Colorado’s “obscure” International Star
I was listening recently to a Peter Boyles show broadcast on KNUS while immersing myself in my usual hobby – records – when Peter began to speak about an incident he was involved in “back in the day” while broadcasting a talk show. Peter caught my attention when I heard him mention the name “Dean Reed”.
That prompted me to on-line search for “Dean Reed – Peter Boyles” which promptly returned an excerpt from a book that was published in 2006 titled “Comrade Rockstar” the sort of biography of Dean Reed by Reggie Nadelson. Sort of I say because the actual intent of the writer was to learn exactly what happened to Dean Reed in the summer of 1986 when he was found dead in an East German lake.
Wheat Ridge, Colorado
I quickly located the book and dove in. Dean’s early life as presented in “Rockstar” is very brief not revealing much beyond what we already knew. Dean – who was born in 1938 – was raised in Wheat Ridge, Colorado and attended Wheat Ridge High School. This is the same school where singer Gary Stites attended. Gary and Dean’s paths could have easily crossed with Gary being two years behind Dean.
There is plenty of documentation covering Reed’s socialist adventures and life including books, a film, and documentaries and so on. So here I will briefly present his recording career as it relates to his movement through Hollywood and then on to Latin America and again – briefly to his life behind the Iron Curtain. Obtain a copy of Nadelson’s book for everything else controversial, including his activism and more.
The Reeds lived in an almost rural setting in Wheat Ridge which was still a sleepy setting west of Denver. Their house was very humble and small and they kept chickens, a pig and a milk cow on their property. Dean joined the Boy Scouts and Future Farmers of America. He also attended a “local military academy” and then must have been before entering into high school. He was athletic performing in gymnastics
Dean wasn’t as immersed in rock and roll or any singing for that matter as was Stites who fronted a rock band – The Satellites before going on to some degree of national fame. Reed did play some sports at Wheat Ridge and a passing comment or two is made of him taking up guitar and performing solo in Estes Park in the summers at a venue called the Harmony Guest Ranch – which was likely one of several “dude ranches” so popular in Estes Park back in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
The Reed family politics were not obvious from Nadelson’s telling – nothing unusual or even remarkable. Reference is made to Dean’s father Cyril – losing a leg in a “combine accident in the early 1980’s and later taking his own life.
In 1958, at the age of 19, Dean Reed took off for Hollywood – departing the University of Colorado where he was studying meteorology. His stated goal back then was to become “a TV Weatherman”. Encouraged by his taste of performing while in Estes Park whetted his appetite to find something bigger.
The Bum In the Desert & Hollywood
Nadelson relates an account passed on by his interview with Dean’s mother – Ruth Anna Brown who he interviewed for the book in her Hawaiian home. While passing through the desert on the way to Hollywood Dean picked up a bedraggled looking hitchhiker.
In exchange for a night in a hotel and a spare pair of pants the “bum” said he would provide a hot lead into the music business. Reed was provide a slip of paper with the name. Reed was skeptical about his “lead” but held on to it. The name given to him was a Voyle Gilmore who supposedly worked at Capitol Records.
Lo and behold when Dean followed up on the lead he learned that Voyle was not only a legitimate Capitol Records producer but had produced for Frank Sinatra. And in addition – Dean was able to obtain an audition and landed a Capitol recording contract – an impressive 7-year contract. He cut a total of 12 tracks for Capitol which would be released on six 45 singles. His only minor chart success with the label was with his very first release “The Search” in December of 1958 which peaked at number 96.
(Two of 12 tracks released by Capitol)
Johnny (“Rose”) Rosenberg
During Reed’s stay in Hollywood and while on Capitol Record’s roster he would come to meet another young musician from Nebraska. The singer was Johnny Rosenberg who learned that Reed often visited the Harmony Guest Ranch in Estes Park on visits back to Colorado. Rosenberg and a musical partner loaded up some tapes and headed for Colorado.
Dean listened to their tapes and took an interest. On a return trip to the Harmony he contacted Johnny and told him the good news – Capitol was interested. In rather quick order Rosenberg would relocate to California where he signed a contract and joined Reed in Canoga Park as his roommate. Rosenberg would release a couple of singles for Capitol using the name “Johnny Rose”.
(Johnny Rose’s 1st release on Capitol – May, 1960)
The two became roommates for a time and then suddenly one day Reed completely disappeared from the Hollywood scene. Johnny would only hear from him one more time and would meet with him in person one more time in 1985 when Reed came back to Denver and met up once again with Rose who would then be living in Loveland, Colorado
Rosenburg’s career wasn’t to last much longer after Reed vanished from California. He did perform once with Dodie Stephens and did some traveling. He was released from Capitol and managed to cut a single on the Columbia label “When Gabriel Blows His Trumpet” b/w “With Just the Touch of Your Hand” in November, 1961.
The “Education” of Dean Reed
Most of everything written or recorded concerning Dean Reed’s life focuses on his venturing into the world of socialism and communism – and of course his mysterious death in 1986. How did this young Coloradoan venture into the world of the Left? His upbringing wasn’t radical by any means. By all accounts he experienced what could be termed “a typical” path for a young growing boy – riding horses – a little sports – joining the Scouts and so on.
According to Nadelson the answer probably lies when Dean enrolled at the Warner Bros. Drama School in Hollywood. It was there that he met another musician who would become a life-long friend – Phil Everly of the famous brother-duo. Students were assigned to the mentorship of Paton Price who served as a “life teacher” according to Phil.
Price was above all a staunch liberal. He was jailed during WW II for refusing induction. He protested actively against the Vietnam War and segregation and was a member of the far-left in Hollywood – a group which was still reeling from the loyalty investigations in Hollywood which occurred in the early 1950’s (not to be confused with the “McCarthy Hearings” which had been conducted earlier on targeting federal employees who were assisting the Soviet Union).
Meeting Price was the first piece of the puzzle. The second came after Reed decided to depart Hollywood where he was becoming disenchanted with the life style. And so without any fanfare he departed for Chile in 1962 and although he always maintained his U.S. Citizenship, he would never reside in the U.S. again.
It was in Latin America where Dean’s beliefs took a firm grip. He was shocked by the poverty he witnessed everywhere he traveled and he traveled far and wide – becoming a hugely successful rock star in the southern part of the continent.
Dean remained in South America for about three years where he eventually ran afoul of the law and then made the decision to travel first to the Soviet Union before finally landing in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) where he lived out his years with much success initially as a recording star, a musical performer and a motion picture actor and producer. (Nadelson makes note that Reed always considered himself a U.S. “patriot” and he never renounced his U.S. citizenship.)
(A Soviet Union & an East Germany LP release – two of many international recordings by Dean Reed)
The Dean Reed Return to Denver & The Peter Boyles Show
In October of 1985 Reed stepped off the plane at Stapleton Airport in Denver where he was greeted by Johnny Rosenberg. Dean had nearly forgotten Rose from the early days but soon remembered their brief association.
Reed was scheduled to make some publicity appearances around the city. Most people in the press had not really ever heard of him and so his work was cut out for him. The Boyles’ appearance was on radio station KBIG on October 17th, 1985. Things did not go well. In short order Berg and Reed were trading insults and an off-the-cuff remark about the late executed Denver radio personality Alan Berg sent Boyles into a rage (Boyles and Berg were extremely close friends).
He ordered Reed off the show. On a recent broadcast in 2015 Boyles recalled than Dean was very tall and big – He estimated his height at 6’4” but in reality Dean was 6’1”
The local press picked up on the incident and it hit the local airwaves. Reed retaliated by saying that if he was killed by local “neo-nazis” it would be on Peter’s conscience. (Burg had been murdered outside his home by white supremists.)
Dean would spend the next several days with Johnny at his home in Loveland. During the visit Dean alluded to “returning to the U.S.” more than once giving Johnny the idea that he wanted to return to his homeland. They would end the reunion by performing a song together at a party at the Rosenburg house – one that Johnny wrote for Dean titled “Nobody Knows Me Back In My Hometown”. Dean departed Colorado for the final time the next day.
He continued on for a time in the U.S. attempting to attract support for a U.S. “comeback”. A former Wheat Ridge High School classmate of Dean’s – Dixie Schnebly took up his cause working feverously to establish a U.S. fan club and to begin promoting his name once again in the U.S. After he departed for East Germany the two of them would correspond continuously and talk for long periods of time on the phone.
But Dixie’s efforts were in vain. Dean Reed’s ship had long since sailed in the U.S. where it never really amounted to much more than a small yacht. And in Germany and Eastern Europe his star was rapidly fading. Dean Reed was discovered in a lake in mid June, 1986 not far from the Berlin Wall which in short order would come tumbling down in 1989.
Visit Reggie Nadelson’s web site to learn more about the author of “Comrade Rockstar” and to purchase books