The best adjective for Big Head Todd & The Monster’s 20 plus year career might be found in the title of their latest collection of original songs—Rocksteady.The rock band has steadily released an album roughly every two years, toured like clockwork and remained friends through it all. Since their early days as a college band at the University of Colorado in the 1980s, BHTM have made strong jazz and blues influenced pop rock with a calm yet edgy demeanor. And though it may appear the band works harder than most, according to front man Todd Park Mohr, it’s always been about enjoying the experience.
“We love what we do for a living, creating music and playing it for people,” said Mohr in a recent phone interview. “I tell people it’s fear of a day job. But the truth is we get along well and we work together well. That’s what has kept us in the game.”
At times, BHTM has relied upon its own music industry savvy in order to get music out to fans. In 1989 the band started their own record label called Big Records and released their debut album Another Mayberry on it. It was a pioneering move in that era, but one that Mohr claims was necessary.
“I’m told by some of the old time music guys that the music business didn’t start out as a business,” said Mohr. “But back in the day, major labels ran most of music. [Big Records] was a way for us to have a direct connection with our audience.”
After one more independent release, BHTM finally made the leap to a major label when they signed with appropriately named, Giant Records. That move led to the release of their eventual platinum selling album Sister Sweetly in 1993. While Mohr does concede there were certain advantages to being on a major label, he also thinks some of the success was just good timing.
“Part of it was being young and having a lot of songs starting out,” said Mohr. “There was a lot of energy in our career then, a lot of creativity and [Sister Sweetly] was a slick pop record. But we [also] had a major label that poured a ton of money into the album.”
Though bands can sometimes fade after achieving the kind success Sister Sweetly brought BHTM, Mohr and his bandmates got right back to work touring and recording. They released two more studio albums on Giant before returning to their roots to put out their sixth studio album Riviera on the Big Record label. In 2005, BHTM added one more pioneering effort to their resume when, at the request of space shuttle Discovery astronauts, Mohr penned the song “Blue Sky” as a tribute to the lives lost in the Columbia disaster.
“It’s neat to do things that are inspirational,” said Mohr. “And space exploration is one of those things that is totally interesting and exciting to us.”
Mohr continued using his music as a way to tell the stories of others when, on the 2010 album Rocksteady, BHTM used a more traditional blues rock sound as the backdrop for actual quotes from Muhammed Ali on a song bearing the boxer's name.
“I love writing biographical songs,” said Mohr. “[Muhammed Ali] is obviously an incredible and inspirational figure. That [song] in particular, all the words are basically his words, and [writing] that was really fun.”
Last year, the band extended their use of music to pass on a bit of history when they recorded 100 Years of Robert Johnson. Rooted in the blues experience of a century ago, the album paid tribute not only to the music of legendary artist Robert Johnson, but to one of the genres that inspired Big Head Todd to begin making music when they were just teenagers. The album included several collaborations that allowed them to work with some special artists.
The impetus of it was Robert Johnson’s 100th birthday,” said Mohr. “Our manager had an idea of putting together an eclectic group of musicians from different genres. “It really was a wonderful experience to spend time with B.B. King and Charlie Musslewhite.”
BHTM seemingly refuse to deviate one bit from the formula that brought them to where they are now. They still get to the studio every couple of years and spend a lot of time on the road. Now on tour with fellow “steady rockers” Blues Traveler, Cracker and Barenaked Ladies, Mohr finds it great to share the experience with other hard working bands.
“It’s a great mix of bands who deserve all the recognition in the world,” said Mohr. “We’ve all been doing it for 20 some odd years and have friendships that go way back. We are having more fun than we ever have.”
Big Head Todd & The Monsters
Peak Summer Nights
Wednesday, Aug. 1, 6:30 p.m.
Athletic Club of Bend
61615 Athletic Club Dr.
$26, tickets at Newport Market