When hes 65: Bobby Mason buzzing over new band | AspenTimes.com

When hes 65: Bobby Mason buzzing over new band

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesLocal musician Bobby Mason celebrates his 65th birthday with a party, featuring his latest band, H3 + Mason, on Friday in Snowmass Village.

ASPEN When Bobby Mason joined guitarist Dave Harding, bassist Amy Hawes and drummer Tom Hills for the first rehearsal of their new band, they planned an hour-long run-through of material. They ended up jamming for three hours.After a handful of gigs together, the group was still buzzing, and saying all the right things about their new venture.Im having more fun playing music than Ive had in years, Mason told me after the quartet known as H3: Harding, Hills & Hawes + Mason had played a handful of gigs together. Its like the first band in high school, because youre all focused on one thing, its all brand new, there are no ulterior motives.This isnt all that impressive. Harding, Hills and Hawes who have been playing together several years as H3 had all known Mason for years from the local music scene; Mason and Hawes had been partners in a band called Thelma & Louise for a short while. But there was still plenty of new-project excitement, plenty of getting-to-know-you-on-a-musical-level energy.A few days after speaking to Mason and Harding, I ran into the two of them at the Steak Pit. Kidding, I asked if they were still as high on the group. Definitely, they assured me. In fact, they were just coming from a two-and-a-half-hour rehearsal.Now I was impressed. Mason, whose history on the Aspen music scene dates to the 60s, hasnt been in the habit of extended rehearsals in decades. Ive known groups made up of veteran players who arrive an hour before the first gig to figure out what songs theyre going to play. I myself was in a band where our drummer joined the group several hours before the gig. No, those hours between meeting and show time were not spent working out arrangements.Usually, rehearsals, after half an hour, youre going, OK, Ive got to back-flush my water-pick, Harding said. But were just sitting there like in high school, just having a ball, playing. The next thing, were working out vocal harmonies.With their newfound passion for arranging the songs theyll be performing, H3 + Mason is building the sort of repertoire that requires rehearsal: Crosby, Stills & Nashs Helplessly Hoping; the Eagles Seven Bridges Road.Call it maturity: Mason turns 65 on Friday, and the band is celebrating with a bash at Nardis Hideaway, on the Snowmass Village mall, from 4-7 p.m. The group has been playing at the bar/restaurant every Thursday evening and Friday, for aprs-ski.Mason arrived in Aspen from Hollywood in 1969, booked to play a two-week gig at the old Holiday Inn, near Buttermilk, with his band, the Happy Medium. Over that time he met his future wife, Peggy, and was introduced to a culture he was comfortable with. Everybody else was as crazy as I was. That was heaven. I told someone this was going to be my home, he said.Mason actually did return to Los Angeles. But a month later, on a drive back to California, he stopped in Aspen, pulling in just in time to see the local band Black Pearl at the old Depot. He told the bands guitarist, Geoffrey Morris, that he was there for one day. Morris had a better idea: He said, Why dont you stay here and play with Black Pearl? recalled Mason.Mason accepted, and began an Aspen-based career that included a five-year stretch in the mid-70s with Starwood, a group that toured the country, opened shows for John Denver, and signed a deal with Columbia Records. After Starwood broke up, he formed various incarnations of the Bobby Mason Band, and performed with Jimmy Buffett, Dan Fogelberg, Kenny Loggins and Stephen Stills. During the 80s, he did voice-over work in commercials. Twice, Mason has done the voice of the demonic plant Audrey II in local productions of Little Shop of Horrors.In 2005, following a divorce, Mason moved back to California first to Los Angeles, then to northern California. A year and a half ago, he returned to the valley.I said, This is my home. This is my family, said Mason, who now lives in El Jebel. And I wanted to be a part of it.Looking to put together his next band, Mason was thinking about finding a keyboardist/vocalist, someone with whom he could play his original music. As it happens, Harding was also looking for a keyboardist who could sing. But when the two got together at a Christmas party in December and broke out their guitars, the thought of keyboardists faded away over a two-hour jam.Everybodys jaw dropped, Harding said. I went, Man, this is good. You know when you get that synergy.The next step, both said, is to begin working Masons original material into the repertoire. Also, Mason is looking at more places to use his guitar synthesizer effect; he already plays a sitar sound on the groups version of the Beatles Norwegian Wood. With the comfort level and fun factor high, the band has already tried new things like having Hills add to the vocal harmonies, and step out from behind his drum kit to play mandolin.Most of the time Im playing, Im watching TV, Mason said. Now, we play eight to 11 and Ill go, OK, I want to play some more.stewart@aspentimes.com

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