Dusty Drapes & the Dusters: Legends back in the saddle

Get on out and have some fun!

Dusty Drapes & the Dusters reunion concerts
Thursday, Oct. 10, 7:30 p.m.
Nissi’s, 2675 N. Park Drive, Lafayette
Tickets: $20-$22

Saturday, Oct. 12, 7 p.m.
American Legion Hall, 4760 N. 28th St., Boulder
$18-$20, available only at the American Legion Hall
Info: 303-442-9551

Legendary Boulder band returning to the stage
By Mark Collins For the Camera

Kathryn Keller was working her way through the University of Colorado as a waitress at Shannon’s, the former bar on the west end of Pearl Street, the first time she saw Dusty Drapes & the Dusters. That was 1973, and the group was playing weekends as the house band at the popular downtown bar.

Even before the Dusters played a note, anyone could see they were different. In an era of long hair and long musical jams, Dusty and the crew wore pressed shirts and cowboy hats and picked and grinned their way through sets filled with to-the-point honky tonk tunes and western swing music.

“If you were rebellious, as we all were, you did not listen to country music,” Keller said. “You listened to hippy rock ‘n’ roll. So it was so radical for them to do that.”

The band’s look and sound was radical, but its members were excellent players, and they quickly gained a reputation as one of the best bands around.

“They played everywhere,” Keller said. “They were the hardest-working band in town. If you lived in Boulder between 1972 and 1980 and you liked to dance and go out, you couldn’t miss them.”

Several members of the early Dusty Drapes & the Dusters lineup will convene in Colorado for a couple of performances next week. They’ll play Nissi’s in Lafayette on Thursday and the American Legion Hall in Boulder on Oct. 12.
“We just want to come out and see our friends and play for our fans,” Steve Swenson, aka frontman Dusty Drapes, said from his current home in Minnesota.

Original or early band members Swenson, Dan McCorison, Eugene Smith, Lonesome Rolan and Rick Schmidt will perform.
McCorison had recently moved to Boulder and was living in a one-room former schoolhouse in the foothills above town when he, guitarist Don DeBacker and Swenson formed Dusty Drapes. Even in their early 20s, they were veteran musicians — Swenson had been a session bass player and played on Danny Holien’s minor hit record “Colorado.” Originally, they wanted to get some songs together, play ski resorts and try to cobble together a living.

After seeing a slick country outfit play, McCorison recalled recently, the band decided to give that genre a go.
“We all went and got short haircuts and white shirts and matching Dacron slacks with creases in them,” McCorison said from his Arizona home. “It wasn’t long before people caught on to the joke. We had been long-haired, pot-smoking hippies.”
The music scene in Boulder in the 1970s was hopping, filled with talented players and busy venues.

“You could play for weeks at a time and never leave Boulder,” McCorison said. “You’d just move from one place to the next.”
The Dusters and others played long-gone clubs such as Shannon’s, the Skunk Creek Inn, Olympic Lounge, Good Earth and Art’s Bar and Grill. Dusters shows at Peggy’s Hi-Lo, at the south end of the Diagonal Highway, were legendary.

“Dusty obviously watched a lot of cowboy movies,” Peter Rodman, a radio personality and music journalist during the era, said from his current home in Nashville, Tenn. “What Dusty had that nobody had in Boulder back then was he knew how to play a character on stage.”

Swenson said the band toyed with a handful of names before landing on Dusty Drapes & the Dusters. “I knew all the words to all the songs and I was the frontman, so I became Dusty,” he said.

While the band started with rudimentary country tunes, it eventually graduated to sophisticated music — western swing — covering songs by the likes of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. But it was always the lighthearted stage shows that earned fans’ praise.
In the 1970s, Boulder was a mecca for Eastern spiritual movements of various kinds, including one that practiced a “godhead” chant. So the Dusters incorporated their own version of the notion — cowhead, instead of godhead — into some of their shows. Audiences would chant “moo” instead of the Buddhist “om,” McCorison recalled, laughing.

“They were serious musicians who made you feel giddy,” Rodman said.

The band opened for the likes of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Linda Ronstadt, Commander Cody and others, and it headlined at Southern California musical landmarks such as The Troubadour, Whiskey A Go Go and the Palomino Club. Columbia Records signed the Dusters to a deal in 1974, but the label didn’t get behind the band, and the record went nowhere. In 1984, the Dusters parted ways.

Various members have regrouped occasionally through the years, but it’s been almost a decade since they played together, Swenson said.

Keller expects the Dusters to capture their magic when they put on the pressed shirts and cowboy hats and plug in the amps again.
“It was the most fun that we ever had,” she said.

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