In the Sixties on Martha’s Vineyard, several musicians played coffeehouses — the Mooncusser, the Chilmark Community Center. They’d go on to move to Colorado and form a band in Boulder that might just be the best band you’ve never heard of. In 2012 television producer Lee Aronsohn set out to produce a documentary about the band that epitomized for him “all the freedom, beauty, and promise of the Sixties flower generation.” In the film “Forty Years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie,” Aronsohn proves that, yes, you can go home again, and tells a tale about the enduring power of friendship.
Bound for Boulder
Picture yourself at the University of Colorado back in 1971. Over on a corner of the campus, a bunch of long-haired hippie types tune their instruments and then slip into a folky groove, and before long they’re surrounded by a throng of students.
The band is called Magic Music, a free-range group of musicians and hangers-on who live up in the mountains and come down to the campus from time to time to busk for spare change. And they’re blowing up.
Back up to the ’60s, Martha’s Vineyard: A bunch of Vineyard kids — Will Luckey and Tim Goodman (who still live on the Vineyard today), and Bill “Das” Makepeace — bonded over their love of music and began playing Island venues such as the Mooncusser Coffee House and the Chilmark Community Center.
After high school, Luckey headed out to Colorado, met up with a fellow guitar player, Lynn “Flatbush” Poyer, flute player “Tode” Cahill, and bass player Rob “Poonah” Galloway, and Magic Music was born. Luckey’s old Vineyard friend Bill Makepeace would soon join them.
“We were living up in a place called El Dorado Canyon in two old school buses and a bread truck,” Luckey, best known as a music teacher on the Island these days, said recently.
There’s something about Magic Music
Magic Music got its first big break in 1971 when the band was asked to open for Cat Stevens, a huge act at the time. James Taylor and Joni Mitchell were backstage that night to watch the band; everything went great. Actually, the only problem was that Magic Music was too good — the band played not one but three encores, and walked offstage thinking they owned the world, only to be brought down to earth by Cat Stevens’ manager, who told them, “You’re fired!”
“We learned a lesson from that,” Luckey said. “The opening act doesn’t do encores.”
Lee Aronsohn, producer and director of the recently released film about the band, “Forty Years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie,” said in an interview with the Times that back then he read a book called “An Underground Guide to the College of Your Choice” that said the University of Colorado was the place to go if you wanted sex and drugs, and that was exactly what Aronsohn wanted to major in.
“One day I came across this group of guys playing beautiful harmonies,” Aronsohn said. “The songs were infectious; I wanted to know who were these guys living up in the mountains.”
By the time Aronsohn left Boulder, he had no doubt that Magic Music was going to make it big. “We all thought that they would be off to bigger and better things,” he said. Aronsohn would go off to bigger and better things himself, going on to co-create the sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” and produce “The Big Bang Theory.”
Over the years he often played Magic Music tunes in his head — he would even sing them to his daughter — but he always wondered why none of these songs had ever been recorded.
Actually, the band had been very close to signing a contract on a number of occasions — even a deal with Capitol Records — but their skepticism of big business held them back. “We were very idealistic back then,” Luckey said; “let’s just say we didn’t trust ‘the man.’”
But where’d they all go?
In 2012, Aronsohn had stepped away from the sitcom business and was looking for a new project to take on. He couldn’t stop thinking about the band that had made such an impression on him when he was young. “I was a huge fan,” Aronsohn said, “not only of their music, but of their image and ethos. They epitomized for me all the freedom, beauty, and promise of the Sixties flower generation.”
He wanted to know whatever became of those guys who lived up in the mountains and played such beautiful music. He wanted to know how their lives had turned out.
Aronsohn came across an article about Chris “Spoons” Daniels, leader of the band called Chris Daniels and the Kings, that mentioned Magic Music — Daniels was a former member of the band — and from there, with the aid of an Internet search, the rest of the puzzle pieces began to fall into place.
Daniels told Aronsohn that the band had broken up in 1976 but, as luck would have it, many of the original group were in Los Angeles and, even as they spoke, were working on an album of the band’s original songs.
Remember Tim Goodman, who as a teenager had played with Luckey on the Vineyard? Goodman had never been a member of the band, but had become a successful musician in his own right, and thought, like Aronsohn, that it was a crime the group’s music had never been recorded. So he was in the process of doing just that. He had assembled most of the original band members, along with old friends and some major players — John McPhee of the Doobie Brothers, Jimmy Haslip of the Yellowjackets, and Scarlet Rivera from Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review. Daniels told Aronsohn, who was also in Los Angeles at the time, to “come on over.”
Behold, the missing tapes
Aronsohn met the band at the studio of Robby Krieger (of the Doors) in L.A., and did an initial set of interviews. “I thought we could do a documentary on the making of the album and the tour in support of the album,” Aronsohn said. He wasn’t sure how the movie would ultimately play out, but he wanted it to be about the music and the musicians and the effect they had on so many people, such as himself, back in the ’70s.
And as great as the new tracks that Goodman was recording sounded, Aronsohn still missed the original Magic Music sound. And then he made an amazing discovery. With the help of various band members, Aronsohn was able to assemble rough tapes of the band’s original music that had never been professionally recorded.
Aronsohn “wanted to capture the old sound because the old sound was his memory,” Luckey said.
Over the next two years, Aronsohn would assemble archival footage, and over the course of five different filmings, shoot the band in Boulder and up in the mountains where they used to live — places like El Dorado Canyon and Allen’s Park. The only members missing were Bill Makepeace, who had a falling-out with the group, and the band’s tabla (percussion) player, Kevin “CW” Milburn. Milburn’s departure was shrouded in mystery — rumour had it that he wasn’t allowed to come back to Colorado.
But what about CW?
“We shot for two years,” Aronsohn said, “but we still weren’t sure what exactly the film was about.” Aronsohn filmed stories about what transpired in the lives of the various band members, some heartbreaking and some uplifting and life-affirming.
In 1991, for instance, Luckey fell off a ladder and smashed his elbows and his wrist, and broke all his ribs. “I did a swan dive off the roof,” Luckey said; “I thought I’d never play guitar again.” As it turned out, Luckey would go on to get his degree in music from Berklee College of Music, which would launch him on a successful teaching career on the Island.
Aronsohn’s first idea had been to film a reunion concert in Boulder with all the original band members, but as he listened to the original tracks, he knew that the group wouldn’t sound the same without CW Milburn’s high-end vocals rounding out the harmonies.
Without spoiling the suspense for viewers of the movie, suffice to say that searching for, then finding CW and bringing him back into the fold turns out to be the hook Aronsohn was looking for. The film ends triumphantly with CW reuniting with the band and them playing a sold-out concert at Boulder Theater on Nov. 22, 2015. The movie was released in the fall of 2017.
“In a microcosm,” Aronsohn said, “the band’s journey is all of our journeys. We’re all faced with the kind of choices they faced: Do you follow your passions? Do you do what you need to do to raise your family? They manage to come through it all with such grace and love for each other that at the end of the day — it’s amazing to me.”
“I’m happy with the way it came out,” Luckey said. “When all is said and done, it’s a movie about the timelessness of music and the power of friendship.”
“Forty Years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie” was awarded “Best Documentary Film” at the Boulder International Film Festival, and may be seen on On Demand, iTunes and Amazon Prime. magicmusicmovie.com.