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The legend of Caribou
Friday, January 25 2008

The Caribou Ranch studios in Nederland opens its gates for the first time in decades.

A rainbow hovers over the barn that was converted into a studio at Caribou Ranch. After a 1985 fire closed the recording studio, some people thought Caribou Ranch shut down. But it remained a working cattle operation where owner Jim Guercio raised his family, kept a low profile and concentrated on other business interests.

Now, some of those businesses are being managed by his children and Guercio is moving back into music with the upcoming reissue of a Dennis Wilson album, Pacific Ocean Blue. The time seemed right to end his silence and reopen the gates to the ranch near Nederland that once hosted artists ranging from Joe Walsh to Elton John, Stephen Stills to Michael Jackson, and produced records that sold in excess of 100 million copies combined.

So on a recent wintry day Guercio, Kenny Passarelli (bassist for Elton and Joe Walsh, among others) and longtime ranch manager John Carsello sat near a crackling blaze in the lodge to recall three decades of music history. Rocky pop music writer Mark Brown spoke with several other musicians, including Walsh and Richie Furay (Buffalo Springfield, Poco), about their memories to fill in this recollection.

In the following are some excerpts of those conversations:

Guercio: Elton would write a whole album in one week and cut it in one week. No distractions, you're set up. That was the whole concept. It bothered me to be pushing the clock, so I never allowed clocks here.

Passarelli: We made those first records and people were listening. Elton John came to Caribou for the Caribou sound - a sound that was like no other sound in the world.

John Carsello: I was showing the band and everybody the control room and you know what Elton said? He goes, 'Is this where (Rick Derringer's) All American Boy was done?' I said yes. He said, 'That's the sound I want.'

Elton John and his band drove down to the Red Barn in Boulder for burgers one day. At the time he was the richest rock star in music history.

Carsello: He said, 'I'm going to go in there and freak them out.' He's got his apple glasses on with the diamond studs. And all the people are freaking out. We were in the parking lot, watching through the window. He came out with two sacks of hamburgers and hot dogs.

Passarelli: In 1975 we took a helicopter to see the Rolling Stones at CSU. Jimmy arranged a helicopter. It was unbelievable.

Elton John joined the Stones onstage for what was supposed to be a song or two.

Guercio: Elton wouldn't get off the stage. (The Stones' road manager said) 'Jimmy, get him off the stage!' (I respond) 'It's Elton John! It's a great piano player.' 'Mick wants him off the stage!'

Carsello: They threw us all out. The road manager came backstage and said, 'Everybody from Elton John's band and the Caribou Ranch, you have to leave!' But we used their limos to go back up here. We pulled through McDonald's on the way back, a limo entourage through McDonald's.

Passarelli: That piano in the other room - Elton wrote the entire Rock of the Westies album in nine days. He sat with the lyric pages at that piano.

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