Astronauts rocked Boulder’s Tulagi
Warning: This column is intended for mature audiences
February 17, 2016
Steamboat Springs — I was poking through a Steamboat Springs consignment store earlier this month when I stumbled on a real treasure — a thirty-three and a third, long-playing album recorded live at the legendary Tulagi nightclub in Boulder by The Astronauts. In 1964.
You remember the Astronauts don't you? Me neither. But that's OK. You can discover them in 2016.
What really matters is that 1964 was the year the Beatles released "A Hard Day's Night," in the U.S. That same year, Jan and Dean put out a groovy California surf record that made waves with a single called, “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena.” (Go granny, go granny, go granny go). Those two albums represent the convergence of the British Invasion and the blissed-out good vibrations of California surf music that met in the middle of America and shook up pop music for good.
When I found the Astronauts' album at Annie's Home Consignments, it was hidden out of sight behind some old wooden boxes near the back of the store. I couldn't believe my eyes. On the cover of the album, still in excellent condition (no dog-eared corners) after 52 years, were five clean-cut guys posed on a hill overlooking Boulder's western neighborhoods with the University of Colorado Campus in the distance. All five musicians are wearing identical shiny gold sport coats and black bow ties. Four of them have creamy white Fender guitars strapped around their necks.
The title of the album is unabashedly corny: AOK: Astronauts on Kampus. The tracks on the album, their third for RCA Victor, are strictly covers of rock standards like “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Johnny B. Goode.” But band members Bob Demmon, Dennis Lindsey, Rich Fifield, Stormy Patterson and Jim Gallagher are obviously talented musicians. They also devoted entire albums to surf music and eventually gained significant notoriety in Japan for those recordings. The Astronauts called it a career in 1968 after a tour of Asia, but some of the surviving members reunited for a performance in 2012, when they were inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.
In 1964, I was 10-years-old and in fourth grade in Madison, Wisconsin, when the mother of one of my female classmates called to invite me to a dance party at their home to celebrate the Beatles new album. I was honestly bewildered.
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"Why would I do that?"
My mother dropped me off at the party, where I responded awkwardly to invitations to dance "The Monkey" and "The Swim."
However, it wasn't long before I was going to sleep at night with a transistor radio tuned to WISM pressed to my ear. I began spending my allowance every three weeks on 45 rpm Beatles records at Victor Music — I think they cost 69 cents.
Madison has always been a more-than-lively college town, just like Boulder, but Madison was closer to Chicago blues musicians than any place in the mountain west, and my musical stew included British bands such as the Animals and the Stones who were influenced by the original American music.
So what did the Astronauts sound like? The bad news is, I shipped my old turntable to the landfill many years ago. The good news is, you can relive the ’60s through numerous music videos featuring The Astronauts on YouTube.
As for Tulagi, it's to my great dismay that I never made it there before it closed in 2003. I imagine it being a little like the Church Key in Madison, where I saw big names like Bonnie Raitt and Johnny Winter perform, essentially, in a bar. I know that Raitt played Tulagi and so did Miles Davis and the Eagles. But many of you probably have first-hand stories to share. At least, I hope you do.
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