A great companion (precursor really) to the Local Anesthetic compilation from a few years ago, Rocky Mountain Low captures the early punk rock days of the Denver/Boulder scene and shares them for posterity. In fact, Rocky Mountain Low presents itself as an exhaustive representation. Every single band from the scene is represented on this recording and/or the accompanying booklet. You get the super rockabilly punko power of the Jonny III, the streetwise sounds of The Front, the new wave noise of The Cells and The Healers and the proto-Velvets power of The Corvairs and The Ravers (who went on the become The Nails). It’s pretty damn cool.
Now these kinds of comps can sometimes be hit or miss. They are usually created by folks who were a part of the scene they are documenting and oftentimes these folks are so enthusiastic to present their town’s legacy that they are unable to have an objective viewpoint of the music. So being an ex-Denverite and supporter of the town in general, I was a little worried when I received this in the mail that it was gonna be chock full of terrible recordings of 5th rate bar bands playing bad new wave. After all, Jello Biafra, (then known as Eric Boucher aka “Occupant” aka “The Wicked Wizard”) fled the area early on and moved to San Francisco. Maybe he did this because the bands in the Rocky Mountain area sucked so bad?
Well, I am happy to report that this is not the case. In fact, let me echo Joe Carducci in stating that the breadth of good music that came out of the scene in Denver in the late 1970s is a big fuckin’ surprise to me. And not only were there a lot of great bands but these bands took it upon themselves to record their music on 4 tracks and off of mixing boards. So the end result with this comp is a really good set of well-recorded tunes (mostly) by a pretty diverse set of bands. Take for instance, Lilly Rose and the Thorns with their great song Fun. Try these lyrics on for size:
I wanna rock-n-roll oh yes I do
and I wanna have sex, I wanna have it with you
and I wanna get high any way that I can
yes I wanna rock-n-roll won’t you be my man?
The background music on this amazing little punk ditty sounds like the New York Dolls or something and Lilly is actually a dude. A trans-gendered dude. So let me ask you this….did it ever cross your mind that there would be a gender bending punk-n-roll band in Colorado in the late 1970s? Kinda like a Rocky Mountain Wayne County and the Electric Chairs? That seems pretty wild to me. I bet their shows were fucking CRAZY.
Speaking of gender, there are also two all female punk bands in this set. The Guys play some cool punk-n-roll. The Profalactics on the other hand, from Boulder, predate Anti-Scrunti Faction with a more politicized and noisy approach. Like Bold Beginnings, the Louisville punk rock compilation on Noise Pollution from a few years ago, gender did not seem to be an issue to these bands and I think this is an important point. It’s easy to lose sight of it in today’s post-pop-punk world but there was a time when punk rock was, gasp….outsider music. People who played punk rock didn’t fit in. I know this is why it appealed to me. Cuz the cool kids used to try and take my lunch money.
When I look at the photos of these first wave punk rock bands from the Denver/Boulder area what I see is a bunch of social misfits with nothing to lose. They were in the middle of nowhere and they didn’t expect anyone to hear what they were doing. They played their music because what else were they going to do? Go to Broncos games? Listen to John Denver? The fact that we are fortunate enough today to hear this music is pretty damn impressive.