I received a package in the mail the other day.
To my delight, it was the new CD from the Pagosa Springs band Ragwater. I immediately put it on the sound system and turned up the volume. And I assure you, kind reader, that these fine “local” musicians are no small town slouches, but giants in a field of mediocre pretenders; and I’m talkin’ nationwide. I’ve been wearing this CD out and can honestly say that this album of songs is choice, kick-ass Rock’n’Roll – world class!
First, The Review:
“Judgement Day” (Goss)
They started out by punching me in the gut just to get my attention. Instantly I actually felt like dancing – in fact, I got up and shook it several times during the sitting. A surge of energy washed over me that, regrettably, I haven’t felt in a long, long time. I was suddenly very alive without a care in the world. That’s the undeniable power of Rock’n’Roll, children! I knew that my Judgment Day was coming – but not so soon. Ragwater’s “Judgement Day,” like a shot of Jack, is the perfect song to get the party started.
“Be My Rider” (Rapp, Haas)
Who the hell is playing this righteous slide guitar? Could it be Chris Rapp? Damn. And Chris Haas’s voice shines like a highly polished barrel on a cocked .357 Magnum pointed right at the listener’s heart. I’ve known Haas for years and have heard him sing in several bands, but he has finally honed his gravelly voice into a sharp dagger. And he’s writing terrific lyrics these days. Bring it on my man! This number thumps along like a throaty Harley.
“Mountain Top” (Goss, Rapp, Haas & Riojas: Notice the double letters and rhymes?)
A lone mandolin (Glenn Goss) calls the mountain people to order high above the treeline. They chant “go sing it on the mountain top!” Great background vocals with a full cadre of Appalachian singers punching it out. When Miro’s solid drums kick in, the groove is established and never falters. Later in the tune the heady guitar lead fades down to reintroduce the airy mandolin strain over the drums. This is rocking tribal music that makes me want to be a part of the lusty and jubilant tribe. This song – like all the tunes on this hard-driving album – is chock-full of dynamics and musical substance. I’m impressed.
“Shiver” (Rapp, Haas)
From the mountain top down to the river, this CD continues its magical and gratifying sojourn through strange and sometimes awe inspiring territory. The cool guitar and keyboard leads by Chris Rapp take us on a grand tour of this soul-scape created by sophisticated composing and ‘star quality’ performing. I love the sprinkling of female background vocals (Gabriella Beckford & Jameelah Leaundra) like ground Cayenne Pepper spicing up a Hard Rock feast. Very tasty indeed.
“Out Of My Hands” (Goss, Rapp, Haas, Riojas)
Pro drummer Miro LaGioia and talented bassist Rick Riojas set-up a wicked 12/8 groove that is delightfully relentless. (By the way, Miro is the ‘drum tech’ for the world-touring band Morrissey, and is on the road a good part of the time.) The song threads its way through a labyrinth of tricky passages and finally, at the end of the adventure, gets you home safe and sound. Nice work, gentlemen.
“Lately Baby” (Rapp, Goss, Haas, Riojas, LaGioia)
The whole band had a hand in writing this straight-ahead rocker. I really like the choruses with the octaves on the harmony, reminiscent of many Stones songs, as well as the haunting melodies on verses. Solid and raw, this sexy tune rocks me back to the sixties – complete with a nice ‘freak out’ in the middle of the frenzy. I love it. Then there’s a funky break-down with a neat drum solo with trades. Go ahead. Dance your ass off!
“Distraction” (Rapp, Haas)
A nicely crafted song in a minor mode seemingly inspired by the mad ghost of Edgar Allan Poe. Rapp’s honky tonk piano sets a misty mood and prepares the listener for the black magic to come. And there go those sultry sirens singing beautiful arias from Rock’n’Roll heaven. Mr. Haas sings the listener into a weird trance. (Remind me never to drop acid with these guys…)
“That’ll Be Just Fine” (Rapp, Haas)
Rapp and Haas went down to the bones with this one. They’ve written a simple ‘1-4-5’ song with simple lyrics that is simply delicious. Lyrics inspired by the midnight specter of the late, great Jim Morrison. This song is one of my favorites. Its a rocker with clever words and strong, time-tested hooks. A fun song that makes you want to celebrate with lots of wine and women; and maybe – after the show – wreck a motel room.
“24 Years” (Rapp, Goss)
Some more of their novel “tribal music,” bluesy, folksy, and hip all at once. “How did they do that”? Pure, unadulterated genius. That’s how. This tune has a certain stateliness that Chaucer may have imagined, with mead halls and majesty. But nobody rocked like this back in jolly old England, that’s for sure.
“Red Ruby” (Rapp, Goss, Haas, Riojas, LaGioia)
Another favorite. The whole band of sorcerers concocted this little magic potion. But I’m not afraid to drink the Kool-Aid, dude. In fact, I chugged it! They ask, lyrically speaking: “Would you like to fly with me?” Man, I’m flyin’ high right now.
“Help Myself” (Rapp, Haas)
The last song is “right in your face.” Sexual in nature, demanding and raw, it makes me rise to the occasion. I want to dance with the sexiest woman in the place and lose myself in the moment. (Check out the great Hammond B-3 in the background on this tune and others. That’s my pal Ryan McCurry.)
The more one listens to this album of finely crafted tunes, the more one appreciates the intricacies and nuance displayed throughout the whole production. Kudos to engineer Scott “Scooter” Smith for a recording that is both crystal clear and punchy – quite listenable. (Speaking as a drummer myself, the drum mix is excellent!) It is truly a world class accomplishment.
The players of Ragwater are musical warriors with swords drawn, but they bare their hearts openly for all to know.
The other night I met the boys at the Haas practice hall/artist studio where Chris creates his fantastic art pieces. (Another story…)
Since their CD was released, drummer Miro LaGioia has left the group to go on the road with the band Morrissey as their drum tech — and drum phenom Jason Dockter took over the percussion section. It was a smooth transition due to the fact that the boys had all played with Jason, off and on, for years. Miro and Jason have been interchangeable and have played with Rapp and Haas in previous band incarnations: ‘Dixie Wrecked,’ ‘Knucka,’ and ‘Ebeniezer and the Crooked Hookers.’ The band members from another Pagosa group called ‘Faculty X’ — Glenn Goss, Rick Riojas and Jason Dockter — joined Ragwater, with ex-Hookers Haas and Rapp as its nucleus. The end result is a really tight unit.
I asked if the group felt like family.
“Absolutely,” said Haas, “lots of bonding time. Most people don’t have enough time to hang with their [real] brothers but we get together a lot with the band. We do something together that’s rad, that we love to do.” Chris says this with great satisfaction.
“I’ve only been here seven years,” said Rick, “I have friends in town and I can hang out with them, but when I get together with these guys it’s different. We’re creating, and that’s something huge!”
Glenn added: “Everybody brings a special ingredient to the mix, that’s for sure. And I think we got a hold of a monster here. I think we definitely have the right ingredients right now.”
I asked about their real families and everyone but Jason has kids. Chris Rapp has a little tiger named Zen who is going on 8, Chris Haas has little girls, 7 and 3, Rick has an eleven-year-old girl, and get this… Glenn Goss is the proud father of nine children, from 2 to 25!
These forty-somethings have “real” jobs. Haas is an artist and has a show in LA next month; Rapp has a landscaping company and owns the Ski Cabin in the back country; Rick owns two real estate companies under the banner of Next Home; Glenn is a carpenter and works at Wolf Creek Ski Resort in the winters; and my pal Jason owns a busy flooring and tiling company. Their successful companies, jobs and families keep them close to Pagosa Springs both physically and spiritually. I asked about club dates around the area and they showed little interest in bar life. Plus there is a burn-out factor playing in bars week after week – and your fans get burned-out, too. (I’ve done it all my life and I’m ready to retire. Good thing I’m independently wealthy. Not!)
All of the band members moved here from other parts and Chris Haas has been here the same amount of time that I have: 26 years. They would like to do theater concerts in the area and perhaps festivals. That sounds like a decent plan. Ragwater did a radio show at KWUF last month and premiered their brilliant CD. Haas told me that they broke the record of phone-ins from fans calling about CDs. “One guy was in his car driving through town and heard us on the radio. He actually called.”
They had their big CD release party down at Borde Rio a few weeks back. People jammed in to see and to groove to Pagosa’s favorite “underground” band. When these guys perform they take no prisoners and their shows are always over-the-top. On stage the boys are a high energy band of heavily tattooed escapees from a psycho unit – poets with guns and guitars. They turn sound into a weapon. You don’t simply listen to these guys, you experience them. And I swear they are better than a lot of ‘A’ bands that are touring. I believe they are capable of playing anywhere in the world and bringing down the house.
I asked the boys what music genres and recording artists had influenced them.
“My older brother turned me on to Van Halen and Rush, among others,” Haas replied. “My younger brother listened to Hendrix and the Doors, so I like them. I was into Punk Rock, then I got into old school Country. I loved Slayer and Pantera!”
Evidently Rapp was heavily influenced by Zep, Hendrix, and Van Halen. He later told me that he listened to many kinds of music and “liked it all.” Hey, there are only two kinds of music: good and bad.
Glenn Goss: “I was supposed to be a Heavy Metal guitarist, but when I was like fifteen, Mom ruined it all and bought me a f—— acoustic guitar!’” That got a laugh from everyone. “So I’ve been trying to juggle the dichotomy of the woodsy, rustic music like Jethro Tull and this Heavy Metal feel. I kinda have a Celtic feel too.”
Rick grew up in Detroit where his Dad played bass and guitar for the Motown juggernaut driven by Barry Gordy. “By high school I was listening to Maid and Metallica…
it was all heavy. And Slayer, harder stuff like that; Beatles, Doors, the friggin’ Notorious Byrd Brothers.” Does the word eclectic come to mind? “If I was going to church musically, I’d pick Pink Floyd or Tool.” Then they all started singing “Another Brick in the Wall” at the top of their lungs!
I asked about recording at Scooter’s Place in Durango: “We spent at least 14 days of recording, maybe 80 hours, and then all the time we spent recording at Chris Rapp’s 16 track studio,” said Haas. “A lot of tracks were uploaded from the 16-track. And we did the rhythm tracks and final lead vocals at the big studio. [Rapp] even took the 16-track board to Scooters and set it up in another room and recorded stuff while Scooter was recording someone else.”
“We had a system going that was machine-like,” said Rick.
Glenn chimed in: “We create as we record, and fine tune things in the [big] studio. It’s like, ‘now we really need to figure out the ending’”
Chris Haas: “We were about to mix and master “Lately Baby” when Glenn says ‘I have a chorus!’”
“’Lately Baby’ had no chorus but in the studio, Glenn came up with one on the spot. I love that part of the song, and it wasn’t there until the last minute!”
I asked him what they thought about working with Scott “Scooter” Smith. “Scooter was great! He was like the sixth member. He’s like our George Martin. (The Beatles’ producer.) We spent around ten grand on this recording.” They all agreed that online crowdfunding site Kickstarter had been beneficial in channeling money to the project; and that people could feel as if they were a part of the “Cause.”
The band has plans for a video, they’re working on a new website, and will have songs on YouTube. You can purchase CDs on iTunes and CD Baby, and listen to songs on Spotify. And if you want to purchase CDs in Pagosa, just look for Rick – he’s got some lying around in the back of his truck…
I asked where the hell they got the peculiar name. Chris said that his brother Blue had suggested it. It seems to be an old slang phrase for rot-gut booze. Others claim that bartenders would sop up spills of liquor on the bar with a rag and wring it out into glasses. Then they’d resell it. They called it:
You can hear the 11 songs, and purchase them, here at iTunes. The album is also available through CDBaby.