Why I tracked down the underground folk hero and asked him about his 1978 album, Open Reel
Like many stories, this one starts with a song. We all have a song, don't we? That song, the one which reminds us of our youth, the tune we hear first in our mind when we take ourselves back to high school or college or to the summers in between. For me and my small group of friends growing up in Colorado in the early 1980s, that song was called "Mama, She's a Lady," and the man who wrote and recorded it was named Steve Stajich.
We were all counselors at a summer day camp for kids near Parker, just south of Denver, and we'd all go out in the late afternoons or at night with one another and have a great time. In our cars, or by the camp pool, or at each others' houses, we listened on vinyl or cassette tape, over and over again, until we knew all the words. The album was Stajich's Open Reel, which he had recorded in Denver in 1978. And "Mama, She's a Lady" was the second song of the album.
The second song but not, I should add, the only one we loved. The album is a beautifully constructed and choreographed piece of art. Stajich recorded Open Reel with the clarity of James Taylor, the mournfulness of Johnny Cash, and the verve of Lyle Lovett. But none of us were (or are) music aficionados and, the truth is, we didn't know much about Stajich except that he took risks as a musician, wrote tender verses, and performed stand-up comedy around town.