Maybe the big time is not all it's cracked up to be.
That's the conclusion country singer Rudy Grant came to when Columbia Records offered him an audition back in 1975. The record companies were vying with one another to discover the next Charley Pride, and somehow word got back to them about an African American country singer in Denver who might just fit the bill. At the time, Rudy and his band, The Uncommon Herd, were playing at a joint called "The King's Loft" in Aurora. The reps Columbia sent were none other than Sonny Wright, and his wife, Loretta Lynn's little sister, Peggy Sue.
Grant turned them down flat.
"I had two young daughters who needed a father," Grant said by way of explanation. To support his growing family, he was working three jobs; one as an optician at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, another as a passenger services agent with United Airlines, and a third playing gigs in honky-tonks from Aurora, to Golden, to Boulder. To him, a recording contract looked like so much pie in the sky.
"Mr. Wright said the only reason he was even talking to me was because of Charley Pride's popularity," Grant said. "That pretty much made my mind up for me right there."
Grant's story reads like the lyrics to a Country and Western tune. He was born on a farm outside of Shreveport, Louisiana, the 7th son in a family of 19 brothers and sisters. The family moved to a farm near Bastrop in the northeast corner of the state, where they picked cotton, raised vegetables, and hunted and fished for their food.
“At age 14, something got into me,” Grant said. “I started feeling restless, like there's gotta be something else out there.”
Late one night he packed a bag, climbed out of his bedroom window, and hitchhiked into Bastrop. He spent his first night away from home sleeping under the front steps of the local pool hall.
A local grocer gave him a job stacking shelves, pumping gas, fixing flats, changing oil, delivering groceries, and running errands for $25 bucks a week plus meals. A year and a half later he figured he was ready to move on. Tricked out in a green cowboy hat, mirror sunglasses, and a clean pair of overalls, Grant boarded a Greyhound bus to Denver where he had an uncle willing to take him in. In Denver he earned his GED and took a civil service exam that led to the job as an optician at Fitzsimons.
All through this time he was teaching himself to play the guitar, and acquiring an extensive repertoire of country songs. Apparently he got pretty good at it, because at a Christmas party at work one year, a banjo-pickin’ co-worker heard him and invited him to a Sunday evening open stage at a bar called "The Four Seasons." Grant got up and knocked out an old Conway Twitty tune. Less than a month later he was fronting his own band.
“We played covers of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Jim Reeves, and of course, Charley Pride,” he said. “This was in 1965. I was the closest thing people could see to Charley Pride in Denver.”
Now retired after more than 33 years in government service, he's put together a new band called Rudy Grant and the Buffalo Riders.
"We play twice a month at "White Fence Farm," once a month at the "Blossom" in Windsor Gardens, and a dinner show every Friday night at "Lupita's" in Aurora," he said. "In May we go on tour in England with a British group called The Salt Creek Band. Country music at this stage in my life is the one thing I'm truly passionate about. The biggest joy in my heart is when I look out at the audience and see a nodding smile on their faces. The big time doesn't interest me, but boy I do love the local scene."
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Don Morreale's collection of Examiner stories, "Cowboys, Yogis, and One-legged Ski Bums," is scheduled for release later this spring.