Back in the Swing |

Back in the Swing

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times Staff Writer

Dan Sadowsky has touched most ends of the spectrum as a musician. In the early-80s Aspen band Dr. Sadistic & the Silver King Crybabies, it was loud, sneering punk rock. In a series of groups from Easy Pickns to the Strange Rangers, it has been acoustic music, bluegrass and beyond, with Sadowsky on banjo. Old-timey music, modeled after the New Lost City Ramblers, has been a passion from his teenage years, and vintage r&b and roots rock have found their way into Sadowskys repertoire over the decades.But the sound that resonates most in Sadowskys heart is old-school swing, the pre-bebop sounds of the 1930s and 40s played by Louis Jordan, Fats Waller, Roy Eldridge and the like. Sadowsky says his love for swing came from his mother. Swing music was big for me because my mother was a huge fan of swing and jump-style blues, said Sadowsky, a product of Rochester, N.Y. I inherited all her Jonah Jones records; he was a trumpeter in the swing era and my mother was a great fan.Even without the genetic predilection, swing seems a perfect fit for Sadowsky. The music is humorous, often in a crude way; there is a bawdy political incorrectness to the lyrics of many swing tunes. The music requires a high level of technical proficiency and, because of its relative obscurity, it holds an attraction for a contrarian like Sadowsky. For Sadowsky, who drops the occasional bit of caustic social commentary into the letters-to-the-editor section of the local newspapers, sports a sharp wit, and doesnt mind showing off his musical prowess, swing is the thing. Throw in the fast pace of the music, and Sadowsky finds swing an ideal form of expression. There are people who love jazz but think that jazz started with the first Charlie Parker record. Im not one of those, he said. I listen to Dolphy and Coltrane, and I love jazz. But hot jazz. What really warms my heart is to hear Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Johnny Dodds really rip it up. Those guys could burn a red-hot swath through your brain. If I had my druthers, Id get in a time machine and go back to that era.Sadowsky has laid low in the local music scene for more than a decade, finding that family and late-night gigs dont mix. So he has transformed himself from a musician, who happily opted for poverty over a day job, to a business owner who publishes the Days&Nights visitors guide. Ive been kind of in the closet for 15 years. Really in the closet. On the couch, said the 54-year-old Sadowsky. I think to get my priorities straight, I started a little baby factory. The children innately sense when youve been up to 3 in the morning and they take advantage of it.But times are a-changing for Sadowsky. His kids, with wife Alex Halperin, are in their teens. The local music scene has been refocused from loud, late-night rock clubs to intimate, midevening listening rooms. Sadowsky even senses a growing appreciation for swing in the air. So he has been limbering up his fingers and getting off the couch. Two weeks ago he performed at Main Street Bakery; over the summer he did some street picking during the Saturday Farmers Market. Sadowsky has also gotten involved again on the education side. He is a co-founder of the National Jam Foundation, which for the past six years has staged the Basalt Battle of the Bands.On Friday, Nov. 14, Sadowsky shows his face again, opening for the Colorado wife-and-husband duo of Mollie OBrien & Rich Moore at Steves Guitars. Sadowsky says his set will be eclectic, consisting of some old-timey banjo material, some r&b and rock tunes. But it will also be heavy on swing. If you stray too far from whats really you, you end up throwing your guitar down in frustration, he said. I figure I have to play to please myself. Or else it doesnt work.Sadowskys return as a performer coincides with the rediscovery of some of his practically forgotten recordings. A Japanese company recently re-released on CD the two albums by Ophelia Swing Band, a 70s Boulder band led by Sadowsky. The news was a surprise to Sadowsky, but a welcome one, as his music collection lacked one of his own albums.From Swing to SadisticSadowsky first arrived in Colorado in 1970, doing voices and live acting with a marionette show. Touring through Boulder, he met someone who was building a marionette show of The Hobbit, which interested Sadowsky enough that he moved to Boulder from New York City in 1972.Marionette theater would be a short-lived interest. But in those early years in Boulder, Sadowsky discovered a deeper passion.It had never crossed my mind to play swing music til I got to Boulder, said Sadowsky. I learned the chords and the structure and got so thrilled by it that I forced a bunch of colorful characters to play the music with me.Part of the attraction was the obscurity. Much of the material Sadowsky played early on he describes as goofy, B-side stuff. The only guy close to doing anything like that was Dan Hicks, he said. Record companies didnt know what to do with that stuff. It was a puzzle to them.In the mid-70s, Sadowsky put together the Ophelia Swing Band, which included Washboard Chas and a 19-year-old singer and instrumentalist, who was just starting to mess around on the fiddle, name of Tim OBrien. The group released Swing Tunes of the 30s and 40s in 1977, and Spreadin Rhythm Around the following year. It was something unique, said Sadowsky of the group. Part jug band, part bluegrass band, part swing band. It was a horse of a different color but fortunately, Boulder was a very accepting place.In the late 70s, Sadowsky moved to Telluride and found it just as accepting as Boulder. For his Sunday morning radio show there, Sadowsky developed his Pastor Mustard persona, an alternative for the nonchurchgoers. We did goofy music and had people call in and testify, he said. We had a call-in feature, called Abuse the Artist, where the only artist we ever abused, over and over, was Neil Young.When the Telluride Bluegrass Festival went looking for a master of ceremonies, they settled on Pastor Mustard. His between-set rants and introductions have been a Telluride Bluegrass staple for 25 years.In 1980 Sadowsky followed former Ophelia Swing Band vibes player Jane Reed to Aspen, where Reed promised Sadowsky some gigs. The gigs were few, however. So Sadowsky took a day job as bus driver for the Aspen Community School, and parlayed that into a job as a music and computer teacher, which he kept for a decade.Sadowskys most memorable Aspen band was Dr. Sadistic & the Silver King Crybabies. Led by Steve Saylor, the band played obnoxious, satirical punk tunes: Condo Bondage, Lets Eat the Cat and Deadweight in the Hot Tub. It was dark humor, local humor, brutal humor, said Sadowsky. It was all predicated on the idea that anybody could write a better punk tune than you heard on the radio. Which turned out not to be true.After a somewhat successful run, Dr. Sadistic came to a crashing end. It was a late-80s party for the Winternational ski race, and the band fell on its face before an audience of ski racers and the like. Nobody got us anymore, said Sadowsky. They told us we were through and theyd hired a new band to play the second set.Indicative of Sadowskys resilience, the world hadnt heard the last of Dr. Sadistic. Last year, the band reunited for a one-night stand in Carbondale. Not only was the place packed, but the crowd seemed to get the songs.It turned out the humor is still there once you get over how crude the humor was, said Sadowsky.Stewart Oksenhorns e-mail address is

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