Jay Meehan: A CowJazz reunion
Ended up in a saloon down in the promised valley the other night to catch up with some longtime friends and maybe knock back a few. Give me checkmarks all the way around. Fun time.
The carrot that was dangled in front of us pretty much resembled a reunion of hotshot musicians from the ‘70s and beyond, known collectively as “CowJazz.” We fell overwhelmingly in love with them and their rock-hybrid country music soundtrack back in the day and, by the looks of the packed house that night, not much had changed.
Arriving early for the meet-and-greet and picking out a barstool with line-of-sight to a few of the somewhat more emotional hug and backslap zones, I quickly struck up a conversation with the nearest roaming alcohol purveyor. Before the evening was up, a simple nod of the head between us was all that was required.
And that’s really what the evening came down to — reuniting with the guys and dolls who populated the quite “hip” and “heady,” not to mention rapidly evolving, mid-70s progressive-country music scene in Salt Lake City.
If memory serves, it may have been just down the road from where we sat that one of my favorite CowJazz evenings unfolded. Word came up to Heber that multi-instrumentalist Cliffy Tipton’s birthday was on tap to be celebrated at “Judd’s,” an emporium frequented during the ‘70s by many of those currently in attendance for the reunion.
We left Hebertown about 10:00 p.m. and by the time we got there it was obvious we had some catching up to do. First off, we pretty much drank Judd’s dry. But not to worry. Terrell Smith had a vision wherein we should all follow him downtown, reopen his private club, “The Haggis” and continue the party. So we did!
Let me be the first to admit that there might well have been some mass consumption of alternative medicines broken out once we arrived. A slew of Park City folks were there so that’s probably a given.
I recall a bunch of us in the back alley dishing on more than a few astronomical wonders. I know I became convinced I could see the planet Tralfamadore somewhere out past the asteroid belt. But, I digress.
Cliffy, along with his son Dallas and ex-CowJazz bandmate Grady Whitfield, would later perish in the north Idaho plane crash that killed the Montana band back in ‘87. The band also lost keyboardist Wayne Christiansen on Soldier Summit in a vehicular crash back in 2010. The overall vibe of the reunion included them in a big way.
The ensemble for last Friday included CowJazz alumni KW Turnbow (drums) from Nashville, Jack Quist (guitar, vocals) and Gary “Bummus” Bodily (bass, vocals) from Salt Lake City, and Brook Langton (steel guitar, banjo) from Austin.
They were joined by “The Glueboys,” Buffalo Joe Jeffs of “Block & Tackle” and “The Barfly Wranglers” (guitar, vocals) and Bobby Jensen, formerly of “Western Underground,” on keyboards. Brilliant instrumentation all night long!
With both musicians and fans, it was all about camaraderie — brothers and sisters in arms celebrating musical gifts and appreciation seldom seen live these days. Opening the show were Misty Sanone Quist and Chandra Whittaker.
One of my favorites, the much-loved CowJazz alumnus Johnny Bateman wasn’t able to make the trip from his home in Northern California, but he did show for a couple of benefit CowJazz reunions back in 2013 and, as usual, he was awesome. When in town, he also performs with “The Glueboys.”
In fact, all these pickers and singers are impressive. They, of course, would never acknowledge the fact. They’d bend your ear apologetically with a bunch of “I really should play more” and “I found my axe under the tractor.” But let no one kid you, collectively and individually, they all keep the faith, beautifully.
If they receive even a tenth of the enjoyment garnered by us longtime aficionados of their brand of “Bovine Swing,” they are fortunate, indeed. Both Buffalo Joe and Johnny Bateman played the “Down Under” of the Claimjumper on Main Street in various groups for many years but that’s another story.
For now, just remember why the phrase “support your local picker” has maintained such longtime resonance in our community. A live music scene, any live performing art scene for that matter, especially when they use that money to build walls, is indicative of cultural health. But that also, is another story.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.
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