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Slim Cessna Comes Home

Slim Cessna is the godfather of "The Denver Sound."

Slim Cessna's Auto Club is a band that's as uniquely Denver as the boot or the omelet.

From right to left, Slim Cessna, Munly and Lord Dwight Pentacost.

Slim Cessna cleans up pretty good.

Slim and Dwight are thirsty for more at the old  404.

After more than a decade back East, Slim Cessna is living in Denver, where he started his eponymous band, Slim Cessna's Auto Club, in 1992. The city is glad to have him back in its arms once again.
Slim Cessna's Auto Club is a band that's as uniquely Denver as the boot or the omelet, but its namesake vocalist hasn't always called the city home.

After about 15 years of living elsewhere, Slim Cessna and his guitarist, Lord Dwight Pentacost, are Denver residents once again, reinvigorating a band that's now old enough to drink legally.

Over the years, the Auto Club has seen as much change as Denver has, evolving into a band with two frontmen -- Slim and his gaunt confidant, Munly -- and mutating from a somewhat traditional country band into its own singular animal.

It's easy to casually pigeonhole the Auto Club as an alternative country band, but it's more than that. The band has shared the stage with Johnny Cash, Primus, The Violent Femmes and Reverend Horton Heat, offering a hint to the Auto Club's diversity.

Slim himself describes the band as akin to the insatiable alien plant in Little Shop of Horrors. "I think the Auto Club is almost like a living, breathing organism that has its own life and we're there to feed it," Slim says.

And they feed it well, serving it meals of Americana, country and traditional folk music cooked up in an era when songs were as likely to be about ghosts, gods, devils and coal mines as love lost.

In appearance and sound, they're the band at a Baptist tent revival, or a circus sideshow -- or maybe a mashup of both. The Auto Club manages to be somber, silly apocalyptic and outrageously entertaining at the same time. An Auto Club show is a quasi-religious experience with hands raised in praise of music as Slim and Munly sing, shuck and jive like turn-of-the-century preachers bringing the word to a Dust Bowl community.

Back where it all began

While Slim was living in Rhode Island and Pittsburgh and Dwight in Chicago and Boston, the Auto Club would still get together to tour throughout the year. Now that the pair are again living in Denver, the dynamic has changed.

"It's nice to be back," Slim says over beers at Brendan's Pub -- formerly Club 404 -- on Broadway with Dwight. Being back in Denver is making it easier for the band to meet, plan and deal with the business of being a band, he explains. "The band has always been based here even though we didn't live here. It's good. I think we can get some better, maybe faster work done here."

The Auto Club has some new things in the works and both Dwight and Slim are working on other projects like DBUK (formerly Denver Broncos UK) and both have joined Munly & The Lupercalians. Dwight and Slim are debuting as part of a two-night New Year's Eve stint at Summit Music Hall that the Auto Club is headlining. They'll be joined by Wovenhand both nights. DBUK will play Dec. 30 and Munly & The Lupercalians will play Dec. 31.

While the Auto Club has played with Wovenhand frontman David Eugene Edwards' former band 16 Horsepower, "These will be the very first shows we've played with Wovenhand," says Slim. "We're very much looking forward to it. There is history with the Auto Club and Wovenhand as far as friendships going back to the '80s as teenage friends. But we've never played a show together."  

A lot has changed since the Auto Club launched. Club 404 -- one of Slim's favorite dives in Denver and mentioned in the early Auto Club song "Kristin and Billy" -- is now a much different bar. "They didn't have bands at 404," Slim drawls, his gold tooth making a rare appearance off stage. "This was more of a restaurant and dive bar." It was known for its steaks, which Slim recounts weren't all that good, but they were cheap.

"There's always been a great music scene here," Slim says. But it's changed as Denver's become more than a dusty cowtown on the crossroads of two major highways. "Local shows would outdo the national touring shows," he says. "One of the reasons local bands did so well is that not a lot bands were coming in. So people were going to see local shows. I don't think that's the case anymore because there's now many major state-of-the art venues here."

Now the city seemingly has venues around every corner, and new ones opening at a pace that makes one wonder if a bust won't start as the dust settles from the boom.

It's a microcosm of the change that Slim sees across Denver. "There are so many more people here than there used to be. It was much more of a ghost town," he says. "There are a lot more bands and a lot more clubs. If you go back 22 years ago, there were very few places to play."

Back then, The Fillmore was Mammoth Gardens, the 15th Street Tavern wasn't a parking lot, bands playing at the Lion's Lair -- immortalized in the Auto Club's "Last Song About Satan" -- didn't have a stage so much as a space behind the bar, and drummers played on a piece of plywood over a booth. The 404 certainly didn't have live music -- or even a TV, Slim says.

The boom adds up to more opportunity for musicians in Denver, says Slim. "I think that we've actually benefited from that, just by the volume of people we can reach," he explains.

While the local music scene is thriving in Denver, Slim says it's difficult to say whether more bands are gaining national traction, but it's an ongoing debate. "People used to say that in the '90s," Slim says. "The Auto Club actually had major record label interest in the '90s and a lot of it. There was always talk that the 'Denver Sound' was the next big thing, and 16 Horsepower had signed to A&M Records, and articles were written with that same question in mind -- and that didn't really happen."

A special breedSlim Cessna's Auto Club is a band that's as uniquely Denver as the boot or the omelet.

Regardless, the Auto Club was never aiming for Top 40 radio and has been releasing albums on Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles Records since 2000.

Slim describes the decidedly off-kilter label as a good fit. "I think the Auto Club and the music we make, there
's a very limited number of people in the world that I think are going to hear it or understand it if they do hear it," Slim contends. "That's not to say people that hear it are smarter or better than those that don't understand or pay attention, but there are certain kinds of people who do explore and don't want to listen to what everyone else is listening to."

Slim equates Auto Club listeners to his own search for music when he was younger. "I wasn't interested in what was on MTV," he says. He'd go to the record store and pour through the imports and read fanzines to find new music. Now people can find new music on the Internet, but Slim maintains "it's still a certain person that's going to do it."

The band has its following of fans who love to 'get some Slim,' as they chant at shows, and it tours the U.S. as well as Europe, though Slim notes that it took them nine years of trying to cross the pond for the first time. Since then, Slim and company have gone back a number of times and released a DVD overseas that they plan to release stateside in 2015.

Looking to 2015, expect more touring from the hardscrabble band. Slim plans to tour Europe again and also says that Japan and Australia can also soon expect to 'get some Slim.'

Slim Cessna's Auto Club performs Dec. 30 and 31 at Summit Music Hall at 1902 Blake St. in LoDo.

Read more articles by Chris Meehan.

Chris is a Denver-based freelance writer, editor and communications specialist. He covers sustainability, social issues and other topics.
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