The name Bad Brad Wheeler means a lot of things to a lot of people. Many know Brad from his time working with KRCL or his new adventure KUAA, but many of us here in Ogden harken back to Blues nights at Beatniks in an era of Ogden that seemed like magic. I met Brad at Beatniks as a young bright-eyed dreamer who longingly wanted to be on stage. Brad gave me and my bandmates our first opportunity to solidify ourselves as a little bit more than just a gimmick. At the time, in the late 90s early 2000’s, Brad was the purveyor of everything that was cool in Ogden. His legendary booking ability at a tiny little bar on historic 25th Street allowed people in Ogden to see amazing blues legends in a tight space as the confines of the room helped everyone, even the audience, feel like superstars.
This article is very personal for me, as Brad gave me opportunities, and had an influence on me that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. The beauty of Bad Brad Wheeler is that many people feel the same way I do. Brad is lauded across the state this month for his pioneer style and ability to make magic happen. We had the pleasure to ask Brad how it all got started. Here you go, straight from the man himself, in its entirety:
Was there a catalyst that encouraged you to set out on your track, a moment, a mindset or person, that made your “destination” more attainable?
That’s a hard question to answer. I feel like I’ve always been curious, open, and interested in new ideas and possibilities. When I was very young, my father was TDY in Korea for a couple of years and my mom decided we would stay in Iowa with my grandmother and great-grandmother while she was pregnant with my sister. I think living with them is where I got the mindset that I could be whoever and do whatever I put my mind to.
There have been numerous people along the way who have inspired me, encouraged me and nurtured me in my life. My high school art teacher Peggy Barker, as well as English and Humanities teachers Mark Hoffman and Jay Hart, gave me an appreciation for all of the arts, their histories, and made me realize how they are all related. I learned a lot about discipline from Father Herlich, as well as what it meant to live and abide by a code. Knowing the Jennings family - Ben, Leroy, and Caril - made me realize how big the artist community in Ogden was. Going to parties at their house and watching people read poetry or perform musical selections made me excited and curious. It also made me want to be creative. Seeing Teddy Brewer and Jim Sullivan (high school seniors when I was a sophomore) perform at Saint Joseph High School talent show was the first time I remember seeing a live band. It was also the first time I realized that anyone could make music if they wanted to - they captivated me with their performance of CCR’s Have You Ever Seen the Rain. Meeting James Birkenshaw, who worked at the Speedway Cafe as head of security, while I was in college and having him give me a job was also life-altering, exposing me to working in a music venue around touring bands.
Later, when I discovered I had an aptitude for Harmonica, Don Baker sold me my first harp. I only had $20 in my pocket but the harp cost $30. Don asked me if I was serious about wanting to play and made me promise him I’d practice if he sold it to me at a discounted price - I didn’t want to cross him. My good friend Chris Magee spent countless hours playing his guitar for me while we were in college as I tried to figure out how to play along with him. I also had a friend, Wayne Knudsen, who told me that if I was serious about being a musician I needed to learn how to play on my own without any accompaniment, which challenged me to be better. I also had a moment with another dear and older friend, Michael Lane, who told me if I couldn’t learn to play Mickey Raphael licks (Willie Nelson’s harmonicist for the last 40 years) on my harmonica I wasn’t shit. Later in life, this proved to be good advice - now having met Mickey and having played on stage with Willie Nelson 5 times. Meeting Roby Kap after college and learning how to book gigs both for myself and traveling musicians was also pivotal, and learning how to develop my own sound was important. His brother Ritchie also gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard about being a musician. 1) It’s not magic, it’s practice. 2) Never try to be something you’re not, always be yourself - authenticity is everything.
Getting a job managing the legendary Dead Goat Saloon in SLC and working for Michael Ricks and John Paul Brophy was near intoxicating, putting me in close proximity to numerous Blues Musicians who helped invent rock and roll. Bill Parker and Heidi Harwood giving me the opportunity to run a bar on 25th street for close to a decade, and allowing me to book National Blues shows, was huge. It’s also where I met Joe McQueen, someone who’s still influencing to this day. It was a life changing experience.
I can’t forget Kathryn Maguet giving me the opportunity to teach Harmonica to children through the Egyptian Theater in both the Weber County and Ogden City school districts. I was so afraid that first day; I didn’t think I was a teacher, but after giving harmonicas to 27,000 kids and being able to teach them The Who, and the what-when-where-why-how about the Blues made me realize I had an aptitude. Also having Danny Weldon (he prefers Daniel but to me, he’s always gonna be Danny) help me teach those kids was invaluable, and later having him as a bandmate and push me to learn a slide guitar was an important moment for me. Going to Texas together, as well as opening for artists such as Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, Etta James, Norton Buffalo, Roy Rogers, Bill Kirchen, and Bo Diddley is the stuff people dream about.
I also can’t forget Lynn Wheelwright letting me hang out in his guitar shop and letting me use his tools to build cigar box guitars. It’s a liberating feeling being able to build your own musical instrument. Growing up with and knowing Tommy Dolph also inspired me. Being able to observe his constant creativity helped me to do things like make my own instruments or do unusual gigs and performances just for the sake of doing them. I’ve also had good friends encourage me, like Shane Anderson and Mike Correll. Chris Magee's Dad, (Mr. Magee) used to come to watch Chris and I perform and tell us what we were doing right and what we could do better (never what we were doing wrong). My friendship with Brad Wright, Don Keipp and Ryan Conger, part of the extended family Joe has created, has given me the wind in my sails which has carried me far.
As for my “Destination,” I don’t know what that is. I’m a Buddhist now at this point in my life - my destination is wherever I am, the moment we are in. Wherever you go in life, you’re always there. I know that along the way so many people have had impacted me that I can’t really say any of my accomplishments are of my own accord - they really are the sum of so many encounters, friendships, mentorships, accidents and occasions that all deserve recognition beyond myself.
Who paved the way for you, either in your field or in your life?
There are many people who paved the way for me to do what I did in Ogden. Obviously, the first person is Joe McQueen. Joe, along with AnnaBelle Weakley, who integrated the music scene on 25th street - which eventually lead to the whole state. The Porters and Waiters Club was the first place in the state of Utah where black and white musicians (as well as patrons) were able to come together. If it wasn’t for people like Joe and AnnaBelle it would have been a lot harder for someone like myself to book African American Blues Legends with the frequency that I was able to.
I have to admit, a lot of what I was trying to do when I ran the bar on 25th Street had to do with wanting to recreate an experience that I missed out on. As I was learning to play Harmonica, before I turned 21, I had a lot of people tell me stories about local and touring bands that used to play the Grey Moose Pub. Kelly Newton started the Grey Moose and was responsible for booking a lot of local and national artists during the 80’s. In my opinion, it was the home for live music in Ogden at the time. Roby Kap and the Kap Bros Band were pretty much the house band at the time (it’s the first place I remember seeing them play). Roby will tell you that Kelly had a lot to do with exposing himself to local audiences as well as to National Blues artists who would pass through town, influencing the way Roby played his harmonica as well as fronted the Kap Bros. Blues artists at that time would play Ogden the Sunday night before they would play the Dead Goat Saloon in SLC the following Monday (once a month back then). That iteration of the Grey Moose Pub came to an end just before I turned 21 in 91’. Kelly sold the bar bringing to an end the era which I craved to experience.
When I met Roby Kap he was bartending at Rowducks. Rowducks would eventually become Beatnik’s after Bill and Heidi bought the bar - it also was a legendary bar in the 80’s while under the ownership of Richard Gessiel. Richard sold it to a lady named Ingrid, I believe around the same time Kelly got out of the bar business. Bill and Heidi bought it later from Ingrid in 97. It wasn’t long after I met Roby that he left Rowducks and was asked to manage the No Frills Sports Grill on Kiesel Ave. This is where and when he and I really started hanging out together. We were awfully close - he would tell people I was his illegitimate son which opened a lot of doors for me as a musician. Roby was eventually approached by Chap Jackson (blues fan and promoter) while running No Frills about booking some blues bands at the bar. Roby was a bit nervous about making the guarantees, but I think my excitement about doing the shows encouraged him. That year we booked Mark Hummel, Too Slim and the Taildraggers, Paul Delay, Linda Hornbuckle, Tommy Castro, Denny Freeman, and a few others.
It was a very exciting time, but like most things in Ogden back then it wasn’t very stable. No Frills didn’t last much longer than about a year. After that, I wound up getting a job working in the kitchen at the City Club. I worked 6 days a week for two years, prep cooking in the little kitchen. I also was responsible for going to the store every day to buy all of the supplies, groceries and liquor for the City Club, as well as the 3 other bars Bill and Heidi owned at the time - The Old Weber Club, Attractions at the top of the Ben Lomond Hotel, and Brewski’s on 25th Street. It was a pretty intense job for me, and a lot of responsibility at the time. I learned a lot about the logistics of running a bar while working for Bill and Heidi. Working six days a week eventually began to take its toll on me. One night while visiting a friend in SLC, I put in an application at the Dead Goat Saloon on a dare after complaining about how hard I worked to my friend. I was asked if I could work anywhere, where would I want to work. I replied, “to work at the Dead Goat would be a dream.” Afterwards, I was encouraged to fill out an application. I really didn’t think much about it, didn’t expect I’d hear back from anyone.
Three months later, I got a call from Mike Ricks (bass player for the legendary Tempo Timers, Dead Goat house band, and part-owner of the Dead Goat ). He asked me a series of questions about all the different jobs I had while working in bars in Ogden, and eventually if I’d be interested in being the manager at the Dead Goat. I was shocked and couldn’t believe it. I seriously thought he was putting me on, I had never managed anything in my life. I was intimidated about the prospect but took the opportunity anyhow. It really was a dream job, like going to college for Blues Musicians.
I worked closely with Mike and John Paul Brophy from ‘96-’97, helping convert the bar from a beer tavern to a private club, also helping John Paul go from booking one National Blues Band a month to every Monday. I learned a lot and made some great friendships. One night Roby Kap showed up to the Goat and told me Bill and Heidi had bought Rowducks. He said they wanted to take the back room and add it on to Brewski’s, and wanted me to come back to Ogden and run the bar that was left (the old Rowducks which he himself had run at one time). It was really hard to say no. It appealed to me in almost a primal way.
Growing up in Ogden, as many of us know, 25th Street holds a special place in all our hearts and psyches. It was really, really hard to leave the Goat, but being asked to run a bar on 25th street was a big deal. I had to. I asked Bill and Heidi if I came back to Ogden if we could do a Blues Showcase in conjunction with the Dead Goat and they said yes. I then asked John Paul if he was alright with booking bands together and he agreed. That was how I ended up back in Ogden and Beatniks came to be.
Joe, Kelly, Roby, Chap, Mike, John Paul, Bill & Heidi all paved the way for me to be able to do what I did during my tenure on 25th Street. I also owe a lot to Mark Saal at the Standard-Examiner - all of this happened before the internet exploded or before social media. Mark Saal was the entertainment reporter at the time. Every week I went to the Standard in person to try to convince him to include the music lineup I had, also hoping he would write a column on the bands, giving me a little edge to get people to attend the shows. Whether or not Saal was aware of it, pitching shows to him taught me how to pitch shows to the public. He helped make me a promoter.
I also owe something to Truman Wold. He was the Host of Red White and Blues on 90.9 FM, KRCL. I used to call Truman every Monday night during his show while I was at the Goat to tell him what bands were playing. When I moved back to Ogden I was calling to tell him what bands were booked to perform that week at both places. Unexpectedly, he said to me, “I want you to be the Blues Newsman on Monday nights. I want you to compile a list of all the Blues Shows happening along the Wasatch front each week and when you call in to the station I want to put you live on the radio and have you read them off in a calendar style format.” This was a huge moment for me that paved the way for my future career in radio. Truman was a huge influence on me. If I was ever to have a big brother, I would have wanted him to be just like Truman.
I also owe a huge thank you to Steve Edwards who helped me open Beatniks. If it wasn’t for him and his help in running the bar I don’t think we would have made it. Steve and I had gone to Catholic High School together. He was a much more experienced bartender than I was and took a pay cut to come work with me. He met his wife Heidi at Beatniks when she came to work there as a waitress. Steve really helped make the bar a bar and made it possible to keep the doors open. I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting but these names stand out the most in my memory as I write this.
What sacrifices have you had to make in order to pursue your art?
The sacrifices I had to make are the same as every musician/bar manager. Late late hours, no holidays, minimal vacations, incredible strains on personal relationships, sometimes having to use my own tip money to help pay for bands, long long hours, witnessing people do incredible amounts of self-destructive behavior whether it be drugs, alcohol or fist fighting. I missed family vacations, birthdays, and funerals. I was late to Christmas and early to leave Thanksgiving. I have no idea how many cigarettes I inhaled while working behind the bar - my own and other people’s. I’ve seen some things people should only see in war. When I moved back to SLC in 2007 after leaving the bar, people would ask me what it was like living there, and for a while the only thing I could say was, “I haven’t seen anyone bleed in a bar since I moved here.” I think some people thought I was joking but I was serious. I swear sometimes that “Sons of Anarchy” stole a couple of chapters from my life and made them a part of their TV show. My job wasn’t really a job, it was a lifestyle.
There’s a quote often passed around about the music business that’s been credited to Hunter S. Thompson (although not verified), “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." Willie Nelson and BB King both sang the song. “The Nightlife ain’t no good life, but it’s my life.” It’s not an easy job. You have to keep in mind that it’s not a sprint but a marathon. It’s a lot of sacrifices but it’s also a lot of rewards. I realize I’ve been able to live a life that people dream about, been able to accomplish things that for most folks are a fantasy. I’ve met my heroes and rubbed elbows with legends. If you want to take the ride, like anything you gotta pay the price.
What untouched territory do you hope to explore?
Every day is new territory for me. I’m still learning and doing things that blow my mind. Currently, I’ve been building a radio station from the ground up in SLC (KUAA 99.9 FM - kuaafm.org). I thought I knew a lot about radio until I was tasked to start a station from scratch. I’ve learned so much this last year. Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve become a Buddhist and spend most mornings (7 am) meditating for an hour at the Two Arrows Zen Center in Salt Lake. I’ve done several retreats now spending 12 hours a day meditating for 7 seven days. I’ve been interested in becoming a Monk, and want to use my training to help those who suffer from trauma.
I think by now most people know I almost lost my leg, and my life, in an accident I had with Joe McQueen three years ago. I learned a lot from that ordeal. I feel blessed to have gone through it with Joe - I don’t think I would have survived had it been anyone else. I try to stay open all the time and realize the infinite possibilities of every exchange and moment I have with people and events. Joe told me that every moment you go through there is a gift in it waiting for you to discover. He says that if you’re able to keep your mind open, you can realize that in times when you think you’re suffering, you’re actually just going through the necessary change that is required of all things in life in order to grow.
Some other things I’ve recently been involved in that are different for me include being asked a few months ago by the folks at Fan X to lead an interview with Alice Cooper in front of a few thousand people. It was both mind-blowing and beyond my expectations. Alice is an amazing storyteller. I really enjoy storytelling, both listening to it and sharing it. I enjoy being able to talk with people and find the things that inspire them and make them tick, as well as discover the common threads we share as individuals. I also was asked about a month ago to travel to Austin Texas along with the Salt Lake City council, Visit Salt Lake and the Downton Alliance to look at shared resources between the two cities and how Austin is able to leverage them into developing their economy. I learned how the nighttime economy drives the daytime economy and makes both tourism and economic growth possible. I also learned about the importance of Cultural Districts such as Austin 6th Street and Rainey Street (both similar in ways to Ogden’s 25th street) and how events such as SXSW and ACL Festival were able to grow out of the cultural foundation of those districts.
Using the pioneer metaphor, what were some unexpected “rivers” you had to ford, or moments you wanted to turn back along your journey?
There have been many times I’ve wondered if this is the path I’m supposed to be on. There are times I’ve looked back and wondered - should I have settled for a 9-5 job? Should I have started a family? I feel like others also do this in evaluating their own lives, except they’re probably wondering if they should have done the things I did. There were some moments running the bar when I wondered if I was in over my head - I was really blessed to have Bill and Heidi there to help me out of some situations that I had no idea how to solve. I feel like every day, everyone is challenged with the path they’ve taken, but honestly looking back makes it harder to look forward. I went on a rafting trip with some friends from the burn unit two years ago and a lesson I learned from one of the river guides was, “sideways, backward, forward or upside down, no matter what your doing - you gotta go with the flow.” I think that’s what I’ve always tried to do. My friend Felix, who helps me with the engineering at the station, has a saying, “No Problems, Only Solutions.” I feel like with myself, if anything has ever gotten in my way of achieving something, I’ve tried to figure out a way either through it, over it, under it or around it. There’s a feeling I get sometimes when I get an idea or feel inspired that make me feel like nothing can keep me from making it happen, and if there’s an obstacle along the way it’s not there to prevent me from achieving it - it’s there to teach me something or enrich the path that I’m on. Miles Davis once said there is no such thing as mistakes - I think I would say there’s no such thing as obstacles, there are only opportunities.
By Daniel Mathews, Editor-in-Chief/Owner Indie Ogden