Late bloomer

Boulder singer-songwriter Duncan Coker drops long-awaited debut

Duncan Coker performs with the Lofty Pines at Beyond the Mountain Brewery in Boulder on May 18. Courtesy: Duncan Coker

Longtime Boulder singer-songwriter Duncan Coker has been honing his craft ever since he picked up his first guitar as a New Jersey teenager four decades ago. It was a Fender Squier, and it opened the door to a love for performing that’s going strong to this day.

After years of exclusively playing live, Coker felt the time was finally right to hit the studio and share his music in another format on his self-titled debut album, released in February.

It wasn’t his first time recording, though. Coker released an acoustic single in 2018, but says his latest material is his most well-rounded. He felt ready to lay it down in the studio, even if the path took longer than anticipated.

“I’m feeling now, in my mid-50s, very creative and prolific — like, I’m writing a lot. It just took me a while. It’s part of your life journey,” he says. “I’m really glad I waited to put out material that I was really proud of. I guess I peaked late in life.”

‘One song at a time’

Since picking up that first guitar, Coker is still drawing from some of his earliest inspirations. While hometown hero Bruce Springsteen shot up the charts with working-class anthems, a young Coker gravitated more toward psychedelic bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Yes and Rush during those formative years. But in writing his record, he found himself channeling his inner Boss.

Coker’s lyrics share stories about lonesome long-haul truckers and lovelorn romantics, wayfarer cowboys and hungry musicians striving to make it in the Country Music Capital of the World. His eclectic music is reminiscent of New Jersey’s favorite son. While Coker’s work isn’t so much autobiographical, he says “every story or song is going to have some of you in it.” 

Boulder’s Duncan Coker has been playing music for decades, but just released his debut album earlier this year. Courtesy: Duncan Coker

But Coker isn’t doing it all alone. Recorded at Boulder’s Broadway Music Studios with producer Bob Barrick, Coker’s premiere features Boulder County-based musicians Carolyn Hunter and Charlie Rose of Elephant Revival.

“It was a really organic process. We just took it one song at a time,” he says of working with Barrick. “We tried to find artists locally that we thought could add to the sound of each song. I learned a tremendous amount about working with other musicians and how recording works.”

Beyond the threshold 

When it came to finding the confidence to put out his long-awaited debut, Coker credits the positive feedback of other artists with whom he crossed paths at Kansas City’s Folk Alliance International festival and a Planet Bluegrass songwriting course in Lyons. He’s also been part of a local songwriting group for the last decade that includes Don Ambory of Boulder mainstays Gasoline Lollipops.

“The timing just really hit. I guess I wanted to do this my whole life, but those three things just really came together,” he explains. “I think it was the encouragement and support of other artists saying, ‘Hey, you can do this. You can record. These songs are really good.’”

It’s not surprising that Coker’s songwriting prowess has only gotten stronger over the years. He says the melodies and words find him out of nowhere. Sometimes he wakes up with a song idea, as if he’s dreaming about them.

“Like any other craft, it takes like 10,000 hours or whatever it is,” he says. “I think I hit some threshold after 10 years of doing this where the material was recordable and worth playing this live in front of people. I can’t say what the magic was, but it just took me a while to get to that point.”

Since then, the floodgates have opened, and Coker is now writing at a song-per-month pace. The plan, other than touring the new stuff, is to record more. He hints at having enough material for another album, so it’s safe to say it likely won’t be another decade or two before we hear from Coker again.

“It was a long time and a lot of songwriting and practicing,” he says. “But I’m ready to record another record. I got 10 songs in my pocket now.” 

ON THE BILL: Duncan Coker with the Lofty Pines. 5 p.m. Saturday, May 18. Beyond the Mountain Brewery, 6035 Longbow Drive Unit 109, Boulder. Free


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