Denver Bar Association
May 2005
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R & R the Bluegrass Way

by Stacy Chesney

The Secret Life of Dave Little

It took the magic of a Kingston Trio album and Dave Little was hooked. It was 1958 at the University of Denver School of Law.

"I became fascinated with what they were doing. I took up guitar and taught myself from books and records."

From left: Hon. Jack Smith, Glen Booth,
Dave Little, Dr. Jack Rummell, Dave Wood,
Roger Hudiburg, Rich Kuhn and Daryl Hall.

Listening to artists like the Limeliters, Greenbriar Boys, Bill Monroe and Doc Watson, Little took a few years to get the hang of it, and in the late ’60s, got the chance to sit in with a group called the "Denver Grass." Playing a mix of bluegrass, country and folk music, Little has been getting together with musicians ever since, playing weekly for fun, occasionally picking up a few gigs for charity or "beer money."

For Dave, a principal with Montgomery, Little & McGrew, playing music isn’t about balancing the demands of practicing law or finding an outlet for pent-up creative energy. Simply: "It’s something I really enjoy. It’s a challenge."

Little strums his
mandolin for fellow
musician Rich
Kuhn’s daughter,
Jana.
Says wife Paula: "I couldn’t tell you how many years he and this group have been together.
He loves it. It’s his R & R."

While getting together to play bluegrass and country music usually means never knowing exactly who and how many will show up to a given jam session, Little’s current group has a pretty consistent, though eclectic, contingent. Calling themselves "Colorado Country," (at least, Dave says he thinks that’s their name) this crew includes teachers, a racecar driver, Ph.D. intellects, former Judge Jack Smith, a "nursery man" (horticulturist), and engineer — two of
whom are recording artists. Says son Chris: "I call them Renaissance Men. Every one of these guys has talents beyond imagination."

Many play more than one instrument, but you can usually count on at least one guitar, bass, banjo and mandolin to be involved. Little added an instrument to his own repertoire years ago. "I picked up the mandolin when it became apparent we had too many guitars. Somebody had to play the mandolin, so I tried." He says he also dabbled in electric bass back in the day. His skill-level? "To play well is really difficult — and I don’t. We have people in our group who are professional stage-quality, and I’m not one of them."

Don’t let that modest answer fool you. According to Chris, "Any one of them could get on stage with almost any acoustic touring group in the world — that includes my dad."

Modesty seems to be a theme for Little. Did you know he was instrumental (pardon the pun) in founding the Colorado Bluegrass Music Society with Conway Gandy, former judge-turned bluegrass radio host? And that this "informal" organization that vowed it would not host music festivals went on to establish what is now RockyGrass?

About three years after the Colorado Bluegrass Music Society was formed, Bill Monroe — father of bluegrass for you novices out there — contacted CBMS to see if they’d put on a festival, provided he got the bands. The Colorado Rocky Mountain Bluegrass Music Festival was born and thrived for 10 years. It was eventually sold to festival-producer Craig Ferguson, now president of Planet Bluegrass. CBMS, which originated with about 15 people in Dave Little’s basement, has since grown into an organization with hundreds of members.

Today, Little and the rest of "Colorado Country" primarily play private functions. The best opportunity to check out a live performance would be to crash a jam session at Jack Smith’s or Dave Little’s home in the ’burbs, or try to catch Dave at Saturday mass where, according to Paula, "he’s been playing every week for 25 years."

Any chance we’ll see a Dave/Chris Little jam at the DBA’s Annual Party? Says Chris, "The extent of my talent is being able to put bad music on tapes and CDs." Another Little — Chris’ brother Mick — got the musical gene. Apparently one of the premiere banjo players in Colorado, Mick plays fiddle, guitar, mandolin and banjo "superbly well." His band, "Busted Porch," appropriately named after a rowdy party at Chris’ house, has recorded a CD and still plays regularly in Boulder.

Although Dave doesn’t have big plans to seek the limelight when he retires from his legal profession (which probably won’t be any time soon), you can be sure he’ll keep his guitar and mandolin close by his side.


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