"Bob Ferbrache is unquestionably the most important figure in Denver music history." - TownCraft
When I was a wee lad of 14 my mother took a job with Feyline, a Denver-based concert promoter that back in the 70's competed only with Bill Graham for top of the heap in the business. One of the office assistants at Feyline was an awkward, bushy-haired, 19 year old named Bob Ferbrache, but everyone just called him, "Bob, el hombre de dia" - Bob, the Day Man.
Bob was used for various and sundry activities. He would run errands, pick up people at the airport, deliver dope - pretty much anything that needed to be done. One of his frequent responsibilities was to pick me up from after-school activities when my mother couldn't get away. We also hung out a lot at concerts. Bob usually carried his camera, photographing many of the artists he knew on a first name basis. He had a certain cachet of oddness, coupled with a non-chalant sense of discretion that made him welcome amongst the musicians (most of them huge stars) of that era.
Bob was also a character. At a concert once, out of the blue, he leaned over and shouted into my ear over the music, "I'm wearing my girlfriend's panties and they feel great!" That was Bob. He revelled in his strangeness. He liked nothing more than the look of shock he could produce on others' faces. Bob used to slip into banks, pull a blank deposit slip out of the pile on the counter and write, "this is a stickup" on the back. Then he would slip it back into the pile. He was a merry prankster if there ever was on. He was unlike anyone I had ever met, and unlike any I've known since. To a 14 year old boy he was both admirable and a little fearsome. I liked him very much.
Bob would often plug into the sound board during shows and record them. His collection of live tapes was phenomenal and, combined with his photographs, those tapes have been used to document many artists of that time. His collection was fundamental to the archiving of the late Tommy Bolin's short career.
Not long after I met Bob, he and a friend who had recently graduated from high school in Boulder formed a band called The Healers. They have been described as not just the weirdest band in town, but the weirdest band in the world at the time - think Throbbing Gristle. That friend from Boulder was Eric Boucher, later and better known as Jello Biafra. He and Bob developed a deep, lifelong friendship. One of my favorite photos was taken by Bob of Jello back then - Jello leans with one hand on the wall of a filthy bathroom stall, staring down at the camera below as he urinates.
Bob in The Disasters, February 1980
After my mother parted ways with Feyline, Bob and I kept in touch off and on. He would stop by the house with his guitar and pignose amp to play his latest song...
Dying Tito lies in state
his rotting limbs falling off
one by one.
...or share a new story - usually absurd or bizarre - and told to create the most freaked out reaction in his listeners.
Soul Merchants - Bob second from left
Eventually I went off to college and Bob went his own way. He recorded seminal Denver punk bands in the late 70's/early 80's (Frantix - My Dad's A Fuckin Alcoholic, The Fluid - Punch 'n Judy.) He founded legendary local bands (Human Head Transplant, Soul Merchants.) He took a job as a delivery driver for a geology firm and though he had no training he eventually became a geologist for them, supplanting guys with actual degrees. He earned two degrees himself (one in mathematics, one in electronics). He moved to Seattle and joined the art-noise ensemble, The Haters. He took a job in Egypt where he repaired ancient government computer equipment. He wandered. At one point he even went to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris to get a DAT sample of every single key on the pipe organ there. Eventually though, in the early 90's, Bob returned to Denver.
Soon after his return he took in a show by 16 Horsepower and was blown away. He wanted to join them; he did. He wanted to record them; he did. He re-opened his recording studio, Absinthe, and jumped back in with both feet, recording many up and coming acts, engineering or producing them.
In 94 he collaborated with Michael Moynihan to form Blood Axis and produce The Gospel of Inhumanity (see below), a mixture of music by Bach and Wagner, movie samples, screams, and poetry by Nietsche and Pound. Atmospheric and eerie, it also featured a jailhouse interview with Charles Manson that Bob recorded as Moynihan spoke with him on the phone. When I first heard the record it just seemed so Bob. I could almost hear him snickering in the background, A masterful success in freak out. The death threats that followed the tour, the denunciations of the recording's fascism, the praise from the Nazi skin rag, Resistance ("a fascist symphony") - all up Bob's laughing alley.
In his sparetime Bob collected Carpenters memorabilia (more than a thousand of their singles) and spoke often of the perfection of their recordings, as well as those of ABBA. He also amassed a collection of German and Latvian microphones in addition to his impressive store of collectible candy dishes. Bob remained Bob.
He continued to record and support underground acts from his studio, located in the basement of his mother's house. A Denver paper recently ranked the indie and underground bands in the region. Of the top 10 on the list, Bob has worked with 8. His name (or sometimes his moniker, "Big Bad Bob") on a record credit can actually influence sales. His work with David Eugene Edwards on Woven Hand has become legend and deservedly so.
He has been sought out and obsessed over by the likes of Peter Buck and Thurston Moore. Despite his growing reputation, he remains firmly seated in Denver. Of late he has recorded the intriguingly throwback Paper Bird, and the tape-looping cellist, Ian Cooke (see addendum).
It is Bob's work in the gestation of a new Denver music scene that has finally focused national attention on him. Some of the bands he's worked with - Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Munly & the Lee Lewis Harlots, Devotchka, Kalamath Brothers, Denver Gentlemen, The Swayback - comprise a new genre that Jello Biafra describes as "absolutely bizarre for Colorado" (Munly, Slim Cessna and Bob's new band, Tarantella are all on Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label.) "American Gothic" is the label that's been slapped on this new genre, but whatever it is, Bob is its "crown jewel," according to one Denver musician, "the patron saint of the Denver music scene."
"Besides overseeing early recordings by acts like grunge godfathers the Fluid, local producer Bob Ferbrache deserves kudos for capturing the goth-inflected 'Denver Sound.' Bands such as 16 Horsepower and Woven Hand have waxed their scorched-earth Americana at Ferbrache's Absinthe Studio." - Spin Magazine
Denver's music right now is the next step in what alt-country will become and, much as Seattle was with grunge and Omaha was for Emo, the old cowtown is fast becoming a mecca for pilgrims of American Gothic. And at its center El Hombre de Dia is pulling the strings and turning the knobs.
Bob, the Day Man, at age 53, is comfortably ensconced in a perfect sandbox of his own creation. How many of us peak after 50? And how many of us can remain so childlike at the same time?
As Bob once said, "You're only young once, but you can be immature forever."
Blood Axis - The Gospel of Inhumanity
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Added this recent and rather mind-blowing piece from the Denver Scene featuring Ian Cooke. As you might have guessed, Bob did the audio for this recording as well.