Space cowboy

Boulder icon Ted Thacker returns as The Red Tack on ‘Judy’

Credit: George Blosser

Ted Thacker grew up in Boulder, so he’s seen the town change from its weird punk-rock past to its idyllic-yet-complicated present. The 56-year-old singer-songwriter’s upbringing was very different from the progressive way he’s raising his own daughter, and yet one of his favorite childhood memories is of seeing Kiss at McNichols Arena when he was 12.

“My dad begrudgingly got us the tickets and took us to the show. He couldn’t stand it. He put stuff in his ears and stood down in the aisle, down below. The air was just filled with weed smoke, and it was mostly smelly dudes in leather jackets, and then me and my friend Eric,” he says. “My dad made us leave before the encore, and that, for Kiss, is the core of their show. That’s when the risers come up and the panther comes out of the drum set. I was pissed at my dad for the next five years.”

Thacker remembers the severe emotional pain of hearing “Detroit Rock City” fading away as his father walked him out of McNichols Arena. Those next five years, though, were filled with ambitious musical experiences inspired in part by the flamboyant Kiss concert his father had somehow agreed to take him to. Thacker and his young friends wrote boatloads of songs in various bands around Boulder — generally playing a creative, outlandish mixture of punk and glam — that eventually became the legendary Baldo Rex, which took Thacker to both American coasts and everywhere between with relentless touring.

Punk was having its first big moment in the U.S. when Thacker’s teenage band, The Plague, became his life. At just 12 years old, Thacker and his bandmates played one of their first shows at Gate 19 of Folsom Field in Boulder and called it the “Annual Sid Vicious Memorial Dance,” just months after the death of the iconic Sex Pistols bassist. That kind of ridiculous ambition carried on as Baldo Rex made waves across the country in the 1990s with a weird-and-wild stage show and aggressive acid-punk sound.

Thacker still gets weird, wild and loud on stage as The Red Tack — a sort of glam-cowboy solo project he launched about five years ago after decades of collaborating in critically acclaimed bands like Baldo Rex and Veronica. One of his claims to fame is “I Cried Like a Silly Boy,” a beloved DeVotchKa staple written by Thacker. But his own material is more rock ‘n’ roll than the Denver quartet, as evidenced by the new Red Tack album, Judy, which lies somewhere between Ziggy Stardust and the Pixies.

As jangly, spacey and quirky as Thacker’s music can get, the kid smelling marijuana for the first time as Kiss bashes through “Strutter” is very much present on Judy. Thacker embraces thumping drums and fuzzy guitars as much as Ween-style weirdness on tracks like “Los Angeles,” but under it all is the quality songwriting that has earned Thacker the respect and friendship of many of Colorado music’s hosusehold names.

Thacker brought along some of those talented friends on Judy, after playing all the instruments on the first Red Tack album, 2017’s (K)night of the Sorrowful Face. Jeffrey Mince, John Call, Billy Pigati and Dave Willey all pitched in on drums for at least a track, and Andrew Koch played bass on the churning space-rocker “Roving Satellites.” Other than that, the versatile Thacker (who says he played “something like 100 instruments” on the first Red Tack album) played everything on Judy, which he’ll celebrate with a release show on Dec. 17 at the Lion’s Lair in Denver.

“I thought, ‘Eventually I’m gonna want a band. I’m not just gonna want to play by myself,’ because it’s not enough. I need other musicians to come along and lift me and play with me,” Thacker says. “I love playing all of the instruments when I record, because I can find musical paths that I wouldn’t have found normally, but I feel like the drummer is the glue behind every good song, and having four of Denver’s best on this record was really an amazing addition.”

But while Judy is a distinctly Front Range affair, the album — which took two years to finish and was produced and engineered by Kyle Jones — was partly inspired by Thacker’s embryonic days in Boston with Baldo Rex.

“‘Judy’ is actually an older song that I wrote about Boston,” Thacker explains. “It’s about a woman in Boston who was breaking the heart of the lead singer of my band [Baldo Rex] at the time, but also she was fantastic. She was the lead singer of this band called Salem 66. Just dashingly beautiful, and we were 18 or 19 and she was 30 — so she was, like, a woman. She would come to our parties and freak us out, because she was like a movie star to us.

“Years later, back when I was remembering our life, I remembered her, and I was trying to find her — and I couldn’t find her. I still can’t,” Thacker continues. “I still don’t know where she is. So I wrote that song. To me, that’s the most outstanding part of the record … that feeling of remembering your past and trying to romanticize it and be part of it.”

But while the past looms large over Judy, Thacker says his new record is more than a wistful look at what once was. It also contains all of what is important to him in the here and now.

“All of my friends are in this album,” he says. “All of my life is in this album.”

ON THE BILL: The Red Tack with Redwing Blackbird. 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17, Lion’s Lair, 2022 E. Colfax Ave., Denver. Tickets here.