I am not bullshitting. Mr. Tree and the Wingnuts were fantastic. Fifteen years after we called it quits, that band is still the band by which I measure the greatness of music.
I remember our first rehearsal, in July of 1997. For the past year, I'd been talking Shawn's ear off about Mr. Tree and I'd been talking Mr. Tree's ear off about Shawn. And now Mr. Tree had finally returned home from Japan, where he'd been teaching English and reading Jack Kerouac, and we were finally all together in the living room of the Circle A Ranch at 34th and Lawrence. The plan was simple: play rockabilly. But first we had to like each other.
As we were counting in the first song ("Sittin' on a bench with my best friend, Sally...") Mr. Tree said to Shawn Fourron, "What the fuck's up with your hair?" Shawn replied by throwing an apple at Mr. Tree.
Mr. Tree and the Wingnuts never really played rockabilly. I'm fairly certain that I was the only person in the band who liked rockabilly, and that was mostly because rockabilly was cool at the time. Shawn was into jazz, Latin jazz, things with vibraphones. Mr. Tree was into puns.
So how was it that, after only one gig (August 30, 1997, Soapy Smith's, opening for Whirling Dervish), we were one of Denver's most celebrated rockabilly bands? Nepotism, same as everyone else. I worked at a record store, Twist and Shout, and a couple of my coworkers, who may or may not have seen that first show, happened to be on the voting board for the Westword's Annual Denver Music Popularity Contest. With absolutely no qualifications, we made it to the ballot for the rockabilly category and our career was off.
We played every goddamned week, anywhere anyone would have us. We put out a monthly newsletter that we mailed to the forty people on our mailing list, and all forty of those people showed up to every single show. We were all young then, and nobody thought twice about going to a Lakewood football field for a 24-hour walkathon for a half-hour Wingnuts' set at 3:45 am. And also we were an incredible live band. We played fast and stupid. There ain't much recorded evidence of this greatness (see the collection of songs here if you don't believe me), but dear God, we were good. I remember gig after gig, covered in sweat, rolling on the floor, blood spurting from my right index finger, Tree and Fourron and Shupe chugging, hitting the breaks, people throwing spitballs at us, pure adrenalized joy.
You request a song, we'll play it. You want Mr. Tree dress up in Xmas lights while we serenade him with "Oh, Mr. Tree"? Done. You want Fourron to shake up a bottle and spray beer on a one-legged photographer? Done. You want Matt Shupe (who joined a few months before we called it quits) to put together a Halloween medley, and give away homemade wingnut earrings? Duh.
The Wingnuts predate the actual Sparky the Dog recording studio. Our first EP was pretty good, recorded live in a warehouse. Our second EP, recorded in Shawn's basement, was pretty shitty, but that was because we accidentally erased all our tracks with a table saw, and so we had to re-record the entire thing in two hours.
Eventually, things went to hell, as they always do. Shawn was the first to flee, for a a job drumming with Devotchka, changed his stage name from Fourron to King (he was born a Gilbert), no looking back from that one. Then I was invited to play with Marty Jones and the Pork Boilin' Po' Boys, an opportunity I leapt at, and then, one year later, leapt out of. Mr. Tree and Matt drifted into Sunsettler, Matt eventually landing with The Denver Gentlemen MK II. And that was the end of Mr. Tree and the Wingnuts.
Except for one final show in the summer of 2002. It was an engagement party for Ari and Angie, and they paid us for it, so we took the gig even though we (Mr. Tree and the Wingnuts) hadn't seen each other in months. For two hours we churned out our old classics, improvised nonsense songs, played our Doors medley.
Ari and Angie called off the wedding a few weeks later.
Mr. Tree and the Wingnuts never played live again.
released June 1, 2001
Mr. Tree: bass, vocals
Soapy Argyle: vocals, guitar, tenor sax
Shawn Fourron: drums, vocals
Matt Shupe: guitar, banjo, vocals (tracks 7-9)
Special guest: Erin Cisney plays organ (track 4) and piano (track 6)
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