2017 Unsung Hero

Musical heritage

Jimmy Stadler shares a lifetime of tuneful experience


Everybody knows Jimmy Stadler. Whether it’s through his near-perpetual presence onstage playing solo or with his band, playing music for a benefit, getting residents of the Taos Living Center to do a singalong or as a student taking one of his Taos Academy classes, he’s not only in Taos, but all over the region.

Often called “the hardest working musician around” and regularly given a “Best of Taos” award in The Taos News reader’s survey for good reason, it’s through his generosity in giving back to the community that he has been selected as one of this year’s “unsung heroes.”

Stadler literally grew up playing music. Like The Cowsills or The Partridge Family of yore, Stadler and his nine siblings performed pretty much anywhere wholesome entertainment was needed. He once told Tempo, “When we get together, we all sing. It’s special. It becomes more special every year. … Music is still a part of everybody’s life.”

He often speaks about how his mom was a concert pianist and how they had three pianos in the house, as well as a number of other instruments. “My mother was a real giving person,” he said. “She played keyboards for, like, five churches and my parents always said, ‘Don’t be selfish, you’ve gotta give of your talent, contribute [to the world].”

His father hated TV, he told Tempo’s music columnist, Ariana Kramer, so the children had to either go outside and play, work in the garden or play music. All of Stadler’s family members are musical. They performed at county fairs and at church when he was growing up. Stadler also had his first band in third grade. The band’s members knew how to play three songs with three chords, Stadler recalled. “We would go play at the old folks home when I was in the sixth grade.”

In high school, he said he started playing any kind of music that could make some money. He played banjo in a pizza parlor, bass guitar in a Chicago horn band, then was caught up in banjo and bluegrass music. From there, he went on to play in numerous bands with a folk, rock and country-rock sound.

All of this resulted in Stadler possessing tremendous versatility. He can play almost anything. At his regular gig at Sabroso Restaurant in Arroyo Seco, when someone shouts out a request

— whether it’s rock, country, pop or show tunes — he can play it, or at least do a decent job winging it. He also puts his extensive musical knowledge to work at his “Off the Cuff Live” show Monday nights at the KTAOS Solar Center where, with a local guest musician, he plays a tribute to some musical greats, such as Bob Dylan, Elton John, Prince, Steve Miller, Ray Charles, Elvis Costello or, like the show he did last June with Vanilla Pop’s Alan Vetter, a program of “one-hit wonders.”

Other regular appearances include Michael Hearne’s Big Barn Dance Music Festival in September and occasionally at the Taos Plaza Live summer concert series.

Audiences also appreciate the way he projects humor and sincerity in his act, which also transfers into his teaching and community activity. Many folks might not know that he and his kids were partly responsible for helping to get the skate park built at the Taos Youth and Family Center. (Unfortunately, as soon as it was finished, Stadler broke his arm while skating, resulting in Tempo giving him the nickname “Crash.”)

“I definitely am compelled to do that,” Stadler said regarding his need to help out when a particular need is identified in the community. “Whether I really want to or not, sometimes I think I’m supposed to do this.”

Interestingly, Stadler balked when first asked to be a teacher for the Taos Academy Charter School. He said he was such a terrible student when he was young that he didn’t think he had what it takes to teach kids himself. “Musically, I was fine, but I hated school, really. But, it’s getting better. I just followed the path. What’s the [worst] that could happen if it doesn’t work out? Then, I got more involved. We get into the children’s lives, try to be helpful. It’s helped a lot of children to get out of their shells.”

For the past several years, Stadler has led Taos Academy’s music program, giving students a feel for what the real world of rock music is all about. The school boasts three bands, each named by students – one for high schoolers and two for middle school students. In the program, they learn to play a variety of instruments, including guitar, bass guitar, piano, synthesizer and drums.

Stadler’s approach to teaching is inclusive and engaging, he told columnist Kramer. He finds out who wants to play what and tries to accommodate them. “We then pick the songs we’ll learn over the next seven weeks [14 classes]. I really try to give them a good experience on what it takes to be in a band,” said Stadler. The program is so popular, he said he started out with 12 kids and now it’s up to 45.

In addition to learning their musical parts, Stadler emphasizes the importance of getting along and supporting one another. “I really try to stress the magic of music and what it does for us – our families and the world,” Stadler said. “Along with those, I’ll recap some cool moments from my recent performances to share with them – good or bad.”

The most rewarding teaching experience for Stadler happens when he sees a band suddenly “get it.” It’s that moment when the members realize how all the parts work together as a whole. When asked what it’s like to see that, Stadler breathed a heavy sigh and said, “It’s great. It reminds me of the first thing I wanted to do in third grade, was, ‘get a band together.’ I mean, in third grade, we had, like, three songs, but I played guitar. We had a drummer and maracas and a singer [laughs], and in the sixth grade, I got involved in the school band, and I was writing charts and I was tuning 50 to 60 guitars and we made five albums, and then I’d get asked to be in one band and then another. … It’s exciting when it comes together. That’s what keeps me going.”

For more information on the Jimmy Stadler Band, visit jimmystadler.com.