Avant Garde Musician Curtis Setzer performed with Cosmic Co-Founder Sherm Clow … At services led by Rev. Willis; In a band named Lucky Thinks; On KMOR Radio’s “Night Song” program; and as part of the expansive “Up River Skool” collective at the University of Utah.
Setzer was also a partner in two record shops that started out in business by serving the Alternative Community — One was near the location of the original Cosmic Aeroplane storefront at 9th South and 9th East, and the second one was near 15th East and 15th South. “Round Records” at 9th & 9th struggled bravely for a number of years, but “Smokey’s Records” on 15th & 15th was a major success, and a notable Cosmic Aeroplane spin-off business that prospered for over a decade, fostering a creative commercial district that was co-anchored, and continued by, Salt Lake City’s bookstore “The King’s English.”
Sixties Radical Rock & Fusion
Setzer championed modern composers Sun Ra and Charles Ives (Note their quotations on the poster above), plus introduced master improvisors like Don Cherry and Cecil Taylor to a wide range of people around him.
The Upriver Skool could be controversial. Curt and Lucky Thinks played inside of a vinyl balloon, inflated by an electric pump, in the main ballroom of the Student Union Building at the University of Utah, until surging dancing throngs inside made it collapse later that evening — along with some other Upriver constructions.
When Upriver Skool and Lucky Thinks worked together again, three stories higher in the Union Building, a few musical art students like Michael (Toilet) Whipple played guitars onstage, and even more art students decorated the Cork Room with odd kinds of creative playthings, which would later make Upriver Skool’s de facto leader Paul McCarthy internationally famous in the field of Conceptual Art. The poster for the evening caused a stir with the authorities, though. NOT because of Sun Ra (shown above), but because someone noticed the underground student protest cartoons printed on the back (shown below):
After at least one meeting, the performance was allowed to go on as planned, but all stray fliers were confiscated. Sherm Clow withdrew from Lucky Thinks in further protest against this Post-Kent State censorship. At the gig itself, as “Lucky Thinks” were winding down, another band, carrying horns, marched into the Cork Room and spontaneously took over the musical chores of the night by playing Jazz tunes. Curt Setzer collaborated several more times with the Upriver Skool over the next year, including appearing in a film by Al Payne, and performing once again with Lucky Thinks in the ground-level Union Art Gallery for the opening of a show that was literally “on and off the wall.”
Round Records and the Ninth & Ninth Community
The original Cosmic Aeroplane store started business in a row of numbered commercial retail spaces at the northwest side of the intersection of Ninth East and Ninth South streets in Salt Lake City. The entire corner had been a commercial district, serving the local neighborhood with grocery stores, pharmacies, barber shops, etc for generations, there was even a movie house on the southwest side called the Tower Theater, which is still open as of this writing in 2017.
Besides the Cosmic Aeroplane, Desolation Row and Phillips Gallery began at the 9th & 9th. Afterward, a cluster of Alternative Businesses coalesced around that same corner — Mother’s Earth Things, Skin Company, Daryl Barton’s Signs, Stone Balloon Waterbeds, The Connection, Stone Age Crafts, Nature’s Way, and Round Records.
Later in the Nineteen Eighties, 875 E. 9th South housed Chameleon Artware, a clothing emporium managed by Skin Company/Cosmic veteran Camille Chart. The corner of 9th & 9th continued to incubate creative businesses, like Salt City CDs, Cahoots, Millenium Dance Studio, Great Harvest Bakery, and the Coffee Garden, maintaining an Alternative Culture identity that continues in the 21st Century. This portion of 9th South was officially named Harvey Milk Boulevard in 2016.
Curt Setzer and Dave Fagiolli opened Round Records in November 1971 …
… which occupied the commercial slot at 873 — east of the first Cosmic Aeroplane at 871, and just west of the temporary Cosmic location at 875 E. South Temple.
(Left) Get Wildroot Cream Oil, Charlie! said Fearless Fosdick in an aggressive Post-WWII ad campaign illustrated by Al Capp, who employed young Frank Frazetta, plus teams of assistants. This cartoon cop was a satire on Dick Tracy by the authors of Li’l Abner.
(Right) In contrast, beautifully-colored prints of well-crafted paintings by independent artist Frank Frazetta in his maturity graced the walls of Curt and Dave’s store.
Build it up,
Tear It down,
Start all over,
Make it ROUND
Albert Ayler ( 1936 – 1970)
Jazz composer and saxophonist
Round Records specialized in leading-edge music. The ears of Curt and Dave were always open to any kind of sonic expression, whether it meant Classical, Modern, Folk, R&B, Rock, Jazz, or what became later known as World Music. Round Records stocked many albums from labels like ESP, Nonesuch, World Pacific, Lyrichord, and other sometimes-obscure vendors.
Quality Posters were their second line of products. Dave was already involved with the poster business, and had even distributed some publications through the Cosmic Aeroplane. (Check out his current mail-order poster business at Postergeist.)
Like the Connection and Cosmic Aeroplane, they stocked Underground Comix and sold small-press independent publications by artists like Richard Corben, who would later become world-famous for his work in Metal Hurlant (Heavy Metal) Magazine.
In the Cosmic tradition, Round Records also printed work from local artists.
They distributed untold dozens of handbills and fliers from around the Alternative Community and Northern Utah every month. Round Records kept an amazing stack of free local fliers on a small table near the door. They displayed the fine posters they were trying to sell on their walls, so these ‘handbills’ literally went from hand to hand instead of littering windows, kiosks, and posts.
Blind Melon Chitlin’ (see the Mayfest flier) consisted of musical luminaries like Nyle Steiner, Stu Goldberg, Al Wing, Ralph Forbes, George Souza, and the Fowler Brothers.
Curt Setzer and Sandy Duncan were in the audience at Mayfest. Curt expressed great admiration for Blind Melon Chitlin’ (above) during the research for this page. Curt and Sandy would play on the main stage of Mayfest themselves in 1975.
Curt worked with Sherm Clow again in 1974 when he played played acoustic music with singer Sandy Duncan at the Underwater Poetry Festival, featuring Charles Bukowski.
Sherm Clow recorded Curt Setzer and Sandy Duncan’s performance on October 6, 1974 at the “One Big Union” bar in Downtown Salt Lake City —
Sherm also recorded Bukowski’s readings, and made a CD which is available online: Underwater Poetry Festival, by Charles Bukowski
After five years, clarinetist Alan Badham bought Round Records from Dave and Curt. Then composer Lloyd Miller bought the business. Both continued to advocate for progressive music in the marketplace.
The Jordan River Uptown Band
Curt Setzer eventually returned to the Cork Room — in a slightly different context:
Singer Sandy Duncan had worked at both the Cosmic Aeroplane and Round Records while making acoustic music with Curt Setzer, sometimes including fiddler Mark Jardine or Mark Nelson on bass.
Sandy and Curt started performing at a place called “The Pub” in an urban redevelopment called Trolley Square — former bus garages converted into a mall.
The Jordan River Uptown band became regular entertainers at The Pub through the late 1970’s and into the early 1980’s — also playing at the Art Barn, Mule Hollow in Big Cottonwood Canyon, and dozens of other venues.
Woody Whitney soon became the regular fiddler for the group. Tom Krug and Ann Downey played bass. Other musicians included Rand Keith on jug, and Stuart Curtis on sax & clarinet.
After Sandy moved to Colorado, a lyrical lead singer named Laurie Bogart capably held the front line with Hardin.
In-jokes from the Stage
Next to Trolley Square was a remarkable all-night diner named Bill and Nada’s Cafe — renowned for its jukebox, its outdoor paintings on the walls, and its freaky nightlife. Out of his fondness for this place, Curt created a recurring joke at the Pub by referring to a mythical band named Crosby, Bill, and Nada:
Radio Days and KRCL
Curt also played the music he enjoyed on local radio stations like KMOR and KRCL — he’s mentioned in the following article, along with Reverend Willis and Smokey Koelsch:
Another Retail Spin:
Curt’s association with Koelsch led to a partnership at 15th East and 15th South in a very successful Cosmic Aeroplane spin-off business named Smokey’s Records. Like the Cosmic had done at 9th & 9th, Smokey’s helped anchor an artistic business district at the corner of 15th & 15th between the University of Utah and Westminster College, along with the neighboring King’s English bookstore.
Read more about Smokey’s Records at Cosmic Generations Vol. I
Who put Avant in the Avant Garde? En Garde!
Well, who put the Ram in the Ram-A-Lang-A-Ding-Dong? Curt Setzer has had a lifelong devotion to original composers and improvisatory music in the many forms it takes. He regularly participated in extraordinary sonic events held at private studios and unconventional public spaces, as well as a few bohemian venues around the Salt Lake City area. The Nameless Uncarved Block emerged in the wake of Lucky Thinks. Curt Setzer and Rodney Daynes acquired talented musical partners Von Bailey, Neil Passey, Rod Dankers, Richard Jonas, Dave Faggioli and others. They also made room for guests like Nick Snow, Sherm Clow, Wayne Christiansen, Kenny Breinholt, and even Blogmeister Michael. Other occasional N.U.B. members in the mid 70’s were flautist Julie Freeman, bassist Eric Freeman (her brother), and cellist Mary Lee Tyson.
Listen to the Nameless Uncarved Block — as recorded by Curt Setzer and embedded in Rev. Willis Holy Ground Blogpost: NUBing Sun Ra
Dankers later started a commercial band called Ragazine that utilized the talents of “Block” musicians in bars around town. Curt and Harry Hultquist rehearsed the music to at least one Dance performance by playing along to a videotaped rehearsal on Michael’s equipment. Drummer/artist Steve Fawson also hosted N.U.B. jams at his own studio, which was furnished with a pipe organ. The Nameless Uncarved Block appeared a decade later at The Painted Word, a venue known for Punk-Rock and Alternative Culture, on the Winter Solstice of 1984.
ZioNoiz (Pronounced: Zion Noise) was an improvisation ensemble including Curt and Dave, who played music in some places that were somewhat off the beaten track, like Marmalade Hill Church:
Firsthand from Fagiolli: The initial Zion Noiz (or ZioNoiz) gig was held in a gymnasium / rec hall in Marmalade Hill Church … in February or March of 1983 – This was the first use of the term that I am aware of, since I was pondering what to call the six hours of Noiz … Ken Rudd (played) drums along with misc percussion & drummer Aaron Ruschetta. Richard Jonas played electrified viola, Neil Passey showed up for awhile and played bass, Rod Dankers on Guitar, Curt on Guitar and piano mostly, I played Alto, Tenor and Baritone saxes … When some of those same musicians played at Perry Shepard’s Painted Word, a local Punk Rock haven run by a deejay at KRCL, they used the name Noiz Ziontists.
Firsthand from Fagiolli: I created and distributed the two Noiz Ziontist flyers with the computer lettering created by former Imitators & later “A Plague of Locusts” synthesizer musician fantastique Greg Howes, who appeared at these gigs as well. There was no leader for either of these two ensembles. This event included the creation of the Doo Dah Manifesto via my passing out index cards to the audience so they could pen a few lines to form the manifesto from. (I still have those cards I believe).
Setzer was part of “The Imitators” ensemble. They played more than once over the air on KRCL-FM, with Dave Fagiolli , Ken Rudd, and Greg Howes. Other musicians included Herc Ottenheimer, Richard Jonas, and Nick Gioello. They practiced at a space reportedly owned by someone with the actual name of Jim Kirk. (Beam me up!)
Impresario and the Maestro
Setzer promoted a concert by Sun Ra, one of America’s most innovative composers, who ranks with Charles Ives and Duke Ellington:
Cosmic continuity is still in play, since Marshall Allen leads Sun Ra’s Arkestra to world-wide success in the 21st Century.
Reverend Willis conducted more than a few weddings:
Curt Setzer accompanied adult guitarist Willis Clow on piano at Salt Lake City’s Kilby Court for a then-young audience from Gen X during the Millennium:
As of 2017, Kilby Court still sponsors a wide variety of Alternative events. Recent visits confirm my thought that they’ve hardly put a dime into the place since the late 1990’s and it largely looks the same as the photos above.
Additional images courtesy of Curt Setzer, Smokey Koelsch, Hardin Davis, Sherm Clow, Dave Fagiolli, and M.E. We actively request your contributions of pictures, memorabilia, and oral histories concerning the Cosmic Aeroplane — please contact our blogmeister:
Blogmeister Michael Evans is an author and historian.
There is more about the music of Curt Setzer, David Faggioli, the Nameless Uncarved Block, and others in his book — The Great Salt Lake Mime Saga and Amsterdam’s Festival of Fools.