Big band flair at Evergreen’s Red Ram

Duke Ellington, Count Basie among Black musicians who played here

Deb Hurley Brobst
dbrobst@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 2/24/21

Evergreen has been a destination for live-band enthusiasts for decades — and in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Red Ram in downtown Evergreen was the place to be. The Ram, modeled after the …

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Big band flair at Evergreen’s Red Ram

Duke Ellington, Count Basie among Black musicians who played here

Posted

Evergreen has been a destination for live-band enthusiasts for decades — and in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Red Ram in downtown Evergreen was the place to be.

The Ram, modeled after the famous Red Ram in Georgetown, was located in what is now the Little Bear.

During Black History Month, it was difficult finding historical details about Black families in the foothills — the John Dobbs family that lived on Witter Gulch in the 1900s, some Black cowboys including Herman White — but what stood out was some of the famous Black performers who graced the stage at the Red Ram.

The likes of Duke Ellington and Count Basie and their bands performed in Evergreen, most likely because they had gigs in Denver with a night off, and they could earn a little extra cash, according to Denny Mintle, who owned Evergreen’s Red Ram.

Musically inclined

Music venues have been a mainstay here, with the Little Bear, Cactus Jack’s and other venues continuing to pull in performers to this day. During Evergreen’s resort era from the 1920s to the 1960s, performers entertained audiences at Troutdale in the Pines and other resorts.

In addition, the 20-year-old Evergreen Jazz Festival brings performers from around the country to play traditional jazz. In 2012, Louis Ford and the New Orleans Jazz Flairs, an all-Black jazz band, performed at the festival, and the band is scheduled to return in 2021. And of course, the Queen City Jazz Band’s vocalist is the incomparable Wende Harston.

“Not that we don’t welcome Black performers,” Ed Danielson, Evergreen Jazz Festival music director, said, “but we don’t know of many African Americans who perform early traditional jazz. It’s not intentional, not at all. We would welcome performers of any ethnicity, race or background. The Evergreen Jazz Festival presents a specific kind of early jazz.”

The days of the Red Ram

Mintle took over the space in downtown Evergreen, which had been the Round-Up Bar, and opened Evergreen’s Red Ram in 1966 as it was becoming a chain of bars around the country. He played with his band the Evergreen Dixielanders at the Red Ram, too, so there was live music seven nights a week.

“That’s why people started to come to Evergreen,” Mintle explained. “They knew there would be live music every night.”

In addition to the big-name Black musicians, Mintle said he booked Bobbi Gordon and the Dittyfloat — “Bobbi could really sing” — and Ellington actually broke up the band when he heard Gordon sing at the Red Ram and asked her to join his band, Mintle said.

“Duke was a good guy,” Mintle said. “but he was getting old. His face had a lot of miles on it.”

Having the larger bands, most with 15 members, necessitated a larger stage, so large that those sitting at the bar were practically on the stage, he said.

Count Basie, he said, wasn’t used to playing in venues such as the Red Ram. The first time he walked in, he went up to the piano and played one note. It must have been in tune because he performed there, Mintle said.

Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown also performed at the Red Ram, and videos of his performances around the country are available on YouTube.

Mintle says the Red Ram would be full when Basie, Ellington and more came to play.

“There were quite a few people who liked to dance and liked the music,” Mintle said. “They thought it was pretty neat to have a band up there. Of course, it was pretty close quarters (in the Red Ram). They weren’t sitting back 30 to 40 rows.”

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