Ticket to Ride
The adult version of Rob Dasaro isn’t so far removed from the 12-year-old model of the mid-1970s. The current Dasaro, 39 years old, has the laugh and impish nature of an adolescent boy. Dasaro still loves to wander the mountains, just as he did as a child – though now, his mountain escapades come under the more responsible title of “ski patrolling,” rather than “ditching class.” And while both Dasaros spent nearly as much time making music as traipsing through the outdoors, there is a difference between the 12-year-old musician and the 39-year-old.”I was probably a better piano player at 12 than I am now,” said Dasaro, in the kitchen of his Carbondale townhouse, where his wife, Stephanie, serves a lunch of Mexican food, 7-year-old Sophie eats and runs, 11-month-old Brennen happily explores floor-level objects – and on the refrigerator hangs a saying, ascribed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “It is a happy talent to know how to play.””At 12, I played a recital at the local school, playing Grieg’s Concerto in A minor, Beethoven’s Fifth and ‘The Entertainer’ by Scott Joplin. I pulled all those three pieces off,” he says.If Dasaro can’t play the Grieg or Beethoven these days, it’s because those fingerings have been pushed aside by Grateful Dead, Latin-jazz tunes, and original creations. Dasaro may have been better able to memorize a piano concerto 27 years ago, but these days he can draw on a wealth of experiences he didn’t have as a kid. Over the decades, Dasaro has been at the center of two thriving music scenes, jammed with several rock luminaries, and been in some noteworthy bands. He may not remember the intricacies of Beethoven, but he has stretched his range vastly: Currently, Dasaro plays jamming rock as part of Seventh Hour – which plays Saturday, Oct. 16 at the Black Nugget in Carbondale, and Sunday, Oct. 17 at Aspen’s Club Chelsea – and he has begun playing shows billed under his own name, where he dabbles in Latin jazz, standards and original instrumental music. This past summer, Dasaro released his first solo CD, “Songs for the Goddess,” an album of keyboard-oriented pop-rock credited to Rob Dasaro and the Camaro. (It sounded good, explained Dasaro of the billing.) And to local music fans who remember the not-so-long-ago days when Aspen had a thriving club scene, Dasaro was part of the funk-rock outfit Monkey Train, perhaps the most successful Aspen band of the last 15 years.
••••Dasaro parted with his classical upbringing reasonably early. By the time he was in high school, that 12-year-old recitalist had been transformed into a rocker. At Vermont’s Mansfield High School, Dasaro was part of Taz Krauder, an example of what he calls “that classic ’80s high school garage band.” The band played numerous parties, with a repertoire of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Takin’ Care of Business,” though Dasaro favored covering the Cars, because of the synthesizer parts. Among the most indelible memories of those years was one party – “a full-on redneck kegger” – when the band’s guitarist has a major instrument malfunction. As the ungracious hosts threatened to throw the band and its equipment in the pool, Dasaro snuck off and called his father, advising him to back up his station wagon, lights off, to the party.Dasaro escaped that affair, and moved to the college town of Burlington. His was hardly the standard college existence, however: Dasaro sandwiched two classes in between ski-bumming and playing in Astronauts in Grave Peril, an industrial-techno band that was part of Burlington’s waterfront warehouse punk scene. Dasaro split his time between his parents’ house, various friends’ pads, and a snow cave he built at Sugarbush Mountain. “I was totally the vagabond, cruising around with a backpack,” notes Dasaro.The mid-80s was a happy time to be a Burlington musician. Though the jam-band scene had yet to be identified as such, it had much of its beginnings in Vermont’s college circuit. At the University of Vermont’s Wilkes Davis Wing – WDW to those who were there – Dasaro jammed with Jon Fishman, Jeff Holdsworth and Trey Anastasio, a group of student musicians who would form the first version of Phish. After spending most of 1984 following the Dead and ski-bumming in Aspen, Dasaro returned to Burlington and helped form the Joneses. The Joneses occasionally shared bills with Phish, including two Halloween gigs that Dasaro calls “just indescribable,” and a benefit for Burlington’s socialist mayor, Bernie Sanders.”It was just before the jam-band wave,” said Dasaro, who pops in a 1986 Joneses concert tape, featuring one creditable Grateful Dead cover after another. “But in Burlington, there were all kinds of jam bands. There were lots of bands; it was a hell of a scene, this whole psychedelic revival scene. You could go to Nectar’s any night and see a really good band.”
The Joneses were a core part of that scene through 1988, when Dasaro headed for the big city of Boston. There he took a culinary apprenticeship in classic Swiss cooking at the Museum of Fine Arts, studied music at Bunker Hill Community College, and played in the jazz-blues band the Cambridge Allstars.In 1991, Dasaro headed back to Aspen, where he had spent several summers, and joined the largely forgettable band Hot Garbage. (Dasaro also went through chef jobs in several kitchens, including the Little Nell’s, and became a ski patroller at Aspen Highlands, a job he still holds.) A musician friend steered him in the direction of two singer-guitarists, Adam Fells and Randolph Turner, who had little experience but had similar tastes as Dasaro. The result was the band Monkey Train, a case of near-perfect chemistry.”It fell together so easily. All of a sudden we were a band,” said Dasaro. “It was one of those few chemistries you ever find as a band. Yeah, I got in fistfights with Adam. But I loved the guy. We were able to talk about things. The creative control was a communal effort.”Monkey Train sped from regular Sunday night gigs at the small sports bar Legends to regular appearances at the Double Diamond, a large club they often packed. Monkey Train recorded a CD, toured around Colorado, jammed with jam-god Warren Haynes and with Al Green’s horn section. But the band never found the right bassist. Dasaro played bass parts on his keyboards for a while, and when they did finally land a proper bassist, the addition threw off the band chemistry. In the late ’90s, Monkey Train called it quits.It happened that John Carlin, singer-guitarist for the Joneses, had just moved to Aspen, and the two picked up where they had left off. The two formed Seth Bauer – named for Dasaro’s nefarious alias – which morphed into Seventh Hour. Dasaro also continued playing with Monkey Train’s Turner in His Boy Elroy, which expanded into Jes’ Grew. As both bands got busy, Dasaro had to choose between the two, and he went with Jes’ Grew.”That was an awesome lineup. But we all came to a point in life where we had to leave,” he said. For Dasaro, that meant family. Dasaro had married Nancy Allen, whom he had met in Burlington in the mid-80s. The two had a daughter, Sophie, and opted to move back to Vermont, to be closer to their families.”And then, like the line in the song – my world came tumbling down,” said Dasaro.
••••Nancy Dasaro had had her gall bladder removed shortly before the family headed east. The day they arrived in Vermont, she felt terrible. She was admitted to a hospital and diagnosed with an advanced case of cancer. A year later, she died, leaving Rob and 3-year-old Sophie.”That was when I realized you’re not driving your life. You’re just going along for the ride,” said Dasaro. “I suppressed a lot. I worked a lot. I just tried not to go through it.”Dasaro returned to his life, thanks in good part to music, skiing and friends. He started ski patrolling at Sugarbush, where he met Stephanie, a dispatcher just back from Antarctica. And two members of the Joneses, who were now playing as Delilah Jones, e-mailed Dasaro about rejoining the band. Dasaro agreed, and the new band, now Dr. Jones, got opening dates for the Radiators and Jerry Garcia Band keyboardist Melvin Seals. The combination of music and old friends was a vital part of Dasaro’s therapy.
“It was real helpful,” he said. “Those were college-era friends and were part of the support group in Vermont. And there was a great support group here in Aspen. People here never forgot about us and their efforts never ceased. It’s a true testament to how great your friends are. When they come together like that – it’s the only redeeming quality of the human race.”Dasaro also got reacquainted with Phish’s Trey Anastasio. While recalling his most recent Vermont years, he pulls out a tape from a reunion party for the old Burlington gang. On the tape, Anastasio adds guitar licks to “Dirtweed Jim,” one of Dasaro’s tunes from the Monkey Train days.Last winter, the Dasaro family returned to Colorado. Dasaro released “Songs for the Goddess,” which he had recorded in Vermont, and rejoined Seventh Hour.”Having been with the other Joneses in Vermont, coming back here, it felt like family to start playing with John again. And he’s a great songwriter,” said Dasaro. “Just in the last month, I feel caught up to myself. For a long time I was just living day-to-day. In a three-year span, we’ve had everything that causes stress: changing jobs, moving, losing a loved one. Plus, we had a baby on top of it. We got here and we were damaged goods.”Now that Dasaro is finding his footing, he can focus on a new task – becoming the pianist he was as a 12-year-old.”You go up and down,” he said. “The more time you have to devote to it, the better you are. I don’t know how long it would take me to learn Beethoven’s Fifth now. I’m just glad I got it down that once.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org