Ten years ago on April 18, then-Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt named a day for the man some call the King of O-Town -- saxophonist Joe McQueen.
An honor like that often comes after an artist has already passed on --and perhaps Leavitt feared that, at 83, McQueen might not be around too much longer to be honored.
A decade later, the journeyman musician is still going strong, playing classic jazz and bop several times a month at area venues.
McQueen, who was born in Oklahoma and raised in Texas, came to Ogden for a gig at the end of World War II. He remained and built a life and a following, working also as a mechanic and automotive technology instructor at Weber State University. Nowadays, he plays music and works as an elder-care companion for senior citizens.
Walter "Mitch" Mitchell, proprietor of the Wine Cellar, wanted to host a special evening to celebrate a decade's worth of Joe McQueen Days. A spaghetti supper will launch the evening, with a McQueen performance to follow.
"What can you say about Joe? He has been an inspiration to people in so many ways," said Mitchell. "He puts out excellent-quality music, and not only that, his wisdom, so far as the music, is second to none.
"Plus, for me, he has always been the guy who let me know the history of some of the clubs around here. That has helped me and (Mitchell's wife) Dell do well in the business, by working to keep it clean and safe. He helped guide us that way. He is like a granddaddy, in a nutshell, to me."
McQueen is known for his work with some of the greats of the post-war jazz era, many of whom joined him back in Ogden's heyday as a railroad town. Legends like Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Lester Young, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie took their turns with McQueen on Utah bandstands.
But it is as a local musical influence that McQueen has had his biggest impact.
"Joe is kind of like a father to all of us and what I like about him is we get to be in contact with the historic music scene in Ogden through him. And of course, that is really cool. But I am also amazed that he is still a bad-ass saxophone machine. At his age, when he plays, he is no novelty act. He still has the lungs, even at this altitude," said Dan Weldon, a singer/songwriter who plays solo as well as with his own band, The Bastard Redheads, and with former Ogden musician Brad Wheeler in The Legendary Porch Pounders.
Weldon said that it was McQueen who helped persuade both him and Wheeler to give up smoking and work toward a healthy lifestyle.
"His greatest lesson to all of us who play is that, if you take care of yourself, you can have a music career until the day you freakin' die," said Weldon.
Essence of goodness
Ron Atencio, proprietor of Mojos Caffe & Gallery, an all-ages club in downtown Ogden, has worked on historical preservation committees for the city, as well as on the committee to allocate RAMP tax funding to the local arts and recreation community.
Atencio is pleased at having been asked to speak at the McQueen event at the Wine Cellar.
"He is such a big piece of history of our community," said Atencio. "... We are just lucky to have him still performing at 93."
Said Mitchell: "Regardless of where he plays, you can look out at the audience and see all kinds of people and all kinds of generations."
Atencio told of a time a couple of years ago, when he had McQueen booked at the Ben Lomond for a New Year's Eve party. He asked McQueen if he would also perform for the mostly mid-teen crowd at Mojos the night before.
"When he walked into Mojos, and all these young kids saw him, without even knowing a thing about his story, they could tell they had a superstar in their midst," said Atencio. "They just went crazy, and hung on every note. He touched them with his music -- but also with that classic, dignified presence of his. It's something he has that you just don't find too much these days.
"And when he starts playing, you know God is speaking through him, through that instrument he's played for 70-odd years now. That sound is the essence of goodness."