The Coyote Gospel truth
August 25, 2005
Following accepted social custom, Guy Welles, Brad Manosevitz and David Holton – three-quarters of local band The Coyote Gospel – start in talking about the one who isn’t there, Michael Richert.But there is more than Richert’s absence that turns the conversation his way. Richert is the drummer, the element which has given Coyote Gospel a flavor of its own. The rest of the band is acoustic. Welles is a mandolinist, and guitarist Holton sticks to the unplugged version of his instrument. All summer, the band has been filled out by Dave Notor, playing dobro. And Manosevitz, a jack-of-all-trades who disdains any instrument he has already played in a previous band, has chosen a Tacoma acoustic bass guitar for his latest project. So having a drummer backing all these string players lends Coyote Gospel is signature versatility.”The percussion gives it a lot different dynamic right away,” said Holton, crowded with his two bandmates in an Aspen Times office. “Mike brings a lot of different elements besides bluegrass, like a Latin thing. So instantly it’s a lot different than the normal string band.”When Coyote Gospel was in its formative stage, the idea was, in fact, a normal string band. Holton had zealously studied bluegrass-style flat-picking for years, awaiting the time when he would join a band. Welles had played various styles of guitar for decades and never gotten very far as a musician – until two years ago, when he picked up mandolin and took Sandy Munro’s bluegrass class at Colorado Mountain College. Manosevitz, a jack-of-all-trades who has played the parts of rocker, bluesman, and, under the name Daryl Ickt, singer-songwriter, had lately been trading in bluegrassy music: in Ragged Mountain Meltdown, in Kentucky Waterfall String Band with Holton, in Lost Man String Band with both Holton and Welles.”When we started, we just wanted to be a bluegrass band,” said Holton, who had bonded with Welles in Munro’s bluegrass class two summers ago, where they “were feeding off that bluegrass energy. But early on, I just wanted to bring in percussion. I wanted to have a rocking band; I wanted to make people move. You can be the best bluegrass band, and not get people into it if you’re playing in a bar.”
Welles had been the soundman for rock band Seventh Hour, so was acquainted with Richter, who often sat in with that band on percussion.”Dave and I talked about it for a long time. We didn’t want a rock ‘n’ roll drummer; we wanted a percussionist,” said Welles. Richter fit the bill perfectly. “He was just a hand drummer. And when he joined us, we gave him a kick drum and a snare. So we had a hand drummer who played kick and snare, like Joe Craven in the David Grisman Quintet, or Michael Travis in String Cheese Incident.””It increases the versatility of his chosen instrument,” added Holton. “As a result of his having an instrument with lots of choices and combinations, we can get a lot of different sounds and styles.””That’s when we became a band, and not just a string band,” added Holton, of the addition of Richter.As a band, Coyote Gospel covers a lot more territory than a string band. They do Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Kind of Man” and a Grisman-style take on B.B. King’s blues staple “The Thrill Is Gone,” the bluegrass standard “Blackberry Blossom” and an instrumental version of Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever.” Their original tunes range from Latin feels to folkish numbers to “Seven Castle Swing,” a swing rhythm written by Holton.
The versatility is based on more than the array of instruments. The band members, all in their 30s, have, for the most part, been music fans more than gigging musicians. Only Manosevitz has had much band experience to speak of. So their attention in the past hasn’t been on perfecting a kind of style to play, but rather on listening to and enjoying bluegrass, classic rock, modern jam-bands and jazz.”All of us in the band are music lovers. We love music and we love all kinds of music,” said Manosevitz. “That translates into how we’re playing music and the kind of music we’re choosing to play. It makes us as happy to cover classic rock tunes from the ’60s and ’70s as getting a Latin-jazz feel to some of the songs.”The style that Coyote Gospel has been developing in its year of existence comes from a combination of those wide-ranging tastes, the mix of instruments, and being an inexperienced group struggling to play songs whose original versions are beyond their technical grasp. So like many startup bands, they see that they can’t match, say, the David Grisman Quintet’s way of handling a tune. But they find what they can do and from that build their own sound.”As white as we are, we love reggae,” said Manosevitz. “So how do we access reggae with no keyboards, no horns and the wrong pigment in our skin? But we love that music, we hear it, we integrate it, and we try to spit it out. But our ability to make it is limited, so it’s, ‘how do we do that?'””And that goes not only for reggae, but for jazz, the more tropical stuff, Pink Floyd,” said Welles, who has been studying jazz mandolin with a local guitar teacher. “We regurgitate it. That’s our spin.”
Coyote Gospel has plenty of models to choose from in that pursuit. One is Colorado’s String Cheese Incident, whose early work leaned more toward acoustic jamming than its more recent electronic grooving. Another is Leftover Salmon, the defunct Colorado band that added a sense of irreverence to it blend of bluegrass and rock.Which means the band has left itself loads of room for exploration. And they are pursuing it. Coyote Gospel had a regular weekly gig at the Blue Door in Snowmass Village last winter, which they hope to renew this year. On Sunday, Aug. 28, they play on top of Aspen Mountain in the Bluegrass Sundays series, their most prominent appearance yet. Soon, they hope to have their first CD available, “just in time for offseason,” jokes Welles.Welles, who has been certified on the digital recording software ProTools, produced, engineered and mixed the as-yet-untitled CD, which features mostly originals and a cover of Ten Years After’s “I’d Love to Change the World.” The band is shooting for some gigs on the Front Range and the ski towns of the I-70 corridor.”We’re of the mind that we’re ready to follow this wherever it takes us,” said Manosevitz. “If it takes us to touring, we’ll go. Of the bands I’ve played in, this is the most serious I’ve taken the music.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com