A successful career as a rocker has inflated many musical heads to the bursting point. But despite the prefix, Big Head Todd Mohr’s uppermost appendage has not swollen much over the 35 years he’s fronted the band that bears his name, supported by a trio of Monsters.
His genial demeanor and bittersweet compositions have earned him a home-state fan base big enough to fill famed Red Rocks Amphitheater many times over and win him a world-wide following.
The majority of the Colorado quartet, frontman/guitarist/vocalist Todd Park Mohr, bassist Rob Squires and drummer Brad Nevin, has been playing together in bands since high school. The band formed in1986, officially becoming Big Head Todd and the Monsters the following year. Keyboardist Jeremy Lawton joined in 2004. The group’s third album, 1993’s “Sister Sweetly,” on Giant Records, went platinum, with three songs, including the fan favorite “Bittersweet,” earning slots on the Billboard top 25.
But as many of these giant record deals do, this one imploded when the label was sold to Warner Brothers, and the band found itself being dictated to by empty suits with little empathy or understanding of the band’s talents or ambitions. So the band hit the road and has stayed there ever since, doing things their own way, hands on the product from start to finish.
Even the well-worn trick of ocean cruising with your favorite noise makers got a makeover in Monster land. Instead of mega-voyages with a gaggle of artists and fans crammed onto a floating skyscraper laid on its side, Todd and company opted for longer, leisurely river cruises with just them on the menu.
This year, the group had to cancel its fan tour. They instead opted to come to Greensboro for three concerts.
Kelly Harrill, who is executive vice president of Koury Hospitality Hotels, including Grandover Resort, has known the band for over 15 years and was a fan before that.
“In the middle of COVID, the band realized that they couldn’t do the cruise they usually do for their fans,” Harrill says. “So Rob Squires, the bass player, called and said, ‘We’ve thinking about doing something, but nothing feels good or safe. Do you think we could do something at Grandover and keep it intimate and kind of take over the hotel and do it in a safe environment?’”
Harrill was happy to make that happen.
“We planned it last spring. It sold out in a day. About 240 really close friends and fans from across the country and about 50 local people,” he said. “We didn’t want more than that. We wanted to keep it safe.”
The group will play private shows at Grandover on Thursday and Friday nights and a public show at Piedmont Hall on Saturday.
“They’ve fallen in love with Greensboro,” Harrill says. “As they’ve toured through the years, they always stop here and either play here or play Raleigh or Charlotte and are home here for a night or two. They’ve embraced our city and like the people here.”
Even before virtual performances became a way of life for most bands during the pandemic, Todd and his Monster men were putting out Monster’s Music Monthly, a video gift to their fans.
“We just started to have a different approach to our business model and decided to make a new recording and video every month,” Todd said in a phone interview last week. The videos show up on all the usual social suspect places such as YouTube and Facebook, iTunes and Spotify.
Past video outings have sported some nifty collaborations. Buddy Guy helped out on “Hoochie Coochie Man” in 2019, as did John Popper on a cover of Springsteen’s “Rosalita — Come Out Tonight.” The band covered Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love” with Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo also in 2019 and featured Ronnie Baker Brooks on “Remedy” also that same year.
“It also gives me an outlet for a new song I might write or an older song that we like a different version of. We can do anything we want to, we’ve done documentaries with it,” Mohr says.
But once again, Todd isn’t doing it like the others. He laughs when asked how he monetizes it. “There’s no monetization, sir. The monetization is you coming to see my show. And another thing that’s neat about it is that some of them kind of go viral.”
One example was in September 2020 when the band covered “Brandy.” It’s a killer take, Todd’s voice a mirror image of Looking Glass’ 1972 original, voiced by guitarist/vocalist and composer Elliot Lurie, but a bit more hip, filled out with horn section augmented by a chorus of soulful, churchy backup vocals.
But this month’s offering may turn out to be one of the band’s top views. As a tribute to the passing of Z.Z. Top bassist Dusty Hill, the group did a version of “Cheap Sunglasses.”
Next month’s offering promises to be just as interesting, a cover of Joe Walsh’s “A Life Of Illusion” from 1981’s “There Goes The Neighborhood.” It’s a strange one, even for Walsh, with snatches of Mariachi music sneaking in and out between Walsh’s unearthly wails and slippery, scathing guitar contortions. It’ll be interesting to see how Mohr translates that one.
And as for new output, Mohr says there’s an album in the works, but details are top secret. “I haven’t even told our manager that we’re doing it because we love the idea of having an album in the can and then being like do whatever we want to with it,” he says. “We might consider doing a full feature film,” he says, not ruling out a Spinal Tap-type visual venture.
Contact Grant Britt at firstname.lastname@example.org.