Guitar Circle Colorado (GCCO)

(Please note that this is not meant to be a comprehensive history;  instead, it is an overview of the group through the limited lens of my own involvement.)

The quickie history

gccologoI first made contact with Guitar Circle Colorado at a California Guitar Trio show at the Boulder Theater. That night, GCCO was running the merchandise table, and despite my being very unsure of myself…I asked. They invited. And when I came to the next meeting, they insisted I play. And…well, I kinda got all hooked. (I talk further about how GCCO helped my own personal musical development here.)

As a whole group, GCCO has always been imperfect. At one point there were as many as eight available contributors…at least theoretically. GCCO was limited by geography: three of us lived dispersed throughout the Denver metro area, two distinctly in the town of Colorado Springs, and a couple others on the southern side of in-between. The commute from one end to the other was over a hundred miles. As well, all of us being working stiffs, the logistics of getting us all in the same place at the same time could be…challenging.

Our mascot

Nonetheless, we all wanted to work together enough to do at least a little casual gigging. And in the end, we did manage a few gigs, with as many as six of us at a time. We even opened for the CGT once, at a Colorado Springs venue. The Colorado Art Rock Society invited us to play at two of their annual “Prog Jam” shows; we were notable there as a sort of musical rose sorbet, among a steady diet of the heavier acts. And of course there were a few less formal settings, like coffee shops and open mic nights.

Ultimately, though, the logistical realities meant we were often working as two separate groups, centered in the two main metro areas. Not ideal, but it did keep us working.

Geckito del Norte

At one point, the three of us up in Denver really started to click together. We got into a rhythm of meeting, quickly expanded our available repertoire, and Dave and Nathan even started writing originals. Dave’s first composition provided a name for our little sub-group: “Geckito del Norte”, or “little gecko of the north”. Nathan contributed a beautiful and devilish piece which, for its part, seemed to capture perfectly the group’s overall milieu: “Held Together With Holes.” The two of them came up with a lovely arrangement of a Welsh hymn. And we started gigging as a trio, whenever we could.

For my part, I was on the road for business during a lot of this time, and logistics were still a challenge, even for the smaller group. I poured my energies into tackling new and more challenging repertoire on the road, and then introducing it to the trio between trips. It was out of that period of crazed learning and  personal development, that my own first attempts at writing came together. The genesis of a piece based on the “Hungarian minor” scale (which had been fascinating me at the time) flew essentially out of nowhere in a single sitting, but then languished a bit until the Lotusphere conference in Orlando, at which I finished it in a gratifying rush of activity. But in the end, as far as GCCO went, “Chlorinated Duck” simply got overtaken by events.

Held Together With Holes

Nathan, presented with a great opportunity to advance his life in Chicago, of course took it. And as the clock started ticking down to his departure, we realized we didn’t have any “good” recordings of the work we’d been doing together. Not wanting to lose that chance, we set out to make us a record.

We got pretty lucky, given our constraints of time and resources. We happened to know a couple of guys who were not only skilled and talented at such an effort, but were willing to work with geeks. And so we put together a playlist, finalized musical arrangements, and then nodded, smiled, and played at Andy’s and Chris’ requests, completing recording before Nathan’s move. Andy & Chris then turned it all around in a very agreeable time, and we had ten masters.

A short bit later, we decided to print a run of discs ourselves using an online service, and for that project Dave and I, using what we’d learned through observation, decided to try and add a few tracks. We combed through some raw gig recordings and selected a couple that seemed representative, and we also sat down and recorded three pieces that had not made it into the main session. Finally, an attempt at liner notes to complete the idea of “a document of our work together”, and before too long we had us a physical CD.

Given our constraints and the level we were playing at during that time, I think it turned out to be exactly what we wanted. In hindsight and as a player, of course, it’s easy to go back and hear just the clams–it was intentionally a “warts and all” sort of effort–but hey, that was us, and that was the point.

Dave & Kevin’s Excellent Adventure

For a brief period there was a sort of “Geckito del Norte II”, in which Dave and I worked with a church buddy of his;  this trio wasn’t quite as strictly Guitar Craft as it was with Nathan, but on the flip side we expanded our repertoire and, I think, grew as a result.  I started bringing the mandolin into arrangements more purposefully, and started arranging pieces for the ensemble as well.

In the end, that trio dissolved, and Dave and I, wanting to further our understanding of theory, started going to microtonal whiz Neil Haverstick.  It was an amusing exercise in geekery:  our “lessons” would often start on a concept out of Neil’s book The Form of No Forms, and quickly morph into a back-and-forth that was part his interest in what we were doing with Guitar Craft, part tour de example of chord theory concepts, and part free-form, stream-of-consciousness Q&A on a very broad continuum of musical subjects.  Frankly, I think we amused him, and for our part, after every session, no matter how far-flung from his standard method we may have wound up, Dave and I would look at each other and conclude anew:  “totally worth it.”  It wasn’t always structured, per se, but man, we learned a lot there.

And it wasn’t long after that, that I, too, moved away.  Geckito del Norte, as a guitar circle, had gone from three-point-arc, to line segment, to single point.

Dave’s 50th Birthday Bash

Nearly eight years later, the call from Dave’s wife Stacy came in.  See, Dave’s fiftieth birthday was approaching, and he had so loved playing with the trio…

We were broke and needing to pinch every penny possible–and yet my wife Cathy’s response was immediate and unwavering:  “You know you’re going…”  Okay, she knows me well, and we made it happen on a shoestring.

The event morphed from a show-up-on-the-doorstep surprise into a give-Dave-a-couple-weeks-notice surprise, and in due time I arrived from Alaska and Nathan from Chicago.  It was a glorious little camp, both with and without the playing. Mark J was even able to come up for an impromptu stab at a fuller GCCO event one morning; we had a house concert at Dave’s; and we had a noisemaking session (plugged in) at Jamie’s house with Jamie on drums and Andy on bass.

What strikes me in hindsight, about this event, is that after eight years apart and not really having done any Guitar Craft work in the interim, the three of us were nonetheless able to get together and, after just a few hours of working, put together a modest repertoire that worked.  I consider much of that a testament to how well-organized and excellent the Guitar Craft way of working really was, but it also seemed like each of the three of us had since become better listeners as well.  The circulations were intentional, the sense of group dynamics had matured, and we all noted how startling it was to hear the internal polyrhythms bouncing physically back and forth on account of playing in a guitar circle form again.  There is something visceral about that, that you can only get playing in an ensemble–and a Guitar Craft ensemble is friendly to doing it in 15/8 or 7/4.

No, we weren’t as crisp, nor as fast, as we’d been when we were working together regularly.  But the connection was immediate, and music followed, and I was reminded just how important Geckito del Norte, GCCO, and Guitar Craft have been in my life.

Done for good?

It seems unlikely, with the Guitar Craft project officially closed down and existing guitar circles encouraged to conclude and disperse, that GCCO will see a future resurrection.  But who knows?  It has limped along nearly in spite of itself pretty much since its inception, and to paraphrase one of Robert’s observations, sometimes music finds its way into unlikely spaces and brings together unlikely characters.

It has been incredibly important to me.