Remastered by NoteWorthy Music October, 2020
David Starr: Music to Go
By Dale McCurry
Photos by Jason Denton | Courtesy of David Starr
David Starr is an Ozarks hill boy who now calls Colorado’s Western Slope home. He is also one of the workingest singer/songwriters/picker/drummers-who-also-have-day-jobs anywhere.
“I was born and raised in Fayetteville, Arkansas,” Starr says. “Went all the way through college there. I started playing in bands there when I was 12 or 13.”
The act that Starr and other local pickers were most influenced by was the Cate Brothers—the first among them to get a record deal—and they played with The Band after Robbie Robertson left. “The Cates toured Japan and Europe with them,” David says. “I was looking around on YouTube the other day and ran across a version of ‘Makes No Difference,’ with [Rick] Danko [of The Band] singing and my friend Earl [Cate] playing guitar.” Cate Brother Ernie was also there.
1 of 100 Stories
The only non-Canadian Band member was fellow Arkansan, Levon Helm. The Cate Brothers’ drummer, Terry Cagle, is Helm’s nephew and Levon would often hang around the Cates and other bands in the area.
One of the bands that Levon would often listen to was Starr’s. It was ’77 or ’78 and David was in his early 20s. “I was the drummer, and in those days, yeah, I wanted to be in The Band or the Byrds, but I also wanted to be in Foghat. And I had these rocker boots with about a half-inch platform and I played drums in them.”
“Yeah, I wanted to be in The Band or the Byrds, but I also wanted to be in Foghat.” ~David Starr
After a show one night, Helm invited Starr to drive him out to the local IHOP where he ate pancakes and told stories about Muddy Waters and The Staple Singers and others. “Suddenly Levon stopped, leaned across the table and said: “‘Starr,’ David recalls in his best Levon voice and dialect. ‘Let me tell you, somethin’. You are a damn good drummer; y’are. But you have got to loose the fuckin’ goofy boots.’
“People ask me if I ever wore the boots again,” David says. “I tell them ‘It was like they were dead to me.'”
A Breath of Real Life
In 1981—largely to be somewhere else—Starr and his wife moved to Aspen, Colorado. He quickly fell in with Jeff Hanna and Jimmy Ibbotson of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and other area pickers and singers and started playing music Colorado style.
For the next four years, he worked five days a week as an administrator at Colorado Mountain College and played music almost six nights a week. “I couldn’t do it now; I could barely do it then.”
In 1985 he headed “home” to Arkansas “for some real-life life.” He spent the next seventeen years in Little Rock. He opened Starr’s Guitars there in 1999, before moving it all back to Colorado—this time to Cedaredge—still home to him and his store.
Why They Call It Work
I told David I noticed that he worked a lot. He is touring Europe as I write this. He books a California tour every year and plays a gazillion “house concerts.”
“I know you are talented,” I said, “but I know a lot of talented musicians who don’t work as much as you do.”
“I am just pretty driven to work. I’m not much for putting my feet up.” ~David Starr
“Well,” David replied, “I am just pretty driven to work. I’m not much for putting my feet up. Somebody asked me why I was working so hard at it now and I said: ‘Because in ten years I might not be able to … or five.’ If not now, when?”
By the Numbers
All that work has paid off. I congratulated him on the latest album, Love And Sabotage, and asked about the numbers.
“It’s done pretty well. It was as high as 149 on the Americana chart, which is a 500 album list.” It has since dropped down into the 400s, but that is over a period of five months. “It was in the top 50 on the Roots Radio Report, that’s with folks like Don Henley, so that was pretty cool. My guy who helps me with promotion in Scotland sent me a link to the London Telegraph, that included me in their top albums of 2016.”
David Starr’s reach extends beyond the stage. He launched Starr’s Guitars in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1998 and relocated it to Cedaredge, Colorado, in 2001 where it remains a centerpiece of the small mountain town—as is David himself. David was instrumental in the 2018 opening of Grand Mesa Arts Center and helped design it to attract musicians and visual artists to southwestern Colorado.
David says his newest project, Beauty and Ruin, is important to him for many reasons—the family connection via his grandfather and the collaborative nature of it as a whole: Produced and arranged by John Oates, who joins Jim Lauderdale and others as songwriters, collaborators and performers on the album. For more, read NoteWorthy Music’s David Starr: Beauty & Ruin.
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