Chasing Windmills

Boulder’s Ted Thacker Reinvents Himself.

When I first heard Ted Thacker’s music in the late 1980s, I thought it was shit. Ted’s band at that time, Baldo Rex, played a simplistic form of post punk that never grabbed me. Too plinky-plunky. Too bouncy. Too irreverent. I was serious about the music I listened to. Ted was having a laugh. Fast-forward 36 years, and I’m Ted’s biggest fan.

He won me over completely with his first solo album—2017’s The (K)night of the Sorrowful Face. And as we all hunker down during the coronavirus pandemic, Thacker is finishing up his next solo effort, Judy. From the material I’ve heard so far, this album promises to be as good as his first.

It’s been a long trajectory for the 53-year-old. Thacker grew up in Boulder and gained his first real success in the 1980s with an ever-evolving lineup of mostly Boulder-based musicians. A core group of them moved to Boston, coalesced around the name Baldo Rex, and returned to Colorado in 1991. They put out albums and attracted a wider following and played venues like Boulder’s Penny Lane (now Hi-Dive) and the Lion’s Lair in Denver. Their ethos followed the punk rock maxim of: “We’re all in this together, let’s help each other. And, while we’re at it, let’s really smash the place up!”

By the early 2000s, Thacker was essentially out of the music business, and in over the ensuing years became a television videographer and sound operator for shows like The Deadliest Catch, Biggest Loser, and Trading Spaces. He started embracing life as a television production professional and, eventually, as a husband and father.

Finally, he began experimenting again. He started pulling together words and melodies that are instantly hummable, instantly loveable because they are so catchy.

The result in 2017 was The (K)night of the Sorrowful Face, named in honor of Don Quixote (and credited to The Red Tack, an anagram of Thacker’s name). “I was reading that book when I was making the album,” Thacker says. “And I thought, that’s me. All the stupid shit he does and stuff that he believes is real. I am so aimed at the wrong thing all the time.”

Thacker cites Joe Strummer, Elvis Costello, Prince, David Bowie, and Bob Dylan as inspirations, but he reserves his greatest praise for Sly Stone. “I have no country influence whatsoever,” Thacker says.

That’s quite a statement if you’ve heard The (K)night of the Sorrowful Face. It sounds a bit like the best of the poppiest country music of the 1960s. In a contemporary way, Thacker explores isolation, depression, loss, and grief. And with Thacker, there’s always an edge. His voice is deeper, darker than pop country. He plops in shrill whistling, odd-sounding grunts, guitar feedback, dreamy organ, howls, shrill whistling on top of the other shrill whistling—you name it. It reminds me of Tom Waits’ Nighthawks at the Diner.

Thacker plays every instrument on the album. One of the gems here is “Heartache.” According to Thacker, the idea came from a television producer while they werwe waiting in a van: “We were listening to a country song on the radio. And he said, ‘Hey, why don’t you write a song about a factory worker and instead of making shoes or something, he’s making heartache? I took that challenge and wrote the song in about 20 minutes. It’s such a great idea. It just wrote itself.”

Then there’s “The Ballad of Slim Cessna.” Only a true Colorado musician or music lover could understand the importance of honoring the great man of the genre in such a beautiful way. There’s are also homages to Neil Young, Johnny Rotten, and others.

His new album, Judy, is in the birthing stage, but it’s butting heads with the coronavirus pandemic. As usual, Thacker has pulled together a line-up of diverse Colorado and elsewhere musicians. Drummers John Call, Dave Willey, Billy Pigati, and Jeffrey Mince (who tours with Nina Hagen) appear on the album. Alanis Morissette’s bass player Cedric Lemoyne sits in. Tom Hagerman and Shawn King from Devotchka also appear on the album, as does Boulder musician Grant Rieder. It’s going to be a feast for the ears.

“It’s almost finished,” Thacker says. “We’ve been trying to record remotely, but it’s not working. Maybe when all this virus stuff is over, we’ll be able to connect. It’s just so hard trying to do this stuff that’s not face to face.”

To support the production of Judy, go to: bit.ly/2W6e5zc.

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