Drummer Steve Faulkner:
Remembering Denver’s Umbra
Steve Faulkner and I met via my Blog site as a result of Steve searching for the Eighth Infinity night club seeking some historical information. I learned that Steve was the drummer for a late 1960’s group called “Umbra”.
Between our emails and a face-to-face get together at a local Starbucks, I obtained the following information from Steve. We were joined by my friend and former drummer from the 1960’s – Larry Higgins. As I continue to learn, musicians in a town the size of Denver often cross paths and share similar experiences, playing at the same venues, meeting other musicians and on it goes.
An early stop on Steve’s musical journey occurred in the late 1960’s when Steve performed in nearby Manitou Springs a suburb of Colorado Springs working as a drummer for a group called “The Dukes”.
Umbra was founded in 1969 and continued to solidify into 1970. Steve describes Umbra as “a progressive, psychedelic, jam group”. I had the privilege of listening to the band’s “garage” recordings from that period and have to say this was a very diverse and talented ensemble. Steve recalled that the tracks were put down on a 4 track and a 2 track recorder and recorded at a band member’s home.
Most of the band members were from local Denver area high schools with the exception of Nick Melliadis who came from New York. Steve attended South High School which wasn’t a good fit for him back then. “I didn’t care much for high school so I dropped out to pursue my music.” It was a decision that worked very well for Steve. He did achieve his GED, but more importantly acquired a rich and deep education in music with his adventures from Umbra up to the present day.
The name “Umbra” was selected by the band while perusing the dictionary – an exercise common with bands back then (and maybe even now). “Umbra translates to “shadow on moon”, stated Steve. “We wanted a name that was short, mysterious, easy to remember, and sounded cool.”
The original group was comprised of Steve on drums, Eric Frazee on lead guitar, Terry Lewis on bass. They were joined a little later on by twin brothers Gary and Larry Mann. Larry left in 1971. Nick Melliadis (alias “Nick Stoner”) joined Umbra later that year. Nick played guitar, harmonica, and sang lead vocals with Gary. Gary would leave in late 1974 or early 1975.
Denver Venues for Umbra
The band would work at many local venues including The Rest of the Week, The House of Draught, Sam’s on Lookout Mountain, Tulagi’s in nearby Boulder, Colorado, the Eighth Infinity at 1st and Broadway, the Rathskellar (which was recently destroyed by a fire) and more. “We appeared often at the Eighth Infinity”, Faulkner recalled. He continued, “We were literally the last band to perform at the Exodus in downtown Denver.” Steve explains that after the band had wrapped up their set, and were outside loading up their musical gear, the Denver police converged on the Exodus, stormed the entry and promptly locked the doors.
The Exodus was apparently delinquent in city tax or fee payments and were thus shut down, never to open their doors again.
Faulkner’s Local Musical Acquaintances
Steve’s journeys through the local music scene put him in touch with Joel Cowan a local jazz musician who worked with the likes of Nat King Cole, The Ink Spots and Patti Page. Cowan would join up with Chicago musician on Denver’s Band Box group releasing a LP on the Spicy Label titled “Party Time” (shown below). Cowan and Faulkner would become good friends and worked together for a time Simmon’s Music on Broadway in downtown Denver.
Through his work Faulkner would meet many, including Denver polka band leader Herman Dinges who was hugely popular throughout the Colorado Front Range. Steve would also become well acquainted with Denver recording star drummer Ronnie Kae, visiting him often at Ronnie’s Drum City music store in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.
“I would come into the store and go back to Ronnie’s desk where we would converse while beating on drum pads to pass the time”, Steve recalled. Kae would release an LP and several singles on Denver’s Band Box label as well as his own “Honey” record label. Several of his tracks charted locally on KIMN and other Denver area radio stations.
Steve can pull up band names, venues and acquaintances in a long succession: Mr. Lucky’s, The God Father, the Fetal Pig, Aphrodite (at the Infinity), the band Mandrake, the Wild Ones with guitar extraordinaire Ron Morgan, The Crystal Palace Guard, The Fogcutters, Lothar and the Hand People, the Galaxy Nightclub on West Alameda and many more!
During the 1970’s Steve would join up with Monte Dale and the late Joe Martinez (“Little Joe”). They performed as a trio and Steve doesn’t believe that they worked under an official group name. Steve fondly remembers Joe Martinez, “Joe (was) much more influential in my life than most people.”
Dale had earlier cut four tracks released as singles for the CLW label out of Edgewater in the western part of the Denver metro area. Joe Martinez was another Band Box recording artist who had been a member of the 1960’s band “The Fabulous Cyclones”.
Beginning in 1966, Steve experienced a rich career which included working at Fred’s Music headed up by musician/instructor Fred Tafoya, a figure who played a very important role in Steve’s life, as a coach, a mentor and a dear friend. Many local musicians would come through the store befriending Faulkner with their mutual pursuit of excellent drumming and making music.
Faulkner would do a stint with a band called Lightning County from 1988 into 1994 doing a country and rock n’ mix. That band had the privilege of touring through Europe performing at U.S. military bases. They had to make a retreat to the U.S. when terrorist activity began occurring frequently and the U.S. bases were on alert.
Steve shared this: “Two other noteworthy bands that I played in would be the Jennifer Price Band (did an all original CD with her] and a band called Bustopher Jones. I played a lot with both bands. Once in a while, both bands merged. We called that band The Outlets.”
And today Steve continues to work with Umbra band members Nick Melliadis and Terry Lewis in “Secret City”. Today Eric Frazee resides in the mountain town of Bailey, Gary Mann lives in Denver.
Steve’s long career continues to this day teaching drums. Among his other musical endeavors, Steve currently is working at Rockley Music located in Lakewood. His participation in bands up to the present day. Steve works as a personal instructor. His web site “Rock The Drums” offers lessons, tips and tricks and much more for upcoming drummer students. Visit his web site here to learn more.
Umbra never made it onto vinyl in spite of laying down the 8 tracks in one of their homes very early on in their careers. But recently Faulkner was approached by Lion Productions out of Geneve, Illinois and is perhaps close to finally releasing those 45 year-old Umbra tracks. That will be an exciting event for both the members of Umbra and the public. I will let everyone know when that occurs!
In the meanwhile Steve Faulkner just keeps on drummin’!