From the Land of Band Box Records

Roadrunners – The “Fabulous” That is….

August 10, 2019

Coffee & More Memories with Sunderland…..

John Sunderland

Had a nice reunion with former Denver rocker, Denver Post Staff Photographer and soon-to-be Colorado Press Club Hall of Fame Inductee John Sunderland.

We met out on East Colfax appropriately enough – at Starbucks which John pointed out had started off back in the day as a “Red Barn” fast food establishment – We were also noot far from where John spent many of his growing up years as well close to a venue where his 1960’s group “The Roadrunners” appeared often – Le Bistro A-Go-Go located at 3100 East Colfax (today is “Annies”).  That venue went through several name changes including “The Bandbox” and “The Mad Russian”.

Image result for the red barn on east colfax restaurantImage result for the red barn on east colfax restaurant

For an historical narrative of John’s Colorado garage groups visit this Garage Group” page and scroll down to “The Fabulous Roadrunners” listing and then “Denver’s Super Sonics” page (with Bobby Swanson).  John had come to Bobby Swanson’s Sonics after his earlier group disbanded “The Emeralds”.

Notice that this newspaper does prefix the band’s name with “The Fabulous”.  They were then backing a local soul singer – Kenny Jay.  Le Bistro featured a large glass window facing Colfax where the owner would place a live Go-Go Dancer to attract the attention of passing motorists (notice “In the Window”) listed in the ad.  John told me that he still knows the dancer’s name – She is now in her mid 70’s and we both agreed it would be fun to locate her and revisit Denver’s 1960’s Go-Go Scene!

The Denver night club scene was very competitive and a rivalry among bar owners was not always that friendly according to Sunderland.  “We must have been evacuated 10 or more times in the midst of a nightclub appearance due to a phone in bomb scare” Sunderland recalled.  Though nobody was ever identified – John knew the scare call had to come from a competitor.

Another time John remembers two very large tough looking guys entering into the nightclub where the Roadrunners were playing – both taking a seat near the stage – then glaring up at the band or rather threateningly scanning the club.  “Then just like that, one of them stood, grabbed a chair and flung it through the bar”, John exclaimed.  A knockdown drag out fist fight instantly broke out between the ‘messengers” and the night club’s bouncers – clearing the club – a little more proactive than a bomb scare – but effective all the same.

Fireman’s Hall – Surf’s Up in Aurora!

No Surf City in the Mile High City

John related another tale – His group – The Emeralds, were playing at Aurora’s “Fireman’s Hall” a small venue in the east Denver suburb – When they entered the hall and were about to set up they were approached by the manager who casually informed them they would be performing on the same bill as Jan and Dean!  “We just looked at him thinking – Jan and Dean?  We don’t play surf music!”  Before the could regroup – out walk two blond haired – young – surfin’ types.  They were introduced – stepped up to club microphone – and then commenced to lip sync one of their songs.

(Note that the “Fireman’s Dance” was yet another Pogo Poge production)

“It was horrible”, recalls John.  “The speaker broadcasting from the microphone was inferior, crackling and difficult to hear.  Kids in the hall just sort of sat on their hands, looking rather embarrassed.”  They only ones who should have been embarrassed were Jan and Dean and the Fireman’s Hall manager – The two certainly were not Jan and Dean – just two blond haired locals – impostors!

The Mammoth

Another local venue – which had served Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood located just off East Colfax as a roller skating rink, was Mammoth Gardens.  In early 1960, KIMN’s very popular Pogo Poge began presenting a weekly teen dance at the venue – probably in April of 1960 which was billed as the “Pogo Poge Teen Dance”.

John remembered that Mammoth was still functioning as a roller rink during the week and then would be set up on Saturdays for the Teen Dance.  “The kids all had to take off their shoes to protect the skating rink surface”, he remembers.  John said that typically a couple of local acts would play each Saturday and that Swanson’s Sonics were more or less regulars.  John said there was another four-piece local garage group which played several times on the same dates as the Sonics.  “They were really good.  They had a great tight rock and roll sound” he remembers.  “They all wore slick blue jackets.  After the Mammoth, I never ran into them again.

Vincent – Hurricanes

On occasion the Sonics would be on the same bill with a national act – John recalls playing on the same date as Johnny and the Hurricanes one time and another time with Gene Vincent.  The troubled rocker had very recently just made his comeback after being involved in a horrific automobile accident which damaged his ribs, collarbone and further damaged a bad leg which plagued him throughout his brief career.  The accident also claimed the life of rocker Eddie Cochran and severely injured Cochran’s song-writing girl friend Sharon Sheeley.

“I remember going down into the basement of the Mammoth – a rather bleak depressing catacomb-like area where acts changed – and there was Vincent.  He wasn’t accompanied by the Blue Caps at this point.  He just sat there all alone on a little wooden bench with holding his head in his hand, lost in thought.  It was sad.”

Into the Hall

John Sunderland enjoyed a long career with the Denver Post serving as a staff photographer and because area musical events generally took place on weekends and nights he was tapped as the music photographer.  This provided John with many opportunities to see some great talent and to meet many of the stars.  Bob Dylan, Elton John, Fats Domino were among the many he met up with.  The Denver Press Club is located at 1330 Glenarm Place in downtown Denver.  The club opened in the 1860’s and today is protected by the National Historic Register

This coming October, John will be inducted into the Denver Press Club Hall of Fame – a tremendous and well-deserved honor indeed!

“I have been so fortunate”, John exclaims.  I got to play rock and roll in Denver during a great time in this city, and then I landed my dream job as a photographer.”  Truly a wonderful life.

The Sonics

The Rathskeller with The Fabulous Roadrunners

John told me the white Corvette below belonged to the photographer who took the picture.

L-R: Hernandez – Swanson – Sunderland – Corrigan

L-R: Hernandez – Corrigan – Sunderland – Swanson

L-R: Bobby Swanson, Mike Corrigan. Tony Hernandez and John Sunderland

Tallying Bananas

July 25, 2019

Bill O’Donnell – Musician/Mathematician Extraordinaire!

Bill with Walt Conley

I had the pleasure of meeting up with Bill O’Donnell, a member of the Denver-based Irish musical group “Juice O’ The Barley”.

Bill and I have been in touch through my site off and on during the past couple of years and so we finally decided that a get together was in store.

Bill was born in 1946 in the State of Maine with his family eventually making their way to Denver where they resided first in northeast Denver along what would later become the I-70 corridor.  Their next move was a little further south where the O’Donnell’s resided just on the dividing line between two Denver high school neighborhood districts – South and George Washington.  Bill related how his dad was an alumnus of South High but their home was situated just inside the George Washington attendance district – and so when it was time to head off to high school Bill would become a “Patriot”.

Bill was encouraged to take up the French horn – being advised that there were not nearly the number of French horns in school orchestra vs. trumpets. But Bill had designs on the guitar which would soon become his favored instrument and would be employed when he and a classmate would team up as a essentially a folk duo called dubbed “The Tallymen” but Bill’s father who drew the name from the lyric line in Harry Belafonte’s major hit record “The Banana Boat Song”.

“We drew very heavily from the repertoire of the Kingston Trio” Bill recalled.  The Tallymen soon decided to test their musical talent by entering into the Rocky Mountain News’ annual summer talent competition via “The Show Wagon”.  The format for the summer rite was for local amateur performers of all disciplines to attend an ‘open mic’ session in one of Denver’s designated neighborhood parks.  Judges at each park would determine the winners who would advance onto the final grand performance which would take place at Cheesman Park in central Denver.

The performances were free-of-charge to the public.  Thousands would attend bringing blankets and picnic baskets to be entertained by dancers, comedians, and all varieties of musical acts from accordion solos to garage group rock and roll and everything in between.  The Tallymen did advance to the Cheesman event and were even approached by a talent scout who talked the boys into cutting a few demo tracks for submission to and Illinois-based publisher for consideration.  The demo’s failed to garner any attention – but the Tallymen weren’t overly disappointed being content with the direction they were heading.

Bill attended school with two future Moonrakers, Veeder Van Dorn and Joel Brandeis.  O’Donnell and Brandeis were both members of the George Washing High School band.

Post Patriots

Bill journeyed to the Colorado western slope community of Gunnison where he attended college.  With the Vietnam war escalating, he could see that the Vietnam conflict wasn’t going to fade anytime soon and so he elected to go ahead and fulfill his military obligation entering into the U.S. Army as an enlisted soldier.  Officer school soon came knocking and so Bill entered into the 10-month training program finishing second in his class – a ranking that awarded him with his choice of his military path.

This fortunately led to an assignment ‘Stateside’ in the South U.S.  After a three-year stint in the Army, Bill would obtain his master’s degree in teaching and would first return to George Washington to teach math and then Cherry Creek High School.

Walt Conley

Image result for walt conley singer

Throughout his journey Bill always kept in touch with his musical yearnings and eventually came into contact with local folk singer Walt Conley.  An opening in Walt’s backing group provided Bill with an opportunity which he eagerly accepted.  Conley was a versatile and seasoned folk singer having befriended and performed with the Smother’s Brothers after meeting them in Aspen, Colorado (bringing them to Colorado to perform at the Satire Lounge), Glenn Yarbrough, Judy Collins, Pete Seeger, Bob Gibson and others. Bill sent me this image below of a great early concert poster.

(NOTE:  Bob Dylan came to Denver as a teenage Robert Zimmerman and resided for a time with Walt Conley – Bob performed at the Satire briefly before heading up in 1966 to the gold camp town Central City where he played for about two weeks at the Gilded Garter a venue where a very young Judy Collins made her Colorado debut more or less.)

(Visit my 2013 Post “Bobby’s Forgettable Visit to Denver” click image below)

Central City’s “Garter”

Bill performed as a member of “Conley and Company” for eight years prior to Walt’s death in 2004 at age 74.

Bill continues on today performing as a the bass player for “Juice O’ The Barley” (click the image below to visit their web site).  Co-members are Kelly O’Dea (fiddle and vocals) and Nate Hixon (guitar, mandolin and vocals).

Bill and I spent nearly a three hour breakfast session talking Denver memories and music – and exchanging memorabilia – which I will feature here in short order.  My next Post will be a fond look back at Denver radio station KIMN through the eyes of Bill’s younger brother – the late George O’Donnell!  Also, in the spirit of a local movement to promote Walt Conley to induction into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, I will be posting more stories and information on Bill’s dear friend Walt Conley.


Back to the Battle!

July 23, 2019

KIMN Teen Music and Dance Festival

Having posted recently on this KIMN 1965 event – which included a massive “Battle of the Bands” with over a bunch groups from around Colorado participating – it now is pretty clear that this was a one-time blow out which drew many of the ‘big boys’ from the recording industry’s major labels.  KIMN’s other premier event came in 1967 and was covered here recently as well.

Following is a November 20th, 1965 article promoting the event – and then a series of photos which appeared post-Battle in the Christmas Day 1965 issue of Billboard.

Johnny Rivers was the headline act for the Festival and Colorado’s Astronauts, Frankie Rino & the Squires, the Soul Survivors and the Moonrakers were the premier acts.

Record Industry Executives In Attendance & Event Organizers

Not pictured were executives from Smash, Liberty, Vee Jay and Philips record labels.  KIMN’s program director – Ted Atkins was a major force organizing the event on behalf of the Denver Tiger.

Three More A&R Biggies – Billy James (Columbia), Steve Douglas (Capitol) , and Al Schmitt (RCA Victor)

James “Jimmy” Bowen Represented Warner Bros. and Reprise Records