Boulder music journalist Wendy Kale embraced by an industry she helped build

Late Colorado Daily writer inducted into Music Hall of Fame

Wendy Kale talks with Nick Camillone in this photo from the University of Colorado 1979 yearbook. The pair worked together at the Program Council, a student-run organization that sponsored and promoted rock concerts and other events. Kale, who went on to become a longtime Colorado Daily music writer until her death in 2011, is being inducted Tuesday into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.
Wendy Kale talks with Nick Camillone in this photo from the University of Colorado 1979 yearbook. The pair worked together at the Program Council, a student-run organization that sponsored and promoted rock concerts and other events. Kale, who went on to become a longtime Colorado Daily music writer until her death in 2011, is being inducted Tuesday into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.

Longtime music journalist Wendy Kale propelled her way into the Boulder music scene in the early 1970s and never left. The tight-knit local music community took Kale, wrapped her in its melodies and didn’t let go until her death in 2011.

Kale may not have risen to the national limelight, and her shielded personal life was dimmed to most around her, but Boulder embraced her work, regardless of her sheepishness towards praise.

Colorado Daily music columnist Wendy Kale.

“She was such a private person,” Kale’s friend and former University of Colorado Boulder colleague, who knew her for 40 years, JC Ancell, said. “She didn’t want the spotlight, she wanted to shine a light on everybody else. She was only known by the industry that she helped to build.”

Whether she would have liked it or not, she’s now at center stage in Colorado. On Tuesday in Denver, Kale will be inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame with the class of 2019. She’ll be memorialized not only as the first journalist in the hall but also as a recipient of the Barry Fey Visionary Award. Colorado Music Hall of Fame’s “Going Back to Colorado” ceremony will be presented at the Mission Ballroom, 4242 Wynkoop St., in Denver’s RiNo district at 7:15 p.m.

The Visionary Award was launched last year in memory of late Colorado concert promoter and legend Fey.

“I think for one moment, she would be speechless,” said former Boulderite and CU Boulder grad Phil Lobel, who runs an entertainment public relations firm, Lobeline Communications, in Los Angeles. “I think she’d crack a joke and give that Wendy ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ laugh. She probably would feel like she didn’t deserve it, but she does. She never did anything for recognition, she did it all for her love of the music.”

Wendy Kale’s University of Colorado Boulder yearbook photo.(Courtesy Photo)

“Rock ‘n’ Roll,” as they called her, will join a Boulder-heavy induction class. Other than the renowned rock concert promoter and radio station owner Tony Spicola, of Pueblo, who will be inducted into the hall Tuesday, the remainder of 2019’s class is from Boulder. Rounding out honorees are trance blues godfather Otis Taylor, party funk masters Freddi Gowdy and the late-Marvin “Henchi” Graves (of Freddi-Henchi Band), the late-1970s guitar virtuoso Tommy Bolin, alongside his psychedelic blues band Zephyr (the band’s hit song holds the ceremony’s Tuesday theme: “Going Back to Colorado”).

“Even though we celebrate musicians from all over the state in this class, it is very Boulder-centric,” said Chris Daniels, director of the Colorado Music Hall of Fame and frontman for Boulder band Chris Daniels & The Kings. “At the time when this group of musicians were all in their prime, Boulder became a mecca of music.”

Kale helped document this axis through 40 years of chasing down, promoting and reporting on homegrown talent. Although she won’t be present to observe this honor, there will also be a key advocate of Kale’s missing Tuesday: One of her biggest hall induction champions, the Daily Camera’s late executive editor and the vice president of news operations for Prairie Mountain Media, Kevin Kaufman.

Lobel, who worked with Kale for years in the late-1970s when he ran CU Boulder’s Program Council and she worked as publicity director, said that he had been working with Kaufman to get Kale inducted into the hall for five years. After Kale died at 58 in 2011 of severe acute pneumonia, Kaufman set up a memorial scholarship fund to aid media students at CU.

Kaufman died of complications from cancer in February of this year at 62, unbeknownst to Lobel until September during a board meeting to finalize the induction class.

“I was so floored,” Lobel said. “I was devastated in that moment. We were doing this great thing for Wendy and it was all happening, in large part, because Kevin pushed for this. He wanted to honor her memory and bring more visibility to the scholarship.”

“I don’t think the Fox Theatre would have survived without Wendy Kale,” said co-founder of the University Hill venue, Don Strasburg.

In an email Kaufman sent to Lobel in January of 2018, Kaufman pitched his efforts to the Colorado Music Hall of Fame board members:

“We’d be honored if the Colorado Music Hall of Fame would consider recognizing the journalists, music writers, photographers and broadcasters who were instrumental in bringing Boulder, Denver and Colorado to the forefront of the national music scene, especially those of the 1970s and 80s — when we really did cement our place on the ‘music map’ …

“Wendy Kale, indeed a character in her own right, certainly was among those pioneering journalists, music writers, photographers and broadcasters.”

“I’m sorry to see Kevin won’t see that this is finally realized,” Lobel said.

Jasin Boland / Paramount Pictures
Kevin Kaufman

Through her written word, Kale gave local musicians fuel for fame, starting at Program Council in the early ’70s up until her death, which ended her longtime music writing career with the Colorado Daily.

“Wendy was a visionary,” said Daniels. “She was a female journalist in a boy’s world of rock ‘n’ roll. That’s why we’re celebrating her, she broke the mold right away. She was always confident and would say, ‘I’m a girl, I can hang with the rock ‘n’ roll crowd. And I can let people know about them.’”

Posters to reviews

Kale enrolled at CU Boulder in 1971 and worked her way from hanging posters on campus and staffing the reception desk for the student-managed Program Council to its publicity director.

“I became director of Program Council in March of 1976 and right away I asked her if she wanted a job as my publicity director,” said Lobel. “She said, ‘yeah sure’ — of course followed by her signature Wendy laugh.”

Kale’s tenacious attitude landed her a spot as a writer at the Colorado Daily in 1986, when entertainment editor Leland Rucker brought her on board for $25 a week, Ancell said. That signature laugh of Kale’s echoed through the newsroom for more than 20 years. After Kale would spend her days interviewing musicians five days a week, she’d then hop on her bicycle and zip around town to wherever the music took her.

She’d mainly go to concerts by herself, notebook in hand, but would often enthusiastically extend an invitation to coworkers. At evening’s end, she’d hop on her bike and head home to pen her reviews. Bright and early, she’d be at her desk the next morning, often three phone calls in, with her endearing fangirl questions peppered in with that signature laugh.

Newsroom staff was confounded by her ceaseless drive and unbridled energy. But this was Kale’s life, five days a week. The pair of weekend days were spent biking all over town following the streams of live music.

“Wendy Kale may have gone to more concerts than any person in the state of Colorado in the last 20 years,” said Don Strasburg, vice president of Denver-based concert promoter AEG Live and co-founder of Boulder’s Fox Theatre, in an email to the Daily Camera’s Kaufman. He added: “I don’t think the Fox Theatre would have survived without Wendy Kale.”

Neither would a handful of Boulder bands.

Wendy “Rock ‘n’ Roll” Kale will be inducted into the Colroado Music Hall of Fame on Tuesday in Denver. (Courtesy photo)

“If you look at bands’ early press kits, Wendy was the writer who gave them their first ink that they could put in their press kit to be taken seriously,” said Daniels. “She was an unequivocal booster. Some people approach writing about the local music scene in a way that makes them a critic, but Wendy was like a booster of the scene. She saw what I think all of us felt. It was how incredible the musicians and bands were, they were world class, they weren’t just good local artists. They were more. Wendy got that. She helped bring the nation to Boulder’s doorstep.”

Like Big Head Todd and the Monsters or The Samples. Not that those bands couldn’t have hit a national high alone, but Kale was instrumental in covering the bands, as well as a staunch supporter. Lobel said she was “directly responsible” for many of these local artists getting their first “ink” in a major paper. (“I don’t think there’s any doubt that Wendy helped many of these local bands soar,” Lobel said.)

“Wendy is the one who found Big Head Todd for us,” said Ancell, who worked as the University Memorial Center’s associate director at CU for 34 years and was an adviser for Program Council. “She said, ‘There are these guys who live in the dorm and we need to hire them for FAC (Friday Afternoon Club).’ I think we paid them $50 and beer for the gig.”

Kale became a key component in finding local and emerging talent, so she began selecting the musicians for the “wildly popular” Friday Afternoon Clubs that were held in the UMC, Ancell said.

“Those were huge. We would gather on the South Terrace and the fire marshal would cut it off because we would always be far over the 1,800 capacity,” Ancell said. He said the success was measured by how many kegs of beer they’d go through, and at one point they went through 50. (“We’d be in big trouble now if we did that,” Ancell said, laughing.)

Between one-time Boulder radio station 97.3 KBCO and Kale, Lobel said Boulder artists were lucky to get coverage from those who were so passionate about music.

And although over the years editors tried to shape Kale into writing more critiques, Ancell said efforts were futile.

“She didn’t want to be a critic, she was a promoter, she was a fan,” he said.

Heart and soul

Lobel said Kale helped Program Council successfully produce a series of stadium shows at Folsom Field.

“That was the start of a wonderful relationship I had with her,” Lobel said. “These students single-handedly organized and produced giant stadium shows for Fleetwood Mac, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Eagles. We did three stadium shows in 90 days. Wendy was churning out those press releases and dealing with press inquiries from local news outlets.”

Even when Lobel left Boulder in 1979 to join the Denver promotion team Feyline Presents — alongside Fey and Chuck Morris, president and CEO of AEG Live Rocky Mountains — and when he moved to California to launch his PR firm in 1986, he said Kale still remained his conduit to local music.

Wendy Kale, right, hanging out with fellow Program Council colleagues in downtown Boulder, including JC Ancell, third from left. (Courtesy photo)

“Wendy was my guiding light in keeping me in the loop on Colorado music, until her passing,” Lobel said.

Lobel said Kale was also the wrangler of old staffers for Program Council reunions.

“She was our muse for keeping the memory of our Program Council renaissance of stadium shows alive for decades,” Lobel said. “She really was the heart and soul for so many generations of Program Council. And she was literally still covering its shows until her passing. Sadly we have never had another Program Council reunion since her passing.”

Daniels, also a former member of 1970s Boulder band Magic Music (Colorado’s first jam band and the subject of the 2017 documentary produced by popular television writer Lee Aronsohn), said that Kale lived in a time when her writing made a difference and that he’s not sure she would enjoy the current state of the music business.

“Here’s why,” Daniels said, “A million plays on Spotify doesn’t make a difference. But Wendy could make a difference with an article or a review. Or introducing people to great new bands — that really made a difference for the artist.”

Wendy Kale, dead center in a black shirt and bolo tie, was instrumental in organizing Program Council reunions. (Courtesy photo)

Boulder class

Boulder hit its music stride in the late 1960s to mid-’70s. Its foothills were dotted with homes owned by Dan Fogelberg, Joe Walsh, Richie Furay, Stephen Stills, Jock Bartley and more.

Heavy-hitting rock stars would sign up for back-to-back shows, making Boulder an industry hotspot. During this time, Boulder was home to five live music venues that put homegrown talent on the stages every night.

Tommy Bolin was one of them. When Bolin died of an overdose in 1976 at age 25 while on tour with Jeff Beck, Boulder was rocked. Moving from Sioux City, Iowa, to Colorado in his late teens, he considered Boulder his hometown, his brother Johnnie Bolin said.

“Tommy Bolin,” said AEG’s Morris, who met Tommy Bolin when he was booking bands to play at The Sink on the Hill. “I love him to death. Even though I did promote his local dates back then, I still consider him more of a friend. I was in such awe of his guitar playing. Such a brilliant guitar player. He could take any instrument with strings and play it better than anybody could. He had a heart of gold, he didn’t have a big ego. When Tommy died, it was one of the worst days of my life. He would be so big right now if he was still around.”

Johnnie Bolin, who lives in Sioux City in the Bolin childhood home that has become a “museum” of Tommy Bolin memorabilia, said that Tuesday’s ceremony will be extra special, as it falls on the day before Tommy Bolin passed 44 years ago, Dec. 4, 1976. Johnnie Bolin will be at the ceremony, performing with tribute act Tommy Bolin’s Dreamers — a  “supergroup” of Bolin’s former bandmates — pumping out songs from Bolin’s catalog.

“There are so many memories for everybody who will be on stage in Denver,” Johnnie Bolin said, in a phone interview from Iowa. “We’re all looking forward to it. This is such a great honor for my brother and my family. Sioux City is where he was born and grew up, but it was Boulder, Colorado, where he got his ability to master playing guitar.”

Also fitting, Tuesday’s ceremony will include guest appearances by Warren Haynes, Joe Bonamassa and Joey Porter (Motet). Bonamassa, who is more than two decades younger than Tommy Bolin would be today, was a big fan of the guitar virtuoso. So much so, in fact, that he recently acquired Tommy Bolin’s 1960 Gibson Les Paul guitar, emblazoned with an American flag, to display in the blues guitarist’s Nerdville Museum of Vintage Guitars, said Johnnie Bolin.

Zephyr, the psychedelic blues-rock band formed in 1969 in Boulder by Tommy Bolin, keyboardist John Faris, bass guitarist David Givens, drummer Robbie Chamberlin and vocalist Candy Givens, will also be inducted into the hall. Tuesday’s ceremony will include a tribute to Zephyr by David Givens and Friends, Otis Taylor Band, Freddi-Henchi and Chris Daniels & The Kings.

Boulder blues legend Otis Taylor, directing a music workshop during the annual Trance Blues Festival in 2016, will be inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame Tuesday in Denver.

“Zephyr was one of the greatest bands that ever came out of Boulder,” said AEG’s Morris, who ran Tulagi’s, a rock club on the Hill where legends like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, The Dirt Band, Eagles, Earl Scruggs, Bonnie Raitt and more would perform. Zephyr was the band that played opening night of Tulagi’s, which Morris said gathered a “line around the block.” “All these people got started when I got started in my career, so this is going to be a very special night to honor them.”

Otis Taylor, Boulder’s blues legend and mastermind behind the annual Trance Blues Festival, will be honored for his innovation with his approach to blues music and his emphasis on the roots of African-American influences on the genre, said Daniels. Taylor once performed with Zephyr and has been nominated for a dozen Blues Music Awards. Morris said Taylor will bring his whole band to perform Tuesday in Denver.

Freddi-Henchi, which Morris called “the best show band that ever came out of here,” will be honored Tuesday as the group really kick-started Colorado’s R&B scene.

“Freddi and Henchi were really the first funk band in Colorado, and now we have millions of them,” said Daniels. Freddi Gowdy will perform with Daniels and his band Tuesday. “Even the guys from Earth, Wind and Fire once said they stole stuff from Freddi and Henchi.”

Longtime local R&B singer Freddi Gowdy, pictured in Denver in 2012, formerly of the popular Freddi-Henchi Band, will be inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame Tuesday.

Pueblo’s Spicola and Boulder’s Kale round out the group.

“There have been so many great acts that come out of here, and that’s why we started the Hall of Fame,” Morris said. “I’m thrilled that we are able to help contribute to a wonderful music scene.”

This whole class is a group of visionaries,” said Daniels. “A lot of artists probably should have been inducted much earlier, but we’ve only been around for eight years.”

In those eight years, the board has inducted more than 60 artists and organizations. Its current museum, at the Trading Post at Red Rocks in Morrison, is in discussions to move to a brand-new spot in RiNo, but that’s still a couple years out, Ancell said. In the meantime, the hall, built by Colorado music legends, will continue to honor the homegrown legends for their talent.

Which is what Kale spent her life’s work doing.

“Wendy would call me and tell me about these up and coming bands that I had to see. It was her living her best life, going from event to event on her bicycle. Wendy lived and breathed Boulder music,” Lobel said.

Ancell added: “I really miss Wendy telling me where to go on Saturday nights.”

If you go

What: Colorado Music Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 Induction Ceremony

When: 7:15 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Mission Ballroom, 4242 Wynkoop St., Denver

Cost: $39.95-$199.95