Sunday Profile: Weatherwax spins from Motown to Vaudeville
The first time you hear whiskey-throated Vid Weatherwax sing is like your first time walking into a smoky, back-alley bar. With a timbre dipped in blues and dripping with soul, it’s a voice that summons old time gravel-slinging singers like Louis Armstrong and Tom Waits while still dispersing its own unique quality.
“I’m definitely a croaker, and not a crooner,” Weatherwax said. “I record lots of my performances — over the years, thousands of songs. I just listen to myself and do my best to sing better … to sing as sincerely and authentically as I can.”
Weatherwax (his real name), a local singer, songwriter, keyboardist, Vaudeville Revue piano player and booking agent, began his musical journey during the groovy ’60s in Jackson, Michigan – just a short cruise down Interstate 94 from the vibe of Detroit and its bastion of soul and R&B — Motown.
“I listened to CKLW — ‘The Big 8,’” Weatherwax said. “White and Black music wasn’t crossing over into radio play yet, but CKLW did, and we could get that.”
In high school, he played in a band that covered The Temptations, and whose lead singer could belt like Marvin Gaye, Jackie Wilson and Smokey Robinson.
“He was the artistic force of the band. So we did a lot of that stuff, but we also crossed over into the Stax repertoire of Sam and Dave and Booker T.
It was a time, Weatherwax said, when every high school had 12-15 good rock ’n’ roll and soul “garage bands.” His own band though, called the Westside Blues Revue, flittered around the edges of fame.
“We were performing with, and opening for Detroit rock ’n’ rollers. We did battle of the bands with Bob Seger and Ted Nugent, and opened up on the same ticket as the Supremes and other Motown people before they were big time,” Weatherwax said. “We also played in the church community world, and at roller skating rinks.”
But as it did for a lot of musicians, the drug culture of the ’60s, and all the bad decisions it spawned, caught up with the Westside Blues Revue.
“Somehow,” Weatherwax said, laughing at the memory, “we decided to change our name to Bird Millman, who was a trapeze artist from the early 1900s and wore one of those full-cover swimsuit type things. Somebody found her on a circus poster.”
But despite its name, the band continued building on its success, opening for Iggy Pop, The Zombies and Three Dog Night before attrition hit them after graduation, Weatherwax said, like it did for many high school buddy bands.
“Some go off to college, some get married, and some realize, ‘we can’t make any money doing this.’”
But Weatherwax did continue making money with music, supplemented by “simultaneous” careers like spinning wax as a DJ for 15 years at radio stations that included broadcasting giant Clear Channel.
“I worked up to a pretty good level, doing news, talk, politics, interviewing senators, congressman, governors, sports figures, and eventually drank my way right back to the bottom,” he said.
A recovering alcoholic, Weatherwax has been sober since February 2003.
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
His “coming to the Roaring Fork Valley” story isn’t far different from others — a drummer buddy from Michigan had moved to Aspen and told him, “you’ve got to come out here!” — except for the part where he was a musician trying to get a toe into an established market.
In June 2010 Weatherwax had four weeks without a booking, so he drove to Aspen and immediately started connecting with some of the local musical icons.
“I met Chris Bank; I met Bobby Mason; I met Lester Price; Dave Harding,” he said. “Bobby and I exchanged original music — talking, recording and hanging out.”
Bank had a four-night-a-week house gig at the St. Regis, and asked Weatherwax to “sit in” with him.
“All I was doing was listening to Chris and playing by ear,” he said. “So we established a relationship, and pretty soon he started having me play with him regularly.”
Weatherwax returned to Michigan in the fall, but came back to Aspen in the winter and summer of 2011. Then on Veteran’s Day of that year, his father — his last tie to Michigan — passed away.
“So I cleaned up all his stuff that happens after someone dies, and I looked around and said ‘I’m moving.’”
Weatherwax found a cheap place to live in Glenwood Springs, and with help from his newfound connections, began scaring up gigs in the valley, wherever he could find them.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours
As Weatherwax’s roots have grown deep into the Roaring Fork Valley, so have his contributions to some of Glenwood’s most popular institutions.
In spring 2016 he’d heard a rumor about the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue’s John Goss having club connections in Vail, so Weatherwax walked into the theater and asked Goss for a reference.
“He said ‘I don’t have any club connections in Vail, who told you that?’ Weatherwax said. “‘But,’ he said, ‘I am looking for a piano player.’”
Weatherwax got the gig, but having never played theater or show tunes, struggled through his first season.
“I sat at the piano 12 hours a day at home, charting the stuff out, trying to get the right keys for everything,” he said. “That first spring I was nervous every night … but that summer show I started getting the hang of it. Now it’s like second nature.”
Goss has gradually given Weatherwax more acting roles in the show, having him play characters like Yogi Berra, a smelly dog, and of course, Louis Armstrong. He also has him filling up the space between skits with dialogue.
“You have to stall for time between the end of a song, blackout, then a spotlight on me to talk for 10 to 20 seconds, and then ‘boom’ I start the next song,” he said.
Shortly after arriving in Glenwood, Weatherwax began pitching to the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool’s management about having live music, poolside, during summer tourist season. They agreed, and the result is Sunset Sounds, a Tuesday night music series in which Weatherwax plays both booking agent and occasional featured performer.
“It’s a challenge because the phone starts ringing off the hook from musicians,” he said. “Word spreads like wildfire around here — ‘There’s a new gig!’
“The hard part is that I want to make it quality, so I bring in some people from out of town that are very good, like The Deltas from L.A. who tour everywhere. So there are politics involved, and I don’t enjoy that part of it.”
Weatherwax has also been charged over the past two summers with choosing the music lineup for the Wednesday night Downtown Market and Music Series.
“We started getting compliments from a lot of people about the music,” he said. “Like we had National Slide Guitar Champion Kraig Kenning, and he blew everybody away.”
Weatherwax still works on his repertoire, and plays occasional gigs at places like the St. Regis and Snowmass Club between seasons at the Vaudeville, and he writes and records songs, as he always has.
“I just want to be helpful, become a better listener, and connect with source,” he said. “That’s what I like about this valley — there’s a lot of people with a lot of skills enjoying the lifestyle here. You just want wherever you are to be purposeful, and there’s a lot of purpose around here.”
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