Many years ago I was a clueless college sophomore. I thought The Alarm was going to be bigger than U2. I was wrong on that projection, but of the many musical pathways I’ve followed before or since, I have been most pleasantly surprised by the one that started during that clueless sophomore year: Big Head Todd and The Monsters.
The band arrived at the University of Colorado in the fall of 1983. Rob Squires was the anchor. He lived in the Arnett Hall “Pit” and played bass guitar with a couple buddies from high school who would jam in his room. Rob was the nicest, most unassuming kid you will ever meet. They eventually played gigs all over Colorado, but the first time I saw them outside of Rob’s room was at our danky toga party we threw at Arnett. Our RA got permission for a keg, and we set it up up in the downstairs lounge. We lived in a ten all-male dorm, so we had to beg girls to come to our party. And that was how I remember it – running over to Smith Hall with a pitcher of beer as bait.
The lounge rocked as they took the “stage” under the name TJ & The Twist. The lineup was Rob on bass, Todd Park Mohr on guitar and saxophone, and Brian Nevin on drums. That has remained unchanged for over 30 years. It remains a vivid memory to this day: Todd wrapped in a bed sheet with a guitar and sax slung around his neck. They ripped through what seemed like six songs played over and over for two or three hours. Seriously, they played Shout every 5th song – and we didn’t care.
Within 18 months they landed a regular gig at JJ McCabe’s, a local bar near Pearl Street in downtown Boulder (since closed) where I would stop in to check them out as their following grew. The last time I caught them was with some high school friends during a ski weekend up in Breckenridge around 1985, I think. They were playing a bar – can’t remember the name – and we drove 5 miles through a blizzard to see them. Anyway, we made it to the gig, the three of us: me, Susan, and her brother, Doug. And we were the only ones stupid enough to go out in the blizzard, but we were there with Todd, Rob, and Brian as they jammed and shared pitchers of beer with us while the snow continued to pile up outside.
Fast forward 30 years: Todd is doing a solo tour playing rootical Chicago and delta blues, a homage to The Masters: Hubert Sumlin, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, and of course Robert Johnson. He has dialed back his blistering guitar riffs for a stripped down blues style, but his staccato tempo is still driving the music. He tells a few stories in his Gary Busey-esque twang to introduce his next piece, then drops another chestnut into the fire. I will close with a sample from one of BHTM’s biggest hits, Bittersweet, from May 15, 2014 at The Hamilton Live in Washington, DC: