Mudcat Café message #3947513 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #64614   Message #3947513
Posted By: Joe Offer
01-Sep-18 - 03:00 PM
Thread Name: 2003 Obit: Walt Conley (Denver, Colorado)
Subject: RE: 2003 Obit: Walt Conley (Denver, Colorado)
The first post had a link to the obituary in the Rocky Mountain News. That link is dead, but here's an archive copy of the obituary at archive.org.

Local folk music pioneer performed, owned club
By Erika Gonzalez, Rocky Mountain News
November 19, 2003

Walt Conley, a founding father of Denver's folk scene who shared local stages with Judy Collins, opened his home to a young Bob Dylan and introduced Denver to the Smothers Brothers, died Sunday. He was 74.

"I've been referred to by some friends as the godfather of folk music. But if I'm the godfather, then (Mr. Conley is) the grandfather," said friend and Swallow Hill Music Association founder Harry Tuft.

Mr. Conley took an unconventional path into the folk world. A graduate of Manual High School, he played football for Northeastern Junior College and served a stint in the Navy during the Korean War. After majoring in theater at Greeley's Colorado State College, he became a schoolteacher. But he'd venture to Denver bars for singing gigs - a sideline that cost Mr. Conley his job.

"Somebody ratted on him," said his wife, Joan Holden. "And at that time, they weren't about to have a bar singer teaching their kids."

The incident forced Mr. Conley to make a living through music. He landed his first professional gig in 1957 at Denver's Windsor Hotel, where he entertained in the hotel's three bars.

He moved on to Little Bohemia, an upscale north Denver club, where he met Judy Collins.

Some friends say that Mr. Conley met a young Bob Dylan (then just Bob Zimmerman) through Collins. It's rumored that on his first visit to town, Dylan crashed on Mr. Conley's couch and later stole a number of Mr. Conley's records.

"One night he just disappeared with several of Walt's albums," confirmed Bob Turner, a longtime friend. "I think Walt felt that when he (Dylan) got big, he could have at least returned a few."

Through the '60s, Mr. Conley served as a regular opener for the Exodus, Denver's leading folk club, and also booked acts at the Satire Club, where the Smothers Brothers made their Denver debut. ("He literally gave them their start in the business here," Turner said.)

When folk faded, Mr. Conley moved to Los Angeles to become an actor. He landed some minor TV roles and lent his voice to a few movies, including The Longest Yard, which features Mr. Conley's fierce grunts during a bruising football game.

In 1984, he returned to Denver and opened his own folk club, Conley's Nostalgia, which enjoyed a three-year run.

Mr. Conley continued to perform, embracing Irish music later in life. Though he retired in 1995, Mr. Conley and his band performed monthly at Aurora's Shea-been Pub.

"He called himself black Irish," laughed Tuft. "He had a great sense of humor."

A celebration of Mr. Conley's life will be at 3 p.m. Nov. 28 at Cameron United Methodist Church, 1600 S. Pearl St.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the American Diabetes Association.

He is survived by Holden; sons Troy Conley, of Denver, and Joel Conder, of Salem, Ore.; daughter Michele Melnick Bond; stepson Robert Holden, of St. Helena, Calif.; and eight grandchildren.