Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lou Amella

Interview with Karen Amella and Chuck Spurlock conducted January 2010.

It didn't take Lou Amella too long to realize that he wasn't cut out for a blue collar job.

He worked at the Pueblo Army Depot a few years, but he kept going back to what he loved to do beyond the 40 hours a week grind - making music.

"I took saxophone lessons from Lou in 1944, I was six years old," said Pueblo polka king, Chuck Spurlock. "I did that for about two years, then switched to the accordion--found out I could make more money with it."

"He played the accordion very well, as well as the piano, guitar, and the violin," said Karen Amella, Lou's niece. "I remember when I took violin in school he used to help me with it and he also helped me with the clarinet. For as long as I can remember he was musically inclined."

Born in 1916, Lou was also an avid inventor - always looking for the latest unique creation that no home could do without.

"Uncle Louie made pizza sauce with a guy named Pete Powers at a warehouse down by the Vail Hotel. He also invented the Tricky Twirl, which was a small 15-inch round plastic loop on a chain with a handle that you twirled like a lasso."

Karen was enlisted to make an advertisement for the toy, which was sold locally.

"We also did a commercial for some stilts that he invented," she said. "He also invented some type of ravioli machine, but before he applied for a patent he got drunk and broke it with a sledge hammer. Then he used to make hand lotion in the basement of the house. He did a lot of odd jobs."

In the late 1960s, Lou headed to California, to try his hand at the music industry. While there he recorded several records, including the Cecil B. DeMille, Charlton Heston-inspired "The Lord's Message."

The b-side, "Broadway up in Heaven," revolves around a dream Amella had where famous deceased historical and entertainment (Glenn Miller, Will Rogers, Buddy Holly, Johnny Horton, Hank Williams, George Gershwin, and Al Jolson) figures come together for a single performance.

"I dreamt there was a Broadway up in heaven. A world premiere was lighted by the stars, and everyone who made their home in heaven drove up a star-lit path in golden cars..."

Listen to "Broadway up in Heaven"

Released in 1970, on his own Forta Records, Amella sold the disc throughout Pueblo. It's believed that during his stay in California, he pressed possibly one other single.

"I was a little girl then, but I think he released another record--I'm not sure what happened to that one," said Karen Amella. "There was also one he recorded with a female singer, I think her name was Maria." (NOTE: Possibly referring to Rosa Lopez)

Amella died January 14, 1990.

COMING NEXT POST: Ace Ball - The Pueblo Years

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Norbie Larsen

Interview with Paul “Norbie” Larsen conducted June 2010.

Paul Norbert ("Norbie") Larsen was born and raised in the mining town of Cripple Creek. The year of his birth, in 1936, miners had extracted over half a billion dollars in gold from the nearby Cresson Mines (now known as the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine).

"Dad was a miner, and I worked in the mines when I was in high school," Larsen said. "It was pretty wild back then, but we didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary - miners would get drunk and fight every night. They used to throw silver dollars, and kids would be out there collecting them."

While in high school Larsen would dabble in music, playing with friends, and serenading the cattle on his grandparents' homestead. "It was just something to do, before I joined the Navy."

While serving, he continued to sing, and looked forward to returning home to Cripple Creek, which he eventually did in 1961.

"I got married, had kids, and hit the road playing."

Larsen went on to appear on the last season on Red Foley’s Ozark Jubilee weekly television show. He also added professional rodeo star to his resume. As a Brahma bull and bareback rider, he became a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

In 1962 he saw a help wanted advertisement in the Colorado Springs Gazette. The ad was for The Grand Ole Opry show. Seeing an opportunity to be heard by a national audience, he took his guitar and applied in person.

"The job was actually for a telephone salesman."

Refusing to be denied a chance to play, he told the interviewer that he came with his guitar and wanted to show them his talents.

"He told me to play him a tune - and I got hired on the spot to play at the Colorado Springs stop of the Opry's traveling show."

After the gig, Larsen was invited to stay on, performing with the likes of Loretta Lynn, Marty Robbins, and Sonny James.

Returning home, Larsen booked time at KCMS (later KIIQ) radio, outside of Colorado Springs, to record his first single - a record he envisioned while serving in the Navy.

"I wanted to sing about what I knew - and what I knew about was Cripple Creek," he said.

Listen to "The Legend of Cripple Creek"

Larsen said he recorded a number of singles (unfortunately details were unavailable) throughout his music career, and even dabbled in the movie business.

"I knew this woman, who was a friend of a friend, and they were hiring folks to be in this moving filming in Cañon City," he said.

The movie was Cat Ballou, staring Lee Marvin and Jane Fonda.

Scenes were being filmed at Buckskin Joe's Frontier Town, and Larsen fit the bill as an extra.

"I'm the guy who is milking the cow, and I also appear in some street scenes - I didn't have any lines."

In the early 1980s Larsen was elected mayor of Cripple Creek.

In 1983 Larsen released I'd Rather Be in Colorado, a nine song LP, produced by Jay Angelo (formerly of The Impacs and Lobo). The album was released on the Florida-based Aanco record label.

After spending the next 20 years performing the nightclub circuit, he moved to Cañon City where he works at a nearby rock quarry.

In 2003, he released the CD Colorado Cowboy, also on the Aanco label.