Tim Van Schmidt. | New SCENE
Recently, I received a message from longtime NOCO drummer and percussionist Bob St. John. St. John and guitarist and songwriter “Utah” Mike McGuffey made up the duo Utah St. John, playing live gigs up and down the Front Range and founding their own recording studio — Pendragon — in the 1970s and 80s.
St. John called for help. It turns out the Utah St. John album he and McGuffey released back in 1981, “Short Stories”, has taken on a life of its own out in the world. In fact, it seems that one source has posted the record online and has given away some 3000 copies of it. Unknown to McGuffey and St. John, the album has become a collectible.
St. John figures that if so many people are interested in the music, then he and McGuffey should get involved. But the music business has changed so much since they put out their vinyl album that they need help navigating the new world of downloads and streaming.
Updating “Short Stories” into the 21st Century is a worthy project. The record is charming. St. John and McGuffey make a light and airy acoustic-based music — and in a world of mega-productions and big sounds, that’s a breath of fresh air.
There’s an acoustic brightness to the tunes and generally a positive attitude. But it’s not “simple” music. There’s some real flair in the nimble guitar work and in the precise interaction between the guitar and percussion. To me, the earthy vocal harmonies are very reminiscent of the Grateful Dead.
One track — “Memories” — even steps over the edge into hard, electric rock, but most of the album reminds me of a nice mellow afternoon, sitting in the grass while enjoying a band that delivers upbeat songs that accent — not over power — a good day.
If you’re versed in all things modern in the music world, Utah St. John would like to hear from you. If you want to help, get in touch with us and we’ll get you in touch with them.
Getting reacquainted with Utah St. John’s “Short Stories” made me think of other NOCO LPs in my collection that might also be collectibles. So I dove into my LP collection and found several likely candidates:
Bard Hoff – “Do It Yourself”
From 1978, this is the earliest NOCO LP I could find in my stack. It’s a jazz record and Hoff is the stand-out guitarist who keeps this thing centered. Hoff is a confident and creative player, exhibiting plenty of dexterity along with a diverse approach to chording, attack, and tone.
There’s also a diversity of music on “Do It Yourself”, from up-tempo fusion to jazzy vocal tunes to cool small combo sounds. I especially enjoyed the combination of Hoff’s guitar and Jim Mick’s flugelhorn. Bassist Mark Heglund plays on this record as well as makes a guest appearance on the Utah St. John album. Both Hoff and drummer Dave Goodman would end up joining the band Kinesis.
Personnel: Bard Hoff- guitar, Jim Mick- flugelhorn, HJC Hoff- keyboards, Dave Goodman- drums, Mark Heglund- bass, Vance Herring- vocals. Recorded at Cedar Creek Sound, Loveland (December 1977).
Paragon Sound – “Mixin’ It Up”
This eclectic 1981 compilation was produced by Richard Pierceall and Tim Cook to showcase a number of the musicians who were recording their stuff at the Fort Collins recording studio, Paragon Sound. The tunes are from various groups and artists in the music scene at the time — Spoons, Images, Brent Hawley, Rosewood Canyon, Kevin Jones, Steve Strickland, and Floyd Nemes — but there’s plenty of crossover.
Guitarist Sam Broussard livens up three of the nine tunes here with some scorching lead parts. Guitarist James Woodward does the same on four of the tracks. Vocalist Keely Williams appears on three tracks and drummer Dave Small appears on five.
Some other interesting names pop up here too — like guitarist Chris Daniels, of Chris Daniels and the Kings, and dobroist Rick Bradstreet, of the Bluegrass Patriots. Two members of the band Kinesis, flutist Jon Anderies, and trumpeter Rick Jordan are also listed. This all speaks to a flourishing music scene — and plenty of talent. Paragon must have been a busy place back in the day.
Kinesis – “New Life”
Wow. Kinesis set a high watermark for NOCO music with their top-notch 1981 release “New Life”. It’s a big band — eight pieces plus guests — and a big jazz sound. And you can’t argue with the recording quality — it is big league, recorded at the famous Caribou Ranch Studio.
This is whip-smart jazz fusion and everybody in the band gets to shine. It swings, it rocks, it surprises with some cool sounds.
“New Life” is strong with the horns, but offset by rough and ready guitar work and funky bass. The energy here is inspiring and impressive and the music is pretty much all upbeat. You aren’t taking a nap while this is on — more like riveted to your seat. The liner notes by famed jazzman Louie Bellson help underscore the musical promise of Kinesis as a powerful unit.
Personnel: Ed Goodman- trumpet, Rick Jordan- trumpet, Steve Owen- sax, Dave Riekenberg- sax, Dave Goodman- drums, Bard Hoff- guitars, Peter Huffaker- bass, Jeff Jenkins- keyboards, Mark Sloniker, Joe Anderies, and Timothy Abbott. Recorded at Caribou Ranch Studio, Nederland (August 1980).
The above aren’t just old records, but NOCO music history and are records of worth for that reason alone. But it’s also good music. Are the LPs collectible? They certainly are if you love homegrown, independent music.
Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins. See his YouTube channel at “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt”.