Leaner & Lunker hoping to bring its magic back to the stage at The Press | SteamboatToday.com

Leaner & Lunker hoping to bring its magic back to the stage at The Press

Things have changed since Joe Ghiglia and Rick Bear graced the stage at the Ratskeller, located in the basement of Inn at Thunderhead in Ski Time Square, in the 1970s.

It was there the two local musicians, who featured folk and country rock in their sets, formed Leaner & Lunker, a relationship that has lasted for 50 years and found a following that has never faded.

“My heart always goes to the Inn at Thunderhead because that’s where it really started,” said Ghiglia, who is in his mid-70s. “I think the first place I played in town was the Cameo. They didn’t have a PA and I just walked around the bar passing my hat, and I usually came back with more drugs than money, but that was the start of it.”

Shortly after arriving in Steamboat Springs, Ghiglia met Bear, and the two soon discovered they shared a love for the guitar, which led them to the stage and fueled their passion to perform.

“Most bands back then didn’t last for a year because of egos,” Bear said. “We’ve just hit it off, and the fact that we’ve been together this long and still enjoy playing together is a remarkable feat. I’m tickled to celebrate this.”

Both men performed in a number of different groups over the years, but always seemed to end up back on the stage together. Ghiglia thought about taking his career to the next level, and even headed to California with the rock band Jemima Puddle Duck. The band lasted for about three years before the members went in different directions. Ghiglia had fallen in love with Steamboat, and wasn’t ready to trade his love for the town and its lifestyle for what the music industry had to offer.

Mary MacGregor and Joe Ghiglia share the stage during a concert in the Sheraton Steamboat’s grand ballroom in the late 1970s.
Joe Ghiglia/Courtesy photo

Leaner & Lunker teamed up with Mary MacGregor, who was living in Steamboat at the time, to create Leaner, Lunker & Betsy — a band named after the members’ dogs. They played together for several years before MacGregor left to tour as a backup singer with Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame.

Yarrow asked MacGregor to sing “Torn Between Two Lovers,” a song he had written with Phillip Jarrell. It reached No. 1 on the pop charts in February 1977, as well as the Easy Listening chart in the final week of 1976 and first week of 1977.

MacGregor will not be in town this weekend as her former bandmates, Ghiglia and Bear, join Ellen Davis on the stage at The Press, located at 1009 Lincoln Ave.

This weekend’s show, a celebration of Leaner & Lunker’s 50th anniversary, is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets to see the band, which also includes drummer Ron Wheeler, bass player Willie Samuelson and lead guitar Randy Kelly, will be on sale at the door.

“I think so much of our success is that we enjoy it, we have a good time,” Bear said. “Anytime you go to a show and the performers are enjoying themselves, it kind of drags the crowd along with them.”

These days Ghiglia lives on property he bought years ago near Stagecoach, but he’s most at home on stage with the lights shining down. It’s a love he discovered back in the 1970s when Leaner & Lunker were a household name in Steamboat, back when he’d play gigs at the town’s most popular nightspots like the Ratskeller, which closed in 2008; the Cave In, formerly located near the corner of U.S. Highway 40 and Mount Werner Road; and the Cove, which was located in the Harbor Hotel.

In more recent years the group has reunited to perform at the Rusted Porch, The Chief Theater and The Press.

“I have a regular gig on Tuesday mornings at Casey’s Pond, and I love it, and they love it,” Ghiglia said. “We do it for our soul. … We play a lot of oldies and it’s just so good to see the smiles on their faces when we come in and play.”

There is no question that the spirit of Leaner & Lunker comes out in its songs, but Bear said it’s hard to say why they have been so popular for so long.

“That’s a $64 question,” Bear said. “I guess because we play stuff that our peers enjoy, but yet, when we have a younger group in the audience it seems like a lot of younger people seem to like their parent’s music better than they like the music of their own era.”

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