It might seem only logical that the new live album by Big Head Todd & the Monsters was recorded at Red Rocks Amphitheater. After all, Red Rocks is located near the group’s home base of Denver, Colo., and that city is where the veteran band draws its largest concert audiences.
But to hear the group’s frontman, singer/guitarist Todd Park Mohr talk about playing Red Rocks, the group itself would not have expected the storied venue to host a show good enough to be released as a live album.
“Red Rocks is really a tough, tough venue to play. I don’t typically feel that we play well there,” Mohr said.
“It’s a daunting stage,” he said. “You have the audience stacked up on you. So it’s intimidating from that standpoint. It’s usually tough on musicians because of the altitude and the thinness of the air has you gasping, especially for water and especially if you’re coming from low altitude. So that’s a tricky part of it. So our band, because it’s our home town, there are a lot of distractions. It’s sort of like ‘This Is Your Life’ every time we play Red Rocks. It’s all the family and friends that you ever knew are kind of banging on the door.”
Big Head Todd & the Monsters plays the Crown Room at the Crystal Bay Club Casino on Jan. 17.
Last summer, when Big Head Todd & the Monsters prepared for the group’s June 6 Red Rocks show, Mohr was at least able to escape some of the interruptions and distractions that happen when the band plays the Denver area. After sound check, he went home and was able to relax for a few hours before returning to the scenic venue to play the show.
Mohr was able to get in the right head space to play that night, and the other band members – drummer Brian Nevin, bassist Rob Squires and keyboardist Jeremy Lawton – were in the groove as well.
“We just felt that was a special one,” Mohr said of the Red Rocks show. “Everything worked out well for us performance wise that night.”
The group had not planned to make a live album on the 2015 tour. But every Big Head Todd show gets recorded, and after listening back to the Red Rocks show, the band’s manager suggested releasing the recording as a live album.
He didn’t have to twist Mohr’s arm to get him on board with the idea.
“I personally am a fan of live albums and I think our band excels as a live band, so I love any excuse to put out a live album,” he said. “They are my absolute favorite albums to listen to.”
“Live at Red Rocks June 6, 2015” is the third officially released live album from Big Head Todd & The Monsters. It follows “Live Monsters” from 1998 and “Live at the Fillmore” from 2004.
This trio of live releases nicely complements the 10 studio albums the group has released since 1989, the most recent of which is 2014’s excellent “Black Beehive.”
“Live at Red Rocks June 6, 2015” includes songs from several of the studio albums, with the set weighted a bit toward “Black Beehive” (the group was touring in support of that album), and the group’s third album, 1993’s “Sister Sweetly.”
It makes sense that the latter album continues to be featured in the live shows. It produced hit singles in “Broken Hearted Savior,” “Circle” and “Bittersweet” (all of which are performed in the Red Rocks set) and briefly gave Big Head Todd & the Monsters a taste of the rock star life.
While the group went on to enjoy decent success through the 1990s (the 1994 CD “Strategem” and 1997’s “Beautiful World” both went gold), Big Head Todd & the Monsters were never able to muster another major hit single. But the group continued to tour and release albums on a regular basis, building a sizable loyal audience that has given Mohr and his bandmates some stability in their career.
Winter shows feature new material
Mohr said he doesn’t anticipate making a new Big Head Todd & the Monsters studio album this year, but fans will hear new material at the group’s shows this winter, like the Jan. 17 show in Crystal Bay.
Last fall, the group recorded two new songs, “New World Arisin’” and “Wipeout Turn,” that will be released as a single. The crunching, catchy rocker “New World Arisin’ ” is performed on “Live at Red Rocks June 6, 2015” and both tunes found their way into shows during last year’s touring.
“I’m always working on stuff and I have a lot of songs in progress,” Mohr said. “But these two kind of emerged really solidly, and we played them (live) for a year and they became strong songs in our set. People were reacting to them as much or more than our hits.”
The first half of the band’s year will culminate June 11, when the group will return to Red Rocks for its 30th anniversary show, with Dwight Yoakam as the opening act.
Then the group figures to shift gears and do its second album and tour as its blues-based alter ego, the Big Head Blues Club.
The Big Head Blues Club grew out of a 2011 album, “100 Years Of Robert Johnson,” an album on which Big Head Todd & the Monsters collaborated with blues legends David “Honeyboy” Edwards and Huburt Sumlin (long-time guitarist for Howlin’ Wolf) to record fresh interpretations of songs by Delta blues pioneer Robert Johnson.
Edwards and Sumlin, who have both since passed away, also joined the group on the Big Head Blues Club tour to promote that album.
Mohr said he expects to record a second album this summer made up of songs by Willie Dixon, who is widely considered the father of modern Chicago blues. During the 1950s and 1960s, Dixon served as producer, a primary songwriter and house bassist for Chess Records, the seminal Chicago-based blues label that was home to such legends as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson II.
In all, Dixon wrote more than 500 songs, including such cornerstone blues tunes as “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Spoonful,” “Little Red Rooster,” “I’m Ready” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby.”
Mohr said a Big Head Blues Club tour is in the works.
“We’re looking at the fall,” he said. “We’ll have Mud Morganfield (son of Muddy Waters) and Billy Branch (one of today’s leading practitioners of Chicago blues) with us. So that’s going to shape up really nice for us.”
The winter tour
But Mohr’s focus at the moment is the Big Head Todd & the Monsters winter tour. In recent years, the group has often done evening-with shows on its headlining tours, but this winter’s trek will feature Mike Doughty as an opening act.
As a result, Big Head Todd & The Monsters will shorten its show a bit – to a single, still generous two-hour set that will enable the group to cover a healthy portion of its song catalog.
“Every one of our shows we try to make different,” Mohr said. “I try to be as receptive as I can to requests we get through Facebook along with what we’re working on at the time. We’re always trying to learn new material, new songs. I’m always trying to write new songs. So, there’s that part of it. And I’ll look back at the set list that we did in that town last year, and I’ll try to mix it up.”