G. Brown has navigated the Rocky Mountain musical landscape for decades, both as a journalist and as a radio personality. He covered popular music at The Denver Post for 26 years, interviewing well over 2,500 musicians. Published in numerous national magazines, including Rolling Stone and National Lampoon, Brown also covered music news and hosted and programmed for myriad Denver-based radio stations. He also wrote “Colorado Rock Chronicles” and “Telluride Bluegrass Festival: The First Forty Years.” He is the founding director of Colorado Music Experience, a nonprofit cultural and educational organization established to preserve the legacies of Colorado music. Brown is the author of “On Record,” an award-winning series of books celebrating popular music from 1978-1998. His resume also includes stints as a childrenʼs show host (“Uncle G.” of the Fox 31 Kids Club) and the Denver-based ring announcer for professional wrestlingʼs WWF.
SunLit: Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?
G. Brown: In 1906, Denver’s Pietro Satriano and his 25-piece brass band became the first musical act to perform at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, then christened the Garden of the Titans. Now, over a century later, Denver is a must-stop for every nationally touring act, and Red Rocks is heralded as America’s most important outdoor music venue.
So “Red Rocks – The Concert Years” presents a comprehensive history of what came to be considered one of the Natural Wonders of the World, set deep into the towering red rocks of Morrison, Colorado. It includes over 200 interviews with an array of performers, from Stevie Nicks and Jimmy Buffett to Dave Matthews and the late Jerry Garcia, as well as detailed accounts of the legendary Beatles show in 1964, Bruce Springsteen’s first outdoor concert ever in 1978 and U2’s career-making 1983 video shoot. The foreword is by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Carlos Santana.
But while I’m fiercely proud of my deathless prose, I concede “Red Rocks” is a photo book at its core, with hundreds of images from leading photographers both national and regional, supplemented by archival photos from the libraries of the major daily newspapers, historical societies and private collections. My vow was to publish everyone well. And I think we have.
SunLit: Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you sat down to write? And once you did begin to write, did the work take you in any unexpected directions?
Brown: I’ve attempted to position myself as a music writer/reporter rather than a rock critic. My goal was to service readers, whether they were fans of Metallica or Barry Manilow. I got to cover the Rocky Mountain music scene as a beat, not simply pontificating on what I liked or was assigned or pitching to a publication.
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“Red Rocks – The Concert Years” isn’t a memoir—I’ve got lots of great stories about my life at everyone’s favorite outdoor venue, but I prefer to tell them to friends and interested parties than sell them to readers (the one about interviewing Sting on his backstage massage table is a classic).
It isn’t an essay on “what it all meant.” It’s reportage, something this Denver native looks at as a responsibility as much as an opportunity. Every star in the musical galaxy has aspired to play on the special and magical Red Rocks stage—thanks to the combination of natural aesthetics and acoustics, it’s as impressive to the eyes as to the ears. Now that interest in Red Rocks is at an international peak—Billboard magazine has named it the most ticketed venue in the world two years running—the timing couldn’t be better.
SunLit: Are there lessons you take away from each experience of writing a book? And if so, what did the process of writing this book add to your knowledge and understanding of your craft and/or the subject matter?
Brown: I’ve worked with some wonderful editors over my career, but at this stage, collaborating on books with Jon Rizzi is my great joy. He paid his dues with the biggest and best New York-based magazines; he’s known locally as the founding editor of Colorado Avid Golfer and the executive director of the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame. He possesses encyclopedic knowledge of both music and split infinitives—a savory combination in elevating my work instead of merely tweaking it.
“Red Rocks: The Concert Years”
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(I’ve also worked with some doozies. When I started contracting with The Denver Post in 1978, it was still the age of pasting up galleys…and they’d chop off the end of my column when space ran out, without even bothering to find a place to put the period! I eventually trained them to be a little more considerate, but in the mid-’80s I encountered a copy editor who was somewhat, uh, cloistered—no way she should have been weighing in on culture or lifestyle. I reviewed an album by the Sisters of Mercy, a UK band with a somewhat histrionic singer who I compared to Meat Loaf, of “Bat Out of Hell” fame. And it came out in the Post the next day…lowercase! “He sounds like meat loaf (a delicious dinner entrée)”! I saw red for about ten seconds, and then I realized it was actually better!
All of which to say, working with Rizzi—pronounced Riz-ZHAY—is the best part of writing books.)
SunLit: What were the biggest challenges you faced in writing this book?
Brown: I knew a book about Red Rocks had to have high production values, and it’s difficult to publish a budget buster through traditional channels, especially if ROI is expected.
And I got the support of The Love We Bring foundation, headed by Eric Pirritt, the local chief of Live Nation. Concert promoters get a bad rap at times (some of it justified), but Eric is the opposite of the old-school thugs driven by egos and agendas—he’d rather talk about being a good parent and his father’s influence than his assured place in a difficult business. He understood the value of the book and made the creative and production process a lot more palatable.
Also, researching the earliest years of Red Rocks as we know it was daunting, but I could rely on the assistance of George Krieger, a very capable music historian.
SunLit: If you could pick just one thing — a theme, lesson, emotion or realization — that readers would take from this book, what would that be?
Brown: How about an appreciation of the artistry of every photographer, both local and world-renowned, who contributed? No camera phones were allowed. I also combed newspaper morgues, private collections and libraries. My promise was to publish everyone well, and I believe we have.
A shout-out to Kate Glassner Brainerd, my photo editor, art director and project manager who has designed many books for National Geographic. It’s her work that people are responding to, and I owe her the world.
SunLit: Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?
Brown: I write in my home office at the “Brown Palace” in Louisville, which doubles as world headquarters for Colorado Music Experience, a non-profit organization dedicated to music history in general and Colorado music in particular (colomusic.org).
SunLit: Tell us about your next project.
Brown: “On Record” is an award-winning book series chronicling the evolution of popular music from 1978-1998, based on a one-of-a-kind photo archive and my bank of well over 3,000 interviews. “Vol. 4: 1981” and “Vol. 5: 1988” will be published in September; “Vol. 6: 1995” in February 2024. I’ve just finished writing “Vol. 15: 1982.” I’m not as good at decimals or percentages, but I’ve got fractions covered—I’m 5/7ths of the way there!
Quick hits: A quirky collection of questions
SunLit: Do you look forward to the actual work of writing or is it a chore that you dread but must do to achieve good things?
Brown: It would be hard to complain about the work, since I’ve been fortunate enough to craft a career around music, something that touches people’s souls. That said, I enjoy writing, but not as much as having written.
SunLit: What three writers, from any era, can you imagine having over for a great discussion about literature and writing? And why?
Brown: Stan Lee because he helped shape my vocabulary and imagination when a kid; Lester Bangs because he was my hero in the nascent era of rock journalism (and the Guess Who was his favorite band); and John Irving because, at his best (say, “A Prayer for Owen Meany”), there’s no way I could ever be that good.
SunLit: Do you have a favorite quote about writing?
Brown: “Writing is easy. All you have to do is sit down at the typewriter, cut open a vein, and bleed.”—Red Smith
SunLit: What does the current collection of books on your home shelves tell visitors about you?
Brown: That I must be a fast reader.
SunLit: Soundtrack or silence? What’s the audio background that helps you write?
Brown: There are different writing tasks involved with creating this type of book, from research and ordering to cutlines and file coding. For most of them, I’ve got an impossibly wide range of music on in the background. But if it’s rote stuff, it’s usually “Law & Order” reruns.
SunLit: What event, and at what age, convinced you that you wanted to be a writer?
Brown: At age 15, it was apparent that this aspiring drummer wasn’t going to be performing at Red Rocks any time soon, so I channeled my passion for music into writing about it. I rode my bike down to the offices of the Arvada Citizen, part of the Sentinel chain of suburban newspapers in the metro area, and offered a column based on something I’d read in “Stereo Review”—that you could actually clean your vinyl records in warm water and mild detergent if they were dirty . What a smart boy!
But the editor was Mark Wolf, in his first job out of college (he went on to have a fantastic career as a cityside reporter and sports writer for the Rocky Mountain News). I think he simply liked having a kid sit at the foot of his desk so he could spin the yarn about how the Yardbirds had played his senior prom back in the Midwest.
He let me start doing record reviews, and I parlayed my clippings into interview opportunities with Burton Cummings of the aforementioned Guess Who and the great Joe Walsh. At that tender age, if you’re discouraged by anyone on any level, it’s devastating.
But those guys allowed me in, and I’m forever grateful—with the zeal of the newly converted, I figured that I’d like to interview every musician on the planet. And over the course of the next five decades, I kinda did.
SunLit: As an author, what do you most fear?
Brown: Forgetting to hit “save.”
SunLit: Also as an author, what brings you the greatest satisfaction?
Brown: The unflagging support of Bridget, my beautiful bride of 38 years. Ask me a hard one!