Lee Aronsohn was in a place in his career where he could take the time to track down and find out what happened to his favorite band in college, a band that never quite made the big time, but should have.
He always wondered what happened to the musicians who were wildly popular in Colorado, especially in Boulder, in the '60s and early '70s. He never imagined the diverse directions and life stories they would tell after they broke up in 1976.
“I just wanted to hear their music again,” he said. “I’ve had a very long and fruitful career in television and I got to the point where I wanted to do something I hadn’t done before. It was very fruitful for me. I always had it in my head to find out what happened to them. Their songs were always still in my head.”
The band has a folksy, bluesy sound akin to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
“We call them ‘Crosby, Stills and Tode,’” Aronsohn said, referring to one of the original band members’ nicknames. Each band member has a nickname; there’s Tode, Flatbush, Das, Spoons, CW, and Luckey, though Luckey is Will Luckey’s surname, and the one who usually handed out the nicknames.
His film “40 Years in the Making – The Magic Music Movie” -- screening during the Napa Valley Film Festival -- finds the musicians in the band Magic Music scattered across the country, some successful and still involved in music, others down on their luck. There are grudges to bear, held for decades, that at times placed Aronsohn in the unusual role as counselor and negotiator.
Known for his longtime television career creating shows such as “The Love Boat”, “Murphy Brown”, “Cybill”, and one of the developers of modern sitcoms “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory”, Aronsohn sets out to tell Magic Music’s path to almost-greatness and is determined to reunite the band if only for his own gratification. The film is scored almost completely from music recorded and played by the band between 1970 and 1976.
“It’s music that hasn’t seen the light of day since then. It’s new, yet old,” Aronsohn said.
Aronsohn hopes to get a CD cut of the music to be available for the pubic to purchase one day. He’s hoping the film will create demand for the band’s music.
“I want as many people as possible to hear their music,” he said.
Band members come and go, so do managers. They come close to getting a record deal but balk at the terms and just want to play music, hang out in their hippie communes or live in their converted, old-school buses. They do drugs, flirt with national stardom playing shows in L.A., New York, Nashville, opening for the likes of Cat Stevens, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Steve Martin and more. They write brilliant songs, play beautiful music, and perform with sweet harmonies. But they never become a household name even though Aronsohn thought they would.
Spoiler alert: The band does unite for a concert and it brings tears of joy and nostalgia to Aronsohn’s eyes. He said he didn’t know what to expect when they finally were reunited with instruments and one another.
“They sounded exactly the way they did 40 years ago,” Aronsohn said.
Some members of the band stayed in touch over the years and would play at private reunions, but they had not performed professionally until Aronsohn tracked them down.
The filming took place in five phases of shooting over two years, Aronsohn said. The hours and hours of footage and the decades of storytelling was a “little intimidating,” he said, adding that he had “no idea how to make a coherent film” out of all of it and “do justice to the various threads” of their stories.
Their paths weave in and out over the timeline with where they lived, how they connected, who came and who went.
“The first cut (of the film) was three hours,” he said.
The band played again after the Napa Valley Film Festival screening of the Magic Music film on Saturday, Nov. 11 at Uptown Theatre.