Big Head Todd & The Monsters, C. Taylor Crothers

Big Head Todd & The Monsters, C. Taylor Crothers

Three words that instantly brighten up any dark associations with the Colorado town named “Columbine”: Former Columbine locals, Big Head Todd.

Over nearly three decades  – college-town concerts in the 1980s to national festival and tours in the 1990s into 2000s – Big Head Todd and the Monsters were able to cultivate a devoted fan base by following a simple formula at all their live performances.The band’s sets feature a now familiar smorgasbord of music ranging from reggae to blues to pop-rock (and whatever else tickles the group’s fancy) laced with extended improvisational riffs that include hard-driving axe solos. The no-miss recipe for success has an inevitable effect of follow the bouncing ball: a chorus of sing-alongs from the rapt crowd for nearly every tune off the set list.

Big Head Todd is among the headliners bringing the heat to KOTOfm’s inaugural Ride Festival, so named because musical event follows the Telluride leg (August 20) of US Pro Cycling Challenge, a world class road race. The Ride’s rootsy, rocking line-up also includes Ben Harper, Los Lobos, JJ Grey & Mofro, The Lumineers, North Mississippi Allstars, The Wood Brothers, James McMurtry, David Lindley, Nathaniel Rateliff, and Matthew Curry & The Fury, Lucinda Williams and Jimmy Herring. The monster concert takes place Friday, August 25, and Saturday, August 26 in Town Park.

Big Head Todd was formed in 1986 with Todd Park Mohr on guitar and vocals, Brian Nevin on drums and vocals and Rob Squires on bass and vocals, a trio who had attended the now infamous Columbine High School. It all came together after Mohr transferred from Colorado State University to the University of Colorado to join up with his friends. The threesome began by touring clubs in 1987, at first sticking close to home: Denver, Fort Collins and Boulder. Just six short years later, by 1993, the territory the group conquered opened way up: the Monsters had developed a major league following all across the country. After issuing two popular independent releases on their Big imprint, the band hooked up with Irving Azoff’s Giant Records for the platinum album Sister Sweetly (1993). The Monsters then issued four chart albums on Giant and Warner Bros.

The Monsters’ two most recent releases are the 2010 Rocksteady, featuring original tunes plus “Beast of Burden” written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and “Smokestack Lightning” by Chester Burnett. In 2011, the now foursome (backup vocalist Jeremy Lawton joined the band in 2004) returned to the studio to record an all new project under the name Big Head Blues Club. The recording, 100 Years of Robert Johnson, celebrates the songs of the late blues singer and musician Robert Johnson. Members of Big Head Todd and the Monsters were accompanied by B.B. King, Charlie Musselwhite, Cedric Burnside, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Hubert Sumlin, Ruthie Foster and Lightnin’ Malcolm.

Rocksteady can be seen as Act One of a two-act Big Head Todd spectacular, since the band cut enough tracks to fill two CDs. A projected future release will include the sessions’ more hard-edged material.

“We went into the studio and recorded over 30 songs.We’ve always been a versatile group with a wide range of influences and so our albums tend to be an eclectic mix of different genres of music. Somewhere along the line we realized we had a group of songs that fit together really well as a soul/R&B/Carribean kind of thing. So we set aside some of the harder rock stuff in order to focus on a soulful, danceable sound,” explained Mohr.

At KOTO’s Ride, the Monsters are guaranteed to rock steady. The group knows where its bread is buttered:

“The quality of the relationship between the band and the fan is the most important aspect of our career. We’ve always realized that. That’s why we do cruises with fans and we sign autographs after shows. We still try to play every request. We listen to our audience and do whatever we can to acknowledge that relationship,” Mohr concluded.

Currently, Big Head Todd & The Monsters are on the road with the “Last Summer On Earth” tour featuring Barenaked Ladies, Blues Traveler, Big Head Todd & The Monsters and Cracker.  The tour, which is coming to an end was hugely successful, picked for Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of “The 10 Hottest Summer Package Tours of 2012.”

And now Telluride.

For more – or should I say Mohr? – click the “play” button and listen to my chat with Todd.

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