Rock of ages 

The Doors and the Dead? Hendrix and the Who? What were they doing here?

click to enlarge The Doors’ homecoming dance in Colorado Springs was somehow omitted from the Oliver Stone biopic.
  • The Doors’ homecoming dance in Colorado Springs was somehow omitted from the Oliver Stone biopic.

It was a marriage made somewhere other than heaven: The Lizard King and the Homecoming Queen, together for the first and last time at The Broadmoor Hotel. The Doors' somewhat reluctant performance at a Colorado College homecoming dance has become the stuff of local legend, and deservedly so.

The affair took place on Oct. 21, 1967, less than three months after Jim Morrison and Co. climbed to No. 1 on the pop charts with "Light My Fire."

But when Doug Brown booked the show the previous spring, in his capacity as president of the Blue Key Men's Honor Society, he'd never even heard of the Doors. Brown had called an L.A. booking agency after seeing its number printed on a since-forgotten band's promo photo. The agent gave him the names of a few acts that were available the Doors and Quicksilver Messenger Service are the ones he remembers and asked how much money he had to spend.

Brown had $3,000, and was told the Doors would be his best bet. The agent quickly fired off a telegram of confirmation and mailed out a contract in order to make sure the college wouldn't back out of the agreement.

"He probably thought he had some sucker from Kansas, and I felt like I'd just sold my soul," recalls Brown, "because I'd never dealt with that kind of money, ever. And the Doors weren't on anybody's radar."

The summer of '67 changed all that. By September, the band was getting itself banned from the Ed Sullivan Show for singing, "Girl, we couldn't get much higher" during network prime time. (The Doors had promised the host that they'd change the forbidden lyric, but Morrison managed to forget.) That same month, the Doors' management began calling, looking to get out of the contract.

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Brown, who's now in the financial services industry in California, jokes that, in light of current events, he might have been better off sticking with concert promotion.

"Their rate had gone up to like $50,000 a night, which would be a quarter of a million or so today, and we had the Doors for $3,000 for two hours," says Brown. "We couldn't get The Broadmoor's International Center, so we ended up having it in the main ballroom."

On the night of the show, Brown says, Morrison headed straight to the hotel's convenience shop for a six-pack and fifth of whiskey: "They were not in a good mood, and you could tell they wanted to be someplace else that night. But they stuck to their contract, and they gave a dark and wonderful performance."

Despite the band's phenomenal success, Brown says ticket sales got off to such a slow start that they ended up making the unprecedented (and unsanctioned) decision to sell them to area high school students. The strategy resulted in a packed house. So much so, in fact, that the college's current assistant VP for advancement, Diane Benninghoff, recalls being driven to drink.

"When I got there, my sense was that it had been pretty much crashed by the whole community," says Benninghoff. "And because it was not my custom to be anyplace on time, the place was really just packed. So we stayed for a little while and then we went to the [Broadmoor's] Golden Bee.

"I mean, yeah, it was the Doors and they were a big deal, but you know, let's go drink at the Golden Bee. I don't know. I'm not quite one of those people who says, 'I was at Woodstock' and wasn't. I really was at this dance, but not for very long."

And how did the homecoming queen feel about all this?

"It meant very little to me," recalls Gillian Royes, who's now a journalism professor at University of the Virgin Islands. "Because I was from Jamaica and, to my disappointment, they didn't sound anything like Bob Marley."

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Then and now

The Doors homecoming dance is just one part of a hidden history of Colorado Springs concerts hidden, at least, to those of us who weren't around back then. It's also a reminder of how much times have changed: Elton John, still a major concert draw, may be playing his only Colorado date at the World Arena this weekend, but the venue's year-round schedule hockey, Christian music fests, anthropomorphic animals on ice skates suggests the difficulty that a mid-sized market normally faces when it comes to attracting major touring artists.

Compare today's concert calendar to that of the Cotton Club, a rhythm & blues venue run by the late Fannie Mae Duncan, who hosted artists like Ray Charles, Chuck Berry and James Brown & the Flames regularly.

Or the City Auditorium in its heyday. At the height of the British invasion, it lured hit-makers like the Animals, the Yardbirds, Peter & Gordon and Them (featuring a hit song called "Gloria" and a very young Van Morrison singing it). Now virtually vacant, the historic mid-sized venue also presented Eddie Cochran, Wanda Jackson and Buffalo Springfield with Steve Stills but without Neil Young, who'd left the band a couple weeks earlier as well as Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.

And while these days the living members of the Grateful Dead don't get closer than Red Rocks or the Pepsi Center, the mother of all jam bands actually played at Reed's Ranch, where they rambled through songs like "Slewfoot" and "Morning Dew." This was back in the summer of '69, a month before their Woodstock appearance. Reminiscences of the show can still be found on Grateful Dead message boards, including an account of the band being kicked out of the Ramada Inn after founding member Ronald "Pigpen" McKernan had an altercation with a recalcitrant cigarette machine.

"Reed's Ranch was actually an inside rodeo barn out there off Centennial, by what's now Mountain Shadows," says Steve Schmitt, a high school student at the time who now restores and sells jukeboxes and other memorabilia through his company, Now & Then. "It had a really small stage, and it was actually inside a rodeo barn, so it kind of smelled like horses and cattle."

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Of course, this was a Grateful Dead show: "Yeah, there was a lot of pot smoking. This was outside the city limits, so it wasn't like the Springs police were there."

Schmitt, whose collecting career began the moment he climbed onstage to claim the Peter & Gordon album he won at their City Auditorium show, also managed to witness local appearances by the Who and the Doors, as well as the second night of Jefferson Airplane's 1967 shows at The Broadmoor's International Center.

The Broadmoor even played host to Elton John, albeit at a much more recent show that was private and very much unknown to the public: "It was a solo show a few years ago and it was pretty amazing," says Broadmoor entertainment director Ken Miller of the pop icon's concert for an audience of fewer than a thousand. "I think it was for Toyota or Lexus or one of those car companies.

"Yeah, we get everybody," adds Miller, a musician who has himself played the venue for 26 years. "We've had Glenn Frey, we've had Michael Martin Murphey, I mean, you just name it. Huey Lewis & the News was here last year. But on those things, it's all closed to the public, all corporate."

While The Broadmoor's long list of private appearances ranges from singing cowboy John Wayne to stardust cowboy Elton John, public performances by top-selling artists started tapering off as a burgeoning record industry began turning its back on smaller markets.

There were still booking coups, but none quite so historic: Back when the Replacements were still on Minneapolis' Twin/Tone label, the fresh-scrubbed and no doubt inebriated band played a CC campus venue called Benny's Basement. Neil Young would eventually make his way to the World Arena. And just this past year, the Pikes Peak Center hosted ZZ Top and Wilco.

Many also have fond memories of 32 Bleu, located where the Thirsty Parrot is now, which brought in Michael Franti, Ziggy Marley, Cracker and Rufus Wainwright. (A few weeks ago, Joe Bonamassa told the crowd at the Pikes Peak Center that he once played 32 Bleu for an audience of eight.)

Of course, it's impossible to know how or even if today's concert scene will be remembered decades from now. Through the passage of time, nostalgia and selective memory have a way of coloring memories, and Benninghoff speculates that folks may someday be amazed to hear that an artist like Abigail Washburn once played on her school's campus.

Plus, there's nothing to say that some of the acts who play clubs like the Black Sheep, the Rocket Room or Kinfolks won't someday go on to become box office heavyweights, or at least die in sufficiently dramatic ways to become legendary.

The kids were alright

In the latter category, Morrison and Pigpen aren't the only artists who've come through town en route to untimely meetings with their maker. In 1965, Jimi Hendrix then known as James Hendrix played the City Auditorium as the already-show-stopping guitarist for Little Richard. Local DJ Steve Scott, who emceed the show, remembers the bandleader being pissed that Hendrix was getting so much attention.

And then there's Keith Moon, the dedicated follower of drugs, drink and other fashionable excesses who drummed so brilliantly for the Who. On Bob Yeazel's Web site, the guitarist for Denver band Sugarloaf recalls opening their show at the Springs' long-defunct Kelker Junction, which he describes as an "airplane hangar type club," and watching Pete Townshend "smashing his Gibson SG guitar to pieces while chewing gum."

Sean Anglum, a rabid concertgoer in those days, says the Who touched down at Colorado Springs Airport and landed on the front page of the local paper, with a picture of them stepping down from the plane. He also recalls sneaking into the show.

click to enlarge The Who miss the Springs turnoff.
  • The Who miss the Springs turnoff.

"I was underage by about a year, so I just slipped in as they were bringing equipment in," says Anglum, who now manages public relations and special events for the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. "I kind of mingled with a few people I knew and stayed in the shadows until the show started."

It was August of '68, a year after the Who's American breakthrough single, "I Can See for Miles," and a year before their rock opera, Tommy.

Already a dedicated Anglophile, Anglum was disappointed that the Who didn't play early originals like "The Kids are Alright," but pleased that "they were still pretty mod."

"I think it was [John] Entwistle who was wearing a Union Jack suit jacket that night, and I remember me and my friends thinking that was cooler than cool. They did play some R&B stuff, some covers and 'Young Man Blues,' and I specifically remember that they played 'Magic Bus' and it went on forever."

Anglum would later go on to book shows himself at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, where he recalls paying comedian Steve Martin $100 to open for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

But his favorite shows were still back in the glory days of the City Auditorium, the top two being Buffalo Springfield and the Yardbirds, who had just brought Jeff Beck into the band: "His picking hand was in a cast," says Anglum, "but he could still play."

Luck of the rich

Steve Scott, who's been called the Dick Clark of Colorado Springs, was a well-known DJ for KYSN (aka Kissin'), the local AM station that he says "just about owned the market" back in the late '60s. His first formative musical experiences, he remembers, were at the Cotton Club on West Colorado Avenue.

"I used to go down there when I was a kid, and she would let me in," says Scott. "I didn't drink, but I always wanted to see the musicians. They'd bring in James Brown & the Flames, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Ike & Tina Turner, Bobby Bland they'd come through here a couple times a year all through the '60s."

Scott started doing live KYSN remotes from the City Auditorium, first as a DJ, then with bands from Denver, and ultimately emceeing a run of national touring acts.

"Tony Spicola, a promoter in Pueblo who ended up owning KDZA, started what they called the Swing Dings," recalls the veteran disc jockey, who continues to spin locally as the proprietor of Steve Scott Mobile Music. "I've still got a contract for Ike and Tina Turner they played with the four-piece Kings of Rhythm Band, three Ikettes and a road manager, for $900 flat. It was at the City Auditorium around 1965, and it was a great show. But it was unbelievable that you could buy bands for that price that were that good."

Asked about some of the other venue's shows, Scott recalls Little Richard as "very laid-back, reserved and soft-spoken in the dressing room, but a crazed wild man onstage."

Johnny Cash, he says, was less of a wild man. And unlike his infamous 1965 appearance at the Grand Ole Opry, Cash's local appearance did not end with him systematically smashing all the venue's footlights.

"No, I think he was sober at the time," says Scott with a laugh.

Scott's other fond memories include a 1968 Everly Brothers show: "It was at the old Penrose Stadium, and they drove them in convertibles out of the rodeo chute under color spotlights. There was also a place up north called the Krazy Kat that brought in the Sir Douglas Quintet and the Ventures."

Other popular venues included Club Go-Go, the Lady Bug and the Hullabaloo, which was licensed by the television music show of the same name.

"And, naturally, The Broadmoor," says Scott. "With the luck of the rich, they got both the Doors and the Jefferson Airplane when they were at the top off the charts. And they didn't even like rock 'n roll."

Beyond the Beatles

So what are the chances that Colorado Springs could undergo another concert renaissance? In Scott's view, too much has changed both culturally and financially over the intervening decades.

"To me, a lot of those bands were the beginning of rock 'n roll, the real heyday of all the psychedelic and British bands and Motown and '70s disco. But the music business has changed a lot. Artists now mainly make their living off concerts and less from record sales, because of the Internet and the diminished role of record companies. They're so expensive to buy now for a medium market, and Denver's only 65 miles away."

Those economics have led to a trickle-down effect, one that continues to have an undeniable impact on today's concert industry.

"The ticket prices have gone from a dollar and two and three dollars to these tickets that are $80, $150, $200," says Scott. "It's like sports; the cost of the tickets have priced a lot of people out of it. A lot of average people can't really take in concerts anymore."

Anglum, who's still an active music fan with tickets already in hand for Bruce Springsteen and Steve Stills shows up in Denver, figures Colorado Springs "will always be that stopping-off place for bands between two big gigs."

But he, too, points out that concert ticket prices have pretty much skyrocketed: "I remember Swing Dings, with the Beau Brummels and bands like that, were four or five bucks not very much, but for a teenager back then, that was a good couple weeks of mowing lawns.

"And the first concert I ever saw was when I was 12 and my sister took me to see the Beatles up north at Red Rocks. It was a total din of screaming, even when they were just bringing the equipment out on stage, but it was incredible. And the Beatles were only six dollars and 60 cents."


A Springs whodunit


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