Saturday, March 12, 2011


Just thinkin’ about South by Southwest, the big spring music festival in Austin. I often consider Austin my second home, or maybe third home if you count Portland, OR. I spent a lot of time there starting in 1986 when I first taught a fifteen week long Programming Fundamentals class. I used to go there regularly teaching classes, attending meetings and conferences, and meet with colleagues. I was there in 1990 when Big Head Todd and the Monsters were the big hit and talk of the town.

I’ve been a BHTM fan for a lot of years. I think I first heard them play at Tulagi’s and maybe Cricket on the Hill -- don’t really recall. That was back in the 80’s. They had a few self produced and independent albums including “Midnight Radio” which contained an early version of “Bittersweet.” Todd Mohr was born the year I graduated from High School. Interesting to observe how his band has navigated the treacherous straights of the music business. It has changed a lot since the 60’s, and I’m happy to see local boys make good without becoming part of the machine.

Big Head Todd and the Monsters, named in honor of the jazz great Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, are a local Boulder band. (If you don’t like BHTM, they could have kept the original moniker, “T.J. and the Twist,” with Todd on sax. Ever wonder how being a sax player impacts your guitar style?)

Got to tell you, two of my favorite songs are “Bittersweet” and “Broken Hearted Savior.” I even wrote a fictional story that was based on those two songs. Maybe you read it?

One of the weaknesses of my Flex’s Sync voice command is that if I ask to “play track bittersweet,” it only plays one track, and always the same one. I’ve got at least six different versions of Bittersweet and about as many versions of BHS on the disk. So I made a playlist will all the versions I call “big head.” “Play playlist big head.” “Yes, master.” Every version of Bittersweet and Broken Hearted Savior I own. Takes about an hour to hear them all. I love repetition. I love repetition.

I was down in Austin in March of 1990 for a couple weeks of meetings and a conference that I was presenting at. (Orthogonal Defect Classification. It was a smash hit!) Big Head Todd was the talk of the town that week. I got to see them twice down on 6th street. A treat to see these local Boulder boys making it big.

A few years later, I very pleased to hear cuts from their new album “Sister Sweetly.” That is still my favorite album with excellent studio versions of my two favs, although I love the live versions too. Todd is always improvising. The new album was recorded at Prince’s Paisley Park Studios in Minneapolis with producer David Z. The boys were signed by Giant records and their career was on the appropriate trajectory. Poppa was so proud. (Ron: They even opened for Ziggy Marley!!)

Since then, I’ve seen them at Red Rocks and at Boulder Theater. Their career has been moving along. I don’t think they’re the next Cream, or even the next R.E.M. (Sad that I don’t know current music well enough to have an analogy band, but I’m stuck in the 60‘s.) They have a loyal following and I will always be a fan. They’ve added some nice additional players to their power trio, including keyboards and — on occasion — a steel. I’ve even bootlegged them at a concert in Breckenridge with my little digital recorder in my shirt pocket. Got more crowd noise than band, but it was a very laid-back concert and I had a blast.

I’m watchin’ for the next time they’re at the Ogden. I’ll be in the front if I could get front row seats...make that the back row. Still the Ogden is sweet, even the back row is excellent!

Next year, I’m headed for Austin in March for SxSW. They’ve added film now, but I’ll be there for all the live shows. Sixth street is always hopping with the best live music West of New Orleans. Who knows, maybe I’ll discover another new band. I can’t keep listening to the Stones and the Who forever, although last night I was at my granddaughters concert and she sang both Eleanor Rigby with a fifteen piece string orchestra and another Beatles song that I can't even remember. Oh yea, I recorded that too. Once a bootlegger, always a bootlegger! (Albeit, an absent minded bootlegger!!)

Planning a trip down to Austin in May with Chuck and Dawn. Hope to take in the scene. So watch for us on Austin City Limits. You never know. Maybe Todd Mohr will be there.

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