Grand County loses special voice in Steve Cormey
Grand Lake, CO Colorado
The music community and beyond in Grand County suffered a loss last week in the death of Steve Cormey.
The talented artist with a humble, even apologetic, demeanor died in his sleep at his home outside Grand Lake on Friday, Nov. 18, from cancer.
But what he left behind is a treasure trove of work that has long inspired and entertained – from his folksy campfire songs, his recorded albums, to the many colorful murals and Grand Avenue business signs he created.
His lyricism has come to define the energy, the humor and the visual attributes of these mountain communities.
Songwriting was Cormey’s passion. Music was his life.
“I don’t know how many songs he had in-process,” said Cormey’s fiance Shelly Bradford, of Denver. “There’s 100 at least. It’s how he communicated. He thought in song. It was how he kept track of his memories, through music.”
Cormey reconnected with Bradford in 2009 after having known her some 30 years prior. When they met again, it “was a launch into the most incredible friendship I’ve ever known,” Bradford said. “We shared a heart from the very beginning.”
Always the story-teller through music, Cormey often would sing a song as a telephone voice message to her – some funny, some serious, “like a present to me,” she said.
For many, one of Cormey’s most profound songs was recorded in “studio B” in Grand Lake in 1997 in one of six albums he recorded, “Walking Stick.”
The lyrics of “Never Summer… Forever Home” speak of the beauty surrounding Grand Lake as a “magic place, a keeper of my soul” and “calming waters” that “ease into my mind.”
A place – Cormey wrote and would sing about for the next 14 years – of “spirits bold.”
Cormey wrote that song, presently being considered as Grand Lake’s official town song, during a hike. He once wrote in a blog that he always carried with him a small notebook for when the words came to him. Or many times, he wrote lyrics on bar napkins, then transcribed them into the computer, then revisited the words at a later time to see if they still held promise.
From those surges of creativity emerged Cormey classics such as “Rainbow Mountain,” “No Bad Days,” “Make a Little Ripple,” “Walking Stick,” “The Donut Man,” or the song he sung in a Johnny Cash-esque voice about “Grand County Pirates” who “haul them away,” tourists who “come on vacation and leave on probation.”
The third-generation Coloradan was a natural when it came to his music. He grew up in the Denver area and attended Cherry Creek High School, then the University of Northern Colorado in “something he never did anything with,” said his older brother John Cormey.
That was because in college, Cormey had discovered he could play guitar.
“He picked it up and played it without ever having read music,” John said. “He had a special gift.”
Other than his mother who played the piano, and a “typical” middle-class suburban childhood filled with hours listening to 45’s -especially the Beach Boys and the Beatles – John Cormey is not sure where his brother’s self-taught gift for music came from, he said.
Out of college, Cormey moved to Colorado Springs and started his life-long career as an artist in the “Starlight Ramblers” band and in the band “Colorado Flyer,” a country-rock band.
He then found footing in Grand Lake, where his family had often visited through the years, and remained there for the next 30-plus years scratching out a living as a musician and artist in both Winter Park and Grand Lake. He originally played in the “No Name Band,” which performed in Winter Park’s Old Town, but mostly “his friends were his band,” said friend Larry Bishop. “He never liked the titles. Anybody could sit in with him.”
He performed venues across the county, from the Derailer to the Lariat Saloon. He played at countless weddings, funerals and fundraisers and was the music for countless birthdays, anniversaries and bachelorette parties at the Lariat, where he played most weekend nights of the past two decades.
“He spent more time praising the talents of those around than giving himself any sort of credit for his own wonderful achievements,” wrote Cormey’s ex wife, Ronda Eden, of Wyoming, in her blog. “He excelled at giving but failed hopelessly at receiving. He only knew how to give. He enjoyed life to the fullest and graciously accepted responsibility for his downfalls. He never wanted to hurt anyone.”
Eden illustrated the pages for Cormey’s first children’s story: “The Brothers Foot: A Hare Raising Story,” which was published in recent years and sold on Amazon.com and in local book stores. Cormey recently had completed the writing for the sequel to the children’s story, based on a song he wrote called “The Carrot Song.” It is the hope of friends the book still finds its way to book shelves.
A few years ago, Cormey was also instrumental in raising funds via a song recording, “Ribbons of Hope,” with Peggy Mann to supply the Granby Library with a section of books for patients who are in the throes of cancer.
And for his own health battles later, “He never gave up hope,” Bradford said. Cormey was private, she said, and never wanted a spotlight shone on his own misfortune.
“He never gave up on this condition he was experiencing,” Bradford said. “He would say, ‘When I’m feeling better, I’ve got to get back to my music.'”
Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603
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