Ryan Summerlin October 1, 2013
As is often the case, "scuttlebutt" broke the story first, scooping rumor, gossip, and the grapevine by a scant few nanoseconds. The word was out. A musical reunion for the ages would be taking place in Salt Lake City on Wednesday night, Oct. 2, at The Westerner and again the next night, Thursday, Oct. 3, at Lumpy’s South.
By all accounts, CowJazz had once again "resin’d their riggin’" and were dead set on ridin’ that big rodeo. It was an all-points bulletin and the boys were Salt Lake bound! KW Turnbow from Nashville, Jack Quist from Branson, Brook Langton from Austin, and John Bateman from somewhere along the West Coast. Bummis Bodily remains a Wasatch Front kind of guy.
Embellishing this classic ensemble will be the "Glueboys," Buffalo Joe Jeffs of Block N Tackle & the Barfly Wranglers and Bob Jensen of Western Underground, Chris LeDoux’s longtime band.
Turnbow, Quist, Langton, and Bodily had been original members of "Cold Blue Steel," a musical outfit that morphed into CowJazz shortly after releasing an early-’70s LP. They would acquire Bateman later from the Idaho band Tarwater for two draft picks and a Dobro player to be named later.
There’ve been flashbacks aplenty since word first began filtering down about the two shows, both of which are medical fundraisers for Dayne Nourse, son of longtime Salt Lake TV broadcaster and country music fan Dick Nourse.
Those were heady times back then. It seemed like one day we just woke up and had a group of friends with enough musical chops to riff on everything within the country genre, from plugged-in bluegrass to Western swing and from blues to hard-country rock. Not to mention enough original material to jump-start what we now call Americana.
Looking back on those days, their collective virtuosity and instrumentation was just mind-boggling. Fiddles, mandolins, steel guitars, dobros, banjos, acoustic and electric guitars, upright and electric basses, drum kits of various percussive denominations, and some of the sweetest vocal harmonies this side of the Ryman Auditorium. That was CowJazz!
I recall this one night that raised the coefficient of bovine swing totally off the scale. All I can say about pinpointing the particular timeframe-in-question is that it was back when I possessed much more psychic energy than I do today. I mean, Bullet and I didn’t even leave Hebertown to party with the band down in Salt Lake until sometime after 10 p.m. Good luck trying to rope me into similar behavior today.
If memory serves, it was the late, great guitarist-fiddler Cliffy Tipton’s birthday and CowJazz had a gig at one of their regular South-Valley haunts. It was an underground venue, I remember that much, and we ran into ex-Parkite Terrell Smith as we descended the staircase. Terrell would play a sizable role in our collective debauchery as the night wore on.
An early member of the Park City Mucker Rugby Football Club before heading down to the flatlands and building a couple of night clubs in Salt Lake that would sponsor first The Dead Goat and then The Haggis rugby sides, Smith, by providing a long term rival for the Muckers, played an important role in the then-ongoing evolution of Utah rugby. But I digress!
If memory serves, we wore out the dance floor and the bartenders. Energy fed off energy. It was no easy proposition for the manager to finally evict his clientele, lock up, and go home. In fact, he didn’t go home until sometime the following afternoon anyway.
Like the rest of us, band included, he would troop on down to The Haggis, where our pied-piper-of-record, Terrell Smith, would brandish his own key ring, reopen his bar, and invite us all in. We had yet begun to celebrate Cliffy’s birthday.
Following the first round, which was consumed for the most part in shadows of a noir nature, a quorum of acoustic instruments were summoned and, in a softer discourse, once again brought to bear. With each poet taking his turn, the night, nestling onto a shelf labeled "sublime," continued unabated.
Bullet and I may or may not have made it back to Heber by the 24-hour mark. With CowJazz in those days, it was hard tellin’, not knowin’. They were a special group of bandmates and totally in their element. I for one, can’t wait for KW Turnbow to once again smack his drumsticks together in tempo and kick-off that first set. I could care less when I get back.
So, if you’re in a similar frame of mind, here’s the drill for this week. Wednesday at The Westerner Club (3360 S Redwood Rd) the show should get underway 8:30-ish and run till the manager gets that look on his face. Same goes for Thursday night at Lumpy’s South (8925 Harrison St) in Sandy.
Keep your eyes out for Terrell Smith. It could get epic!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.