Bobby Mason bids Aspen adieu
After 36 years in Aspen, it was time for Bobby Mason to play a different tune yesterday.Mason, one of the best-known musicians in the Roaring Fork Valley, packed his car and headed back to California.”I think I’ve taken it about as far as I can in Aspen,” he said during an interview on his cell phone while driving away on Highway 82.The popular, outgoing and easygoing Mason moved to Aspen from California in 1969. During his nearly four decades in town, Mason brushed with big-time recording success with the group Starwood and performed tirelessly. Mason was legendary for volunteering to play at the seemingly never-ending benefits for people and causes.He said a number of factors led to his decision to leave. Among them is the changing music scene: Gigs are getting fewer and the pay ain’t exactly great.”The pay is about the same as when I came in 1969,” he said.
Mason said the local live-music scene is at one of the lowest levels it’s been since he’s lived here. He suspects many places no longer have the money to hire a band because they are scraping by to pay the rent.”The whole town feels pretty corporate right now,” said Mason, noting decisions that affect the music scene are being made by business people living far away who are concerned most about the bottom line.”Bean counters in Nebraska don’t know about the heart and soul of the town,” he said.Mason said he did a “little bit of that, a little bit of this” as far as work while living in Aspen, but for the most part he made a living as a professional rock ‘n’ roll musician. With that becoming increasingly difficult, he thought he would try something new.”He puts his heart and soul into his music,” said his longtime friend Sandy Munro, a musician and owner of the Great Divide music store. “He plays it like he means it and he means it.”But Munro said his best recollection of Mason has nothing to do with music. He recalled that several musicians created a fund, the Danielle Forde Foundation, to help locals in some type of need. The foundation was named after the daughter of Dan Forde, another longtime local musician.Mason allegedly used the fund to seek treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, according to Munro. When Munro learned Mason had drained the fund of about $10,000, he called Mason and yelled at him.
A short time later, Mason drove to Munro’s store, burst in with tears streaming down his face and asked, “What do I have to do, Sandy, leave this town to get help?”Munro said he didn’t give Mason any more grief about using the funds although he still didn’t like it. But since that time roughly 15 years ago, Munro said, the investment has been repaid many times over. Mason always made himself available, day or night, to help people in need of treatment.Aspen’s changing music scene isn’t the only reason for Mason’s departure. He said it was just time for a change and a new chapter in his life. Mason recently split with his wife, Peggy. Plus the altitude was starting to get to him. Mason never learned to ski, despite living in a ski town for 36 years. His desire to stick around is a testament, he said, to a great mountain town and great people.Now Mason yearns to get back to the ocean and walk the beaches. He grew up in Bellflower, Calif. He is going to spend time with his 85-year-old mother, then probably head to Hollywood.He is also moving his Rock Room Studio to the Joshua Tree area of California, where his son already operates a recording studio.It’s fitting that Mason’s last performance was on Aspen Mountain at the sunrise service for Easter, a time of renewal. Mason said some, but not all of his friends knew he was leaving. “You just can’t say goodbye to everybody,” he said. “No one should take it personally.”
People can contact him through his website, bobbymason.com, and also learn more there about his musical career. Among the highlights he describes is touring with Starwood and opening for musicians and bands like The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Santana, Journey and Eddie Money.He recently released a solo album called “Laid Back Up Front.”Mason said he really doesn’t have definitive plans for what he’s going to do in California, but he’s OK with that.”I think I’m more excited than scared,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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