabama and Massachusetts to film original bandmembers in their home towns.
During the year and a half of editing the documentary, Aronsohn says there was a lot of trial and error, “just putting one piece together and then seeing if I could feel a connection to another piece, and slowly it came together. Slowly it jelled for me.”
Part of his mission with the film was to discover the band’s story, and he wanted to know how it stacked up to his fantasy.
“All I was was a fan back in the ’70s,” he says. “I heard the stories that they tell about living in school buses [in Eldorado Canyon] and going down to the university to shower in the girls’ dorm and everything. It sounded like an incredibly exciting, romantic life. So I wanted to find out how much of that was true and then what else there was. Of course, what I found out was it wasn’t all dope smoking and women. There was a lot of struggling and cold and hunger.”
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In a previous interview with Westword, Daniels said one of the keys to understanding the origins of Magic Music is that the members went down to CU to play for tips where they’d pass the hat, and they depended on busking and odd jobs for their income.
Despite never having released an official album back in the day, Magic Music did record some songs on two-track tape, and Aronsohn used some of those tapes to score the documentary. Eighteen previously unreleased songs, which were recorded between 1970 and 1976, will be on the film’s soundtrack, which will be released on September 13. If the film does well, Aronsohn says, he’d not only love to put out a live album of the 2015 Boulder Theater show, but release a live DVD of the entire concert as well.
40 Years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie, opens on Wednesday, August 8, in Boedecker Theater at the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder, and Friday, August 10, at the Sie FilmCenter. There will be a Q&A session with Lee Aronsohn and Chris Daniels after the 7 p.m. show at Boedecker on August 9. Magic Music will perform at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons at 2 p.m. on Friday, August 17; at 7:30 p.m. on the 17th, the film will screen at the Sie FilmCenter in Denver, followed by a Q&A and an acoustic performance with the band.