Culture / Music

Memorabilia from Historic Caribou Ranch and Recording Studio to be auctioned


On Jan. 24, 2015 Leslie Hindman Auctioneers will conduct the sale of studio memorabilia and ranch furnishings from the storied Caribou Ranch, a celebrated guest ranch and recording studio where 70’s and 80’s music legends wrote, recorded and relaxed.

Caribou Ranch was a recording studio built in the Rocky Mountains by Grammy winning musician and producer James William Guercio near the town of Nederland, Colorado in Western Boulder County. The studio hosted over 178 musicians during its tenure producing 45 top ten albums, 18 Grammys and 20 number-one Billboard Hits. Featuring over 400 lots, the auction and public exhibition will be held at the Denver Design Center and includes studio instruments, memorabilia and ranch furnishings.

In Guercio’s barn turned studio, Joe Walsh recorded the first album that came out of Caribou Ranch, the eponymous 1972 Barnstorm. The barn conversion was not yet complete, but the dirt floors were only a tribute to the remote, creative ambiance. “Rocky Mountain Way” was the first hit recorded at Caribou, and soon after word got out that Mr. Guercio had created a state of the art recording studio far away from big city distractions and frenzied scenes.

As the first destination recording studio, music history was made by illustrious artists and groups such as Elton John, Stephen Stills, Billy Joel, Chicago, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Beach Boys, Michael Jackson, Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart, Frank Zappa, Jerry Lee Lewis, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, U2 and many more. Wildly popular songs from the 1970s and 80s were written and recorded on the ranch that include chart topping hits such as Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star,” Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now,” and Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom.”

Caribou was a place where bands could fully immerse themselves in the creative process and focus on creating unforgettable music. Elton John’s 1974 album Caribou was recorded at and named after the studio where his next two albums would also be recorded: Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy and Rock of the Westies. Here Elton John also recorded the single “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” to which John Lennon contributed during recording sessions.

“Our life on Caribou Ranch was wonderful and memorable but the ranch has new owners now, and we have moved on to our next Caribou adventure,” said James W. Guercio. “We felt it was time to share with the fans some of the memories and stories that remain from that magical time.” Guercio goes on to say, “We are honored that Caribou Ranch is being inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame and thrilled that the exhibit at Red Rocks will keep the legacy of Caribou Ranch alive.”

Highlights of the auction include a mahogany Steinway & Sons grand piano, circa 1910, used while recording “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” from Elton John’s Caribou album. “The Steinway was often the piano of choice if the artist was recording a ballad” said bassist Kenny Passarelli. “It had the smooth gentle sound that producers were looking for.”

A Burton acoustic left on the ranch during a period in the 1970s when Willie Nelson, John Denver, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings visited the studio is available. The guitar later became the campfire guitar that any number of artists strummed during an evening campfire on the ranch. Another highlight is the Wm. Knabe & Co. baby grand piano, which was played by Elton John, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Frank Zappa and everyone who stayed where the piano was housed. This is the primary piano on which Elton John wrote Rock of the Westies, and it was pictured with Michael Jackson in a 2014 Rolling Stone special edition.

Other highlights include a Hammond B3 organ with the sound of rare and unique Leslie cabinet speakers, used by nearly every artist who recorded at Caribou; a Gibson Thunderbird bass played by Terry Kath of Chicago; and the sleek black Bösendorfer grand piano heard on many of the jazz albums recorded at Caribou by artists such as Chick Corea and Al Di Meola; and a navy blue hooded guest parka worn by Michael Jackson while visiting the Ranch during the Jacksons Victory Tour. Additionally, the 1982 Honda ATC that Jackson is seen riding in the November/December 1984 issue of People Weekly Extra is available. Also included from Jim Guercio’s private collection is a 1985 Black Chevrolet Corvette with personalized Caribou license plates.

Furniture and signage from the Caribou cabins are available including the two-piece Renaissance Revival mahogany bedroom set from the Presidents Suite in the Ouray cabin, originally made for President Grover Cleveland. Here, many major artists slept including Elton John, Michael Jackson and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Caribou Ranch was in operation for just over a decade until the control room suffered extensive fire damage in March 1985. Though the Caribou Ranch gates are closed to the public, through the auction, fans of music will have access to the rare memorabilia, instruments and furnishings that made the Caribou Ranch name what it is today.

A portion of the proceeds will go to The Colorado Music Hall of Fame, a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization (EIN 27-2529106) founded in 2011 to honor those individuals who have come to define the state’s amazing and diverse musical legacy. The 2015 class will include Dan Fogelberg, Joe Walsh & Barnstorm and Caribou Ranch, the legendary recording studio.

Auction: Saturday, January 24| 3:00 p.m.

Preview: Monday, January 19 | 10 am – 5 pm
Tuesday, January 20 | 10 am – 5 pm
Wednesday, January 21 | 10 am – 5 pm
Thursday, January 22 |10 am – 5 pm
Friday, January 23 | 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday, January 24 |10 am – 3 pm

Location: Denver Design Center (East Building)
595 South Broadway, Suite 101 North

Auction catalogues are available for $35 at (303) 825-1855 or by email at They will also be available at the preview.

Click here for a virtual catalogue.

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