Who Is “GunBoats”?

Me & Mickey

Hi!  My real name is Tom Likes.

How did I ever get to the Control Room at Caribou Ranch?

This may look a little long, but I tried to make it interesting, fun, and even amazing by including a lot of relevant links (they all open in a new window), and a lot of great trivia about the Denver music scene in the late 60’s and 70’s. Enjoy!

I think every kid my age was enrolled in piano lessons – whether they wanted to or not. Most kids hated “practicing” the piano. They’d much rather be outside playing cowboys and Indians. Well, I wasn’t much different, except that I actually wanted to learn to play well enough to be able to play whole songs, and I loved it when I could finally play some of the classical pieces that were so beautiful. I was never dilligent enough to become an “accoomplished pianist”, but to this day, I love “tinkling the ivories”

My Dad had loved the Big Band era, and introduced us to Benny Goodman and Glen Miller.  I instantly heard the drummer, Gene Krupa. He blew me away, and I decided I wanted to play drums.  When I was 8 years old, I was old enough to join the grade school band, so I jumped on the opportunity to play the snare drum.

By the time I was in Junior High, I had a few friends who loved music, too, and we wanted to play jazz. Our band director organized a group to learn the Big Band material, and we had a ball. In high school we formed our own small jazz combo. By now, my hero was Joe Morello – drummer extraordinaire with Dave Brubeck. But it was the local rock & roll group that got to play for all the dances. So, we decided if we “couldn’t lick ‘em, we’d join ‘em”. We ordered electric guitars and amps from Sears and “Monkey” Wards”, and began learning to play surfin’ music – The Ventures and The Beach Boys. Then along came The Beatles, and that was all she wrote! We were hooked. Finally we were good enough to play for teen dances and an occasional prom. Then we graduated from High School, and it was off to college.

I found myself smack dab in the middle of the whole Sixties thing because I was in college from 1966 to 1970. Being a musician, naturally I followed the music scene. It seemed like non-stop excitement – concerts, clubs, Beatles, Jimi, Janis – all of it!

A guy named Barry Fey came to Denver to promote bands. The story goes that he couldn’t get anyone to allow The Doors in their concert hall, so he somehow converted one of the big night clubs called The Posh into a 2nd Avalon Ballroom of San Francisco and called it The Family Dog. Inside, the only light was provided by “black lights”, and there were incredible Light Shows on every wall. There was a kind of snack bar where you could buy “food things“. There were no seats. Everyone stood around or sat on the floor, and you could even work your way up to the stage close enough to request songs! I remember asking Pigpen of The Grateful Dead to play Morning Glory.

Here’s the incredible part – these shows only cost $3.50 for the whole evening! Usually there were 3 bands featured. First would be a local Denver area band. Then an up and coming soon-to-be-major-artist. And finally, the main act would play. We saw The Doors, Big Brother and the Holding Company (with an unknown female singer named Janis Joplin), the Buffalo Springfield, Cream, The Box Tops, Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane, Blue Cheer, Sons of Champlin, and on and on..

About that time, my older brother bought a bar (Ths Silver Slipper) in Central City, and I began playing drums again during the summer. After graduation, I was up for the draft, so I opted for the Army Reserves. I continued playing drums until I was called to active duty in 1971. The Army let me go because of my bad eyes, and when I returned to Denver, my brother introduced me to a songwriter/producer named Dik Darnell,  He was currently writing and producing about half of all the radio commercial “jingles” in the Denver area.  He was doing this at a small studio called CommuniCreations, but he had an idea to build a new state of the art recording studio for Denver musicians. He and I formed a partnership, and I began working in the studio. I didn’t know anything about recording, but there were 2 brothers working at CommuniCreations that knew a lot.  Bob Burnham was the engineer, and his brother Al was the electronics maintenance engineer.  We all became good friends, and they taught me everything!

We had a core group of local musicians we used to play all the tracks, and among them were Larry Dunn and Philip Bailey. They were asked to join Earth, Wind, and Fire. One day they were in town between gigs, and wanted to go see the new studio in the mountains called Caribou Ranch. We got an appointment with James William Guercio. James (who later became Jimmy to me), was the owner. (He was also the producer of the group Chicago.) I drove all of us to Nederland in my car to meet him, and I remember he was driving an old WWII Jeep and wearing a pistol. Earth, Wind and Fire did eventually record an album there, which included “Shining Star”.

Meanwhile, back in Denver, we continued to record commercials for local businesses, and demos for various local artists. Among the commercials was the theme song for Frontier Airlines with Glen Yarbrough. And among the demos was Tommy Bolin’s group, Energy. All our plans to build a studio went into a business manager’s pocket, so we decided to form a serious group with our studio musicians, and pursue a recording contract.  A young songwriter living in Boulder had caught Dik’s attention, and we centered the group around his music. His name was Gerard McMahon. We named the group Gerard, and began serious rehearsal. Soon the group began playing at local clubs, etc.  Barry Fey was producing Tommy Bolin now, and they were scheduled to give a big concert for several record companies.  Gerard was asked to perform too.  Well, Jimmy Guercio was there, and he loved the group. He offered us a contract with his new label Caribou Records.

Next thing I knew, we were moving to Nederland to record an album. Jimmy owned a smaller ranch nearby called Forest Lakes, so he let us live there. It had a couple cabins, a dining hall, and a building we turned into a rehearsal room.

During the recording of our album, our electronics whiz kid – Al Burnham (aka “AB Deluxe”) – caught Jimmy’s eye, and was offered a job. When the album was finished, the group was going to go on a promo tour, and Jimmy asked me to join Al and stay at the ranch to maintain the equipment and assist the emgineers in the control room.

That’s how I got to Caribou Ranch!