As John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” and Coors beer alerted the rest of the country to the glories of Colorado in the 1970s, a band of hippie musicians called Magic Music left the Centennial State to make its mark nationwide.
The group, which began playing music together while living in two school buses and a doughnut truck in Boulder County’s Eldorado Canyon, didn’t catch on nationally, though, and threw in the towel in August 1976.
Magic Music’s acoustic jamband sound didn’t fit during a confused era of pop music. Traditional rock music was losing its cool, disco had gained a solid foothold, and punk music was emerging. Magic Music was pressured by management to “play more uptempo, foot-stomping music like Mumford & Sons,” says musician and producer Tim Goodman, a close friend of the band. “They did that, and it burned them out.”
Though Magic Music shared the stage with Cat Stevens, the Youngbloods, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the group never signed a deal with a record label. Offers came, but the hippie band, among other reasons, wouldn’t sign a contract that gave 93% or more of the monies to the label.
Band members went their separate ways but kept in touch during subsequent decades. At a 2011 birthday party, they began playing together with an album in mind, and, finally, their self-titled debut album, produced by Goodman, was released last year.
The music on the album “was created from the energy and expression of our youth,” says Will Luckey, one of the group’s founders and a lead vocalist, mandolinist, and guitarist. “In that way, it is unique in today’s world. Chris Daniels, Lynn Poyer (who died in 2011), and I wrote these songs from a very passionate state of mind 45 years ago.
“Having them finally realized in an album format is truly like dusting off an antique that is perfectly preserved. We have grown as musicians and singers and were able to bring those extended talents to this record. Recording the album (decades after the songs were written) allowed us to play into the songs, perhaps with a deeper understanding of the feeling and joy that each tune carried. It's a timeless body of music that has finally been, through thick and thin, given to the world.”
“We all wanted it to happen in the ’70s,” says Daniels, a lead vocalist, guitarist, mandolinist, and banjoist on the album. “We toured all over the place, and every gig people would ask us: ‘Where can we buy your album?’ We had no answer. So it's like a pledge you make to yourself as a kid, ‘When I grow up, I'm gonna … ,’ and in this case, we did. Songs that meant so much to us then, like the ‘Cossack Song,’ which is about the plight of a refugee from war, mean even more now. It's kind of sad, but it's even more relevant today than it was in the ’70s.”
Magic Music’s history began in 1969, when Boulderite Poyer fell in love with a woman named Tammy and followed her to Middletown, New York. There he met her best friend, George “Tode” Cahill, a high school trumpet player and musician. The trio moved to Boulder County where Poyer and Cahill teamed with Luckey and began playing music while residing in the vehicles in Eldorado Canyon. With Poyer and Luckey on acoustic guitars and Cahill playing a flute, they began busking on the nearby University of Colorado campus.
“The buses were totally drivable, not luxurious or tricked out, but very livable,” Luckey says. “We had wood stoves in them and seats, tables, and beds. Tode was a fine mechanic and a terrific flute player, so things were kept running, sometimes just barely. Lynn lived in the donut truck with Miss Tammy, and Tode and I each had a bus which housed any number of people depending on who paraded through the canyon to visit.”
In the canyon, they were isolated from musical influences.
“There was no internet, and we didn't have a radio,” Luckey says. “We were kind of against pursuing the musical format of the day. Lynn and I actually avoided listening to popular music, so we wouldn’t be influenced by it. Hence, the very eclectic sound of Magic Music, which is apparent on the record. However, growing up, I of course listened to CSN, the Eagles, the Stones, and the Beatles, as well as Poco, the Byrds, Tom Rush, Dylan, James Taylor, and even the Beach Boys before hooking up with Tode and Lynn.”
Magic Music moved from Eldorado Canyon, south of the city of Boulder, to Allenspark, a tiny mountain town at an altitude of 8,500 feet northwest of the city.
“We were a few miles down from the Peak to Peak Highway in Allenspark,” Daniels says. “The postmaster was this wonderful old guy named Otto Walters. He and the whole Allenspark community took pity on us, and we played gigs there and survived pretty well in that valley for about two years before we hit the road.”
Luckey, a friend of Goodman’s when they both lived in Martha’s Vineyard, and concert promoter/manager Chuck Morris enticed Goodman to move to Colorado in 1971, where, he says, he was “a fly on the wall,” hanging out with Magic Music while they wrote songs and practiced in Allenspark.
Goodman, a talented guitarist, keyboardist, and singer who later also became a Boulder musical legend, says he sometimes sat in with the band and “totally loved” the unique music it was playing amid “a lot of pot and peyote” in the Allenspark scene.
“The music came from such a place of integrity, heart, and soul,” Goodman says. “They truly represented the life they were living on a day-to-day basis.”
Luckey says he can't remember the first time he met Goodman. “It seems like we just began playing guitars together at about 13 or 14 years old,” Luckey says. “We loved the sound of acoustic guitars and the romantic life involved with being a guitar player, chasing a dream.”
Luckey and Cahill parted ways with Poyer in 1972, and Daniels joined Magic Music. Daniels, who in the 1980s would gain fame as the leader of Chris Daniels & the Kings, toured with Magic Music until its 1976 breakup. He still leads Chris Daniels & the Kings and is an assistant professor teaching music business at the University of Colorado’s Denver campus.
Daniels first met Luckey, by chance, at a protest rally. Luckey attended a boarding school in Colorado Springs during his senior year in high school, when Daniels attended a boarding school in Denver.
“A classmate named Randy Welton told me about his friend Will Luckey and what a great guitar player he was,” recalls Daniels, who was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in 2013 with Judy Collins, Bob Lind, and the Serendipity Singers. “We all got together at Woodstock West, an anti-Vietnam War protest on the Denver University campus, played all afternoon and evening, and wrote our first songs together.”
Daniels says that some of Magic Music’s first recordings were produced by Joe Walsh, who, after hitting it big with the James Gang, decided to move to the Colorado mountains and begin a solo career.
“I'd love to know what ever happened to those tapes,” Daniels says.
Magic Music wouldn’t have thrived in Los Angeles or New York, but Boulder’s acceptance of artists playing any creative style they wished allowed the band “to do exactly what we wanted to do,” Daniels says. “I suppose that is why we didn't get an album out in the ’70s. The music was too weird for the record companies. They kept trying to change us.”
When Daniels and Magic Music hit the road to bring their music to a national audience, Goodman and songwriter/vocalist Michael Woody co-founded Woody & the Too High Band, which also included drummer Cactus Moser, bassist Dave Seago, steel guitarist Andy Chilson and, later, sizzling guitarist Randy Barker. The band became a sensation in Boulder clubs with its stew of Gram Parsons-style country music and scorching rock and roll.
Clubs such as the Colorado Coal Company and Nederland’s Pioneer Inn were packed with standing-room-only crowds enthusiastically supporting the music of the Too High Band, Dusty Drapes & the Dusters, hot guitarist Michael Roach and other talented musicians who left a lasting footprint on the Boulder music scene. They were sometimes joined on stage by Tommy Bolin or members of the Doobie Brothers, Spirit, or other internationally known groups.
“Michael Woody was a great writer, and I loved playing his songs,” Goodman says. “They’d clear the tables at closing at the Coal Company, and we'd play all night.”
Luckey says Magic Music was often away from Colorado during that historic time.
“We were traveling through the Dakotas and all around the Midwest during those years, because we felt that we had overplayed the Boulder area,” Luckey says. “We also moved to Pagosa Springs in southern Colorado, which is quite a ways from Boulder.”
Magic Music “only played the Pioneer Inn once, and some guy pulled out a revolver and blasted a hole in the roof,” Daniels recalls. “That ended that gig.”
Goodman eventually left Boulder and moved to California to record a solo album and then become an original member of the country-rock band Southern Pacific, which had various songs at the top of the country music charts. Southern Pacific’s original lineup was full of stars, including guitarist James Burton, keyboardist Glenn Hardin, bassist Jerry Scheff, and John McFee and Keith Knudsen of the Doobie Brothers. Albert Lee and Stu Cook of Creedence Clearwater Revival later joined the band.
Goodman, who left the music scene for many years and became a charter boat captain in California, Mexico, and Martha’s Vineyard, says it’s a “relief” to finally have a Magic Music album in the can. Besides producing the album, he sang lead and background vocals and played guitar, organ, drums, and percussion. Little Feat/Doobie Brothers keyboardist Bill Payne also plays on the album.
“I had no idea it was going to be as big an effort as it was,” says Goodman about the album, which was mostly recorded at his house in Martha’s Vineyard and took parts of three years to complete. “It was a big challenge to maintain the innocence and integrity of what they wrote and played in the 1970s and get it to sound like 2016. The important thing is this great body of work that these guys lived and performed way back when didn't get lost forever. I'm glad the songs and Magic Music have gotten some recognition for who they were and the great songs they wrote and played.”
Goodman and members of the band also have deep respect for the great songs that other artists have played.
Goodman cites a long list of concerts as the best he attended as a spectator, including many at New York’s legendary Fillmore East, which closed in 1971. “I was there, so I can’t remember!” Goodman quips.
He does remember the “intensity” of the Allman Brothers Band in Boston in 1970 and the Rolling Stones at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1968. He also points to a New Grass Revival show in the early 1970s in Telluride, Colorado, and salutes the band for its “musicianship and energy and being game changers in bluegrass.”
But the “best show I’d ever seen,” Goodman says, was Bruce Springsteen at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena during The River tour on October 31, 1980. He also mentions Springsteen at Madison Square Garden in 2009 — when The Boss played The River “top to bottom” and the audience and the band were exhausted after the concert ended — as the “best rock show ever.” And he can never forget Springsteen in Buffalo on Nov. 22, 2009, Clarence Clemons’ last show with the E Street Band.
“It was the end of an era, like a few years earlier when Danny Federici passed,” Goodman says. “They were a collective inspiration for me and so many.”
The Springsteen show in Los Angeles in 1980 most influenced him as a musician, he says.
“I was playing to promote my first album on CBS,” Goodman recalls. “Bruce was on the same label, so I got to visit backstage. The E Street Band showed me what a real band and a real show was all about — incredible songs, powerful musicianship, plus undeniable audience connection. The bar had been set as they burned down the house.”
Chris Daniels points to a James Taylor show about three years ago at the spectacular Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado, as one of the two best concerts he attended.
“He came out and did some of his songs solo — just acoustic guitar and voice,” Daniels says. “He did ‘The Frozen Man,’ a remarkable concept song and a mother to play. It was remarkable.”
Daniels’ other “best” concert was last year at the 43rd Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival, where he has served as master of ceremonies the past two years.
“Chris Thile came out and did an hour with just mandolin and voice,” Daniels says. “It was like watching Van Gogh paint. Chris was great. I got him to do a mandolin lesson for Will on my cell phone — pretty flipping funny.”
The concerts that influenced Daniels most as a musician were a performance by the folk-blues trio Koerner, Ray & Glover at the Triangle Bar in Minneapolis in the late 1960s and numerous shows by David Bromberg.
“David Bromberg is the guy who taught me the most,” Daniels says. “We (Chris Daniels & the Kings) backed him for about two years from New York to Chicago to Denver and on his Sideman Serenade album. He taught me about what it means to put on a show and how to front a band.”
Luckey says the best concert he attended was one by the Beach Boys in Virginia Beach when he was in seventh or eighth grade.
“They sang ‘Help Me, Rhonda,’ and the crowd went crazy,” he recalls. “That night I committed myself to follow the path of music, and I never looked back.”
Even more influential musically, though, was an Electric Flag show at the Fillmore East in 1967.
“It was an awesome night,” Luckey says. “Mike Bloomfield, my idol at the time, was on guitar, and Hendrix showed up unexpectedly at the end and buried the set.”
Obviously, Boulder and Colorado also were a big influence on Luckey, other members of Magic Music, and Goodman.
“That time and that area gave me a sense of musical value and freedom that I still hold onto today,” Luckey says. “The open air of the environment and spectacular grandness of the mountains humbled me as a player, songwriter, and human being, which has allowed me to be involved in so much more music during the course of my life.”
“Colorado was my training ground,” Goodman says. “Chuck Morris tried his best to point me in the right direction as my manager. I was still pretty young, so I only ingested so much. I really didn’t get the big picture ’til I moved to California and was exposed to a bigger world. Magic Music was always a part of my DNA, and that stayed with me.”
A film documentary about Magic Music is underway and may be released next year. It is the work of television producer and writer Lee Aronsohn, a University of Colorado graduate who was a Magic Music fan and a writer or producer of such shows as The Love Boat, Murphy Brown, Two and a Half Men, and The Big Bang Theory.
As for the recording and performing future of Magic Music, its members are “a bit older” and have their energies “going a lot of different and unique directions,” Luckey says, so the future is uncertain.
“However, our love for the music and each other will never fade.”