(The Band, Not The City)
It was in the Winter of 1972 that we got a plum assignment from one of our favorite clients, CBS Columbia Records. This was to travel to a remote part of Colorado to photograph the pop-rock band Chicago as they were recording their sixth album, Chicago VI, released in 1973. Why would they do this in such an out-of-the-way place? Why not?
James Guercio, the group's producer from 1968 until 1977, owned the historic Caribou Ranch and over 4,000 acres of land surrounding it since 1971. In 1972 he converted the barn into a state-of-the-art recording studio, and added living quarters for the musicians and everyone else associated with the projects. Between then and its fiery demise in 1985 it was a choice recording venue for dozens and dozens of the very greatest names in music — rock, pop, jazz, and classical. After the fire it became a working ranch and in 1995 was sold to Boulder County as a nature park.
My business partner Jim Houghton and I flew to Denver with John Berg, then the highly talented Vice-President for Creative Services of CBS Columbia Records (now Sony). John was also the designer of Chicago's famous logo, which remains in use today. At the Denver airport we rented a station wagon and drove up into the mountains past Boulder and Nederland, turning west for about five miles on a dirt road to the Caribou Ranch.
That first night we met the band and relaxed with them in the main ranch house, polishing off many bottles of Heineken beer. It was then that I noticed a revolver on the table next to my chair, a sign that this was really the Wild West. It was a .44 Magnum and it was loaded. Years later this casual attitude toward guns resulted in tragedy when a leading member of the band accidentally shot himself dead.
The next morning was devoted to choosing a location for the photos. The natural choice was the long-abandoned ghost town of Caribou near the former Blue Bird silver mine, not far away but difficult to get to. There was a dirt trail that really required using a 4WD truck, but Jim and I chose to rough it on snowmobiles following the path of what's left of the former Denver, Boulder & Western Railroad, which linked Caribou with the outside world from 1904 until 1919. That's me on my borrowed Ski-Doo, about to take off.The other one was for Jim Houghton, who took the photo.
The trail was rough in spots, and I managed to spill the thing three times, but was always able to get it back upright. The worst part was when we came to a ravine over which the railroad once had a bridge. Since this structure was no longer there, we had to go steeply down to the creek, cross it, and up the other side. Lots of fun.
Anyway, the ghost town of Caribou was a wonderful location, looking like the ruined remains of an old Hollywood set for a Western flick. So we headed back, and that afternoon returned by truck via the longer route while the band got there on horses. Jim's photos looked for all the world like stills from old-time cowboy movies, and were just what was wanted.
Today the area is a nature park from which snowmobiles are excluded, as are even trail bikes. The only way to get from the ranch to the ghost town is on foot via the Switzerland Trail. Environmentally this is a good thing, but those Ski-Doos sure were great to drive.
Interested in photography? Check out my "Assisting Avedon" blog.
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