Genre-bending Big Head Todd & The Monsters Rock n’ Roll Into Milwaukee
Written and photographed by Brooke Billick
You can’t pigeon-hole the music of Big Head Todd & the Monsters (BHTM) into any single genre. This is both by the band’s design and by the influences on their music. BHTM is led by singer-lyricist-guitarist Todd Park Mohr and includes original bandmates Rob Squires on bass and Brian Nevin on drums, as well as Jeremy Lawton on keyboard.
BHTM has been playing together for over three decades. The early years found the band playing in nightclubs around Denver, Fort Collins, and Boulder. They achieved critical success and developed a national following with their 1993 platinum-selling album, Sister Sweetly, with three songs, “Bittersweet,” “Broken Hearted Savior,” and “Circle” becoming rock and pop chart hits.
Rather than continuing to pursue pop-chart success, the band purposely stepped back to instead base their career around their live performances. This also gave the band the flexibility to expand into other genres, including their deep dive into traditional blues with their side project, the Big Head Blues Club. This allowed the band to collaborate with blues legends Hubert Sumlin, B.B. King, Charlie Musselwhite, Billy Branch, and Honeyboy Edwards and others.
Altogether, BHTM has released 13 studio and 3 live albums giving the band an enormous catalog to show off to the fans on their tour.
Wrap all of this up into a touring package and you get the performance that BHTM brought to Milwaukee’s historic Pabst Theater.
Todd Park Mohr gave a head’s up to the audience at the Pabst that the show would have a decidedly R&B and soul feel to it. However, the show started off on a decidedly funky tone with “Long Coal Train” from the 2017 release, New World Arisin’.
Mohr is a master guitarist at home on his vintage Fender Strat and is equally adept switching up from surf rock to hard rock at a moment’s notice. The audience went wild with Mohr’s extended guitar shreds and his gritty melodic rock. You could tell from the wide grin on his face that there was no place Todd Mohr would rather be than on that stage that night!
Throughout the evening, the mood and tempo of the songs varied frequently, including Mohr’s perhaps unintentional impersonation of a knees’ shakin, hips’ swaying modern-day Elvis on “New World Arisin’.”
The band brought out a definite boogie-woogie twist on John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom Boom,” which transitioned into the band’s hit “Circle” to close out the regular set.
This concert packed a few surprises—one of the best being Hazel Miller! Hailing from the Denver area, Miller is a tour de force in her own right and is widely renowned for her vocal skills. Named one of Denver’s 150 Unsung Heroes, Miller mixes blues and jazz with gospel and soul.
The story goes that Hazel Miller was attempting to relocate from Louisville to Los Angeles with her two children when her rental truck broke down in Denver. Rather than continue on her journey, she stayed and has called the Denver area her home for the past 35 years.
Miller sings and plays with The Hazel Miller Band performing an eclectic mix of jazz, R&B, blues, gospel, and original music. However, she has also been a regular part of BHTM’s lineup since the 1990s traveling frequently with the band nationally and internationally.
Miller’s soulful and powerful vocals complemented Todd Park Mohr’s guitar work on many of the show’s songs. Early on during the set, she accompanied Mohr on “Right Place Wrong Time” and “It’s Alright.” Miller took the lead and showed the depth of her talent during the encore leading off with Tom Jones’ “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” With Miller at the vocal helm, you knew “it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl!”
Los Colognes—Unique and Intriguing
Another very pleasant surprise of the evening was the opener Los Colognes. The Nashville-based band, co-founded around 2012 by singer-guitarist Jay Rutherford and drummer Aaron ‘Mort’ Mortenson, also includes Whit Murray on guitar, Gordon Persha on bass, and Alex Caress on keyboards. The fact that Gordon Persha is a Green Bay Packers fan was a definite hit with the Milwaukee audience. A jam-oriented band, the group has released three albums, with the most recent being The Wave, out in 2017.
Pronounced “Co-LO-nez,” the band’s lead, Jay Rutherford readily admitted the band’s name “means nothing and is just a stupid name.” Maybe so, but the band’s music is definitely serious!
To be sure, Los Colognes bends and twists a few genres along the way. The band presents an intriguing sound. Think a blend of Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits, Tom Petty with slightly more twang, the loosey-goosey rock of J.J. Cale, and a sprinkling of melodic Radiohead! Just when you think you can tag a label on the band, the next song comes along that blows away the comparison.
In addition to original music from the co-writing talents of Rutherford and Mortenson, their set included a couple of covers to which they added their unique sound. The band launched into an energetic “Jumpin Jack Flash” and concluded their set with David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel.”
Los Colognes is but one example disabusing the notion that the Nashville area only produces country music clones. While Los Colognes is nearing the end of their three-week run of opening for BHTM, there will be plenty ahead for this creative and unique group.