(Sam Kortnicki, Nick Carranco, Toby Nuanes, Zeke DeLeon, Marc Gonzales, Phil Tamez)
I joined the Brass Monkey sometime in 1971. I had just left a band called Genesis with the Cordova brothers; Gil and Bino, Eddie Gallegos, Nick Garcia and Charlie Vigil. At that time the Monkey was playing at the Knight Club on Pecos. The band was already very popular and had a following and was alternating between the Knight Club and Aloha Valley Beach on North Federal. After about a month our guitar player, Danny Lubiani left the band on short notice. I called my cousin Nick, who just got back from a road trip in Arizona with Chris Morgan and was playing at Mr. Luckys in Glendale. With one day’s practice he joined the band and was to stay in the group over 10 years. So now we seemed to have the right combination of players: Nick Carranco on guitar, Phil Tamez on drums, Sam Kortnicki on trumpet, Toby Nuanes on Saxophone, myself on bass and Zeke DeLeon on lead vocals. Sam went to Metro College School of Music and prided himself in being able to hit a high D, his idol at the time was Maynard Ferguson. I was also going to school at the University of Colorado at Denver and later obtained a music degree in 1977. Toby played flute, alto sax and tenor sax. His tenor was a rare instrument called the Selmer Varitone, which had a built in pickup and an amplifier that effectively created octaves when he played. Phil and I seemed to be meant for each other as our steady groove was well known. Nick was known for his screamin’ solos, very reminiscent of Carlos Santana. Zeke DeLeon was the lead singer of the Brass Monkey and the centerpiece of the group. The DeLeons were well known in west Denver and a family of musicians. Zeke’s father was a trumpet player and highly thought of in his time, and Zeke’s brothers also had their own group as well as playing with other musicians throughout the 70s to present day. Zeke’s son John carries on the family tradition and heads a group as lead singer and trumpet player today. Zeke had a charisma and voice that appealed to so many people during the 70s, everyone wanted to be around him and his popularity seemed to mushroom and was key to the popularity of the group. He was statuesque, charming and had a smile that just made people like him. The combination of Zeke’s voice, our tight 3 piece rhythm section, and the strong horn section are what made the Brass Monkey sound. Throughout most of our time we didn’t have a keyboard player which was unusual but it didn’t seem to hurt us.
Aloha Valley Beach was a fantastic club off of North Federal on the edge of a lake. During the summer in between sets everyone would go out to the patio next to the water, smoke pot and enjoy a very cool and romantic setting. I think this was one of the better clubs to play during that time. We also took a number of short road trips to Pueblo and Utah and played at the Godfather club in Colorado Springs, and an outdoor concert in Walsenburg with a band called Canary.
(A photo with Danny still in the group, taken in Southern Colorado when we played with Canary)
Before long our popularity seemed to take off and we were offered the house gig at the Coach & Two on West Mississippi owned by Nate Feld. We were hired to replace Chocolate Hair who had just signed with Liberty Records becoming Sugarloaf. The Club was in the basement with the bandstand behind the bar and was packed five nights a week. Soon Nate figured out how he could make more money by having after hours. He would close the club at 1:30AM, kick everyone out and then let them back in with a second cover charge. We were now doing 7 sets a night ending at 4:00AM, and afterwards would go to the after/after hours clubs by Five Points to drink and jam some more.
Our popularity was primarily with the Hispanic crowd although our music did seem to have a broader appeal. We had a very full sound without keyboards, and although we did primarily cover songs we were different as our choice of songs was more esoteric. Our music was a combination of Afro/Latin/Funk rhythms with strong horns. While most bands at the time were doing Chicago, Ohio Players, Earth Wind and Fire, Kool and the Gang, and Tower of Power, we were playing these groups along with other little known groups such as the Cymande, Sapo, Mandrill, and Osibisa. We were a five piece for a couple of years and then added a third horn, Mark McConnel who played trumpet, trombone, congas, harmonica and sang. Mark was a very talented guy, but unfortunately troubled. He died young from a drug overdose and was in and out of the band over the next year or two. In the mid-seventies we added a keyboard player named Paul Carbajal, and a congo player, Eddie Lewis, and Toby was replaced on sax by Joe Lopez.
(November 26 & 27, 1973)
Nate decided to bring some name acts to play with us such as Jorge Santana’s group Malo. Malo did two nights with us just before the release of their album Ascension and they had just added the legendary L.A. singer Willie G (Garcia). They were all very down to earth and accessible, especially Jorge. He was obviously more laid back then his brother Carlos. During this time other promoters such as the Archuleta Brothers were putting on concerts in outdoor venues such as the Adams County Fairgrounds and indoors at the Indian center. We played twice with El Chicano and also with Azteca.
(October 15, 1973)
As our popularity grew so did opportunities. Nate Feld’s cousin Barry Fey had been instrumental in opening doors for Chocolate Hair and had come to see us a number of times at the Coach. He told us to write some original music and he would give us the opportunity to open for some of the big name acts he was bringing to town. We wrote a few songs but it seemed to be a struggle, and whereas we had a tight unique sound we were not able to translate that into original music. If we had hired professional management and been able to find a good songwriter/arranger we would have been able to obtain a record contract. Having a large following playing cover music, and having a great sound was not good enough, so we went along going nowhere.
After a few years Toby left the band and Joe Lopez took over on sax and we went through other personnel changes. Later we had a house gig at Gino’s on South Broadway, then the Turning Point in East Denver. I could see there was no future and decided to seek out musicians who were into writing original music and decided to leave the band. I moved on in 1976 to the band Cheeks, and later East Broadway Rundown. Although both of these bands wrote original music and were quite good in their own right, neither had the popularity and charisma of the Brass Monkey. I miss those days in many ways and am still very close to all the guys in this band, and still play with my cousin Nick today.
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