Caribou Ranch

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Caribou Ranch was a recording studio built by producer James William Guercio in 1972 in a converted barn on ranch property in the Rocky Mountains near Nederland, Colorado, on the road that leads to the ghost town of Caribou. The studio was in operation until it was damaged in a fire in March 1985.[1] The ranch hosted some of the most prominent acts of the 1970s and 80s and was closely associated with the band Chicago, who recorded five consecutive albums there between 1973 and 1977.


In 1971, Guercio purchased Caribou Ranch, comprising more than 4,000 acres (1,600 ha) of ranch property in the Rocky Mountains.[2] The next year, Joe Walsh and Bill Szymczyk were starting work on Barnstorm at Walsh's home in Colorado when a mixer blew out on the first day. Szymczyk knew Guercio was building a new studio, visited the in-progress barn conversion at the ranch, and concluded that it would work for their project. They used the new studio to finish Barnstorm. Szymczyk next made Rick Derringer's All American Boy and the hit single "Rock & Roll, Hoochie Koo" there.[3]

Elton John's 1974 album Caribou was recorded at and named after the studio. John also recorded the single "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" there, along with its b-side, the John Lennon-penned "One Day (At A Time)," and the basic tracks and vocals for the single "Philadelphia Freedom" (the orchestral parts for which were overdubbed later). He also recorded his next two albums, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy and Rock of the Westies at Caribou Ranch.

Simultaneously in 1974 The Beach Boys attempted to record new material for their first studio album since Holland two years prior. The recordings were not very successful, but some songs such as "Good Timin'" and "Ding Dang" saw later release. Many other songs were demoed but have not yet seen official release. Beach Boys members Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston sang backing vocals in support of Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" during this time.

The group Chicago, managed by Guercio, recorded five studio albums there: Chicago VI, Chicago VII, Chicago VIII, Chicago X, and Chicago XI. Earth, Wind, & Fire recorded two of their albums there as well;[4] 1974's Open Our Eyes (Produced by Maurice White & Joe Wissert) and the 1975 Grammy winning That's the Way of the World (Produced by White and Charles Stepney).

By the mid 1980s, it was rumored that business was slow for the studio and their rates had dropped. In March 1985 Amy Grant, who had recorded four albums there, including her platinum-certified mainstream breakthrough album Unguarded, was about to fly out of Nashville to return to Caribou for work on her next project when word reached her that the studio was in flames.

The studio complex was shut down and never used again after the 1985 fire destroyed the control room and caused about US$3 million in damage. According to the Nederland Fire Chief, while the fire department was doing overhaul on the fire to make sure it was out, a chain saw cutting through the studio wall damaged several Gold Record plaques that had been awarded to Guercio's group Chicago.

Guercio's interests had shifted away from music and on transactions in 1996 and 2001 he sold 2,180 acres (880 ha) of the ranch to Boulder County and the City of Boulder, and another 1,489 acres (603 ha) were placed under conservation easement. A housing development by Guercio's Caribou Companies takes up much of the remaining land.[5]

In a 2008 interview with Denver PBS series Studio 12,[6] Guercio said the studio's control room was rebuilt after the fire.[a] Guercio added, however, that he has no plans to reopen the recording facility for business.

In 2009, the Neve 8016 mixing console from the recording studio was refurbished by Vintage King Audio and purchased by Prime Studio in Austria.[7]

The remaining 1,600-acre (650 ha) property was sold to Indian Peaks Holdings LLC for $32.5 million.[8]

In January 2015, the remaining Rock 'n' Roll memorabilia was auctioned in Denver. Over $800,000 was raised from more than 1500 bidders.[9] Items sold included:[10]

  • A baby grand piano, used by Elton John, Véronique Sanson, Frank Zappa and Michael Jackson, sold for $52,500[11]
  • A Hammond organ and Leslie speakers, used by Chicago, Earth, Wind & Fire, Steven Stills, Rod Stewart, and others, sold for $11,250[12]
  • President Grover Cleveland's bed, used by many artists including Elton John, Michael Jackson, and Jerry Lee Lewis, sold for $11,250[13]
  • A 1985 black Corvette with custom 'CARIBU' plates, which was often used by celebrities visiting Caribou Ranch. Val Kilmer drove the Corvette during his run in Hamlet at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in 1988. The Corvette sold for $10,625[14]
  • A Victorian horn chair from the Recording Studio Game Room sold for $2,215[15]


Over 150 artists recorded at Caribou.[16] Notable acts included the following.


  1. ^ Only the roof and structure of the control room were repaired; the actual room itself was not. The part of the studio where the musicians performed remained intact.


  1. ^ a b Mark Brown (2008-01-25). "Reliving the ranch". Rocky Mountain News. Archived from the original on 2009-02-28.
  2. ^ a b c d Alicia Wallace (2013-07-22). "Caribou Ranch property, historic recording studio near Nederland up for sale". Daily Camera. Retrieved 2013-07-22.
  3. ^ Sound on Sound magazine (2004). Bill Szymczyk. Retrieved January 25, 2006
  4. ^ Mark Brown (2008-09-22). "'Best years' of Earth Wind & Fire". Archived from the original on 2008-09-23.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Weiser, Scott (21 April 2001). "Homes on the range: Mountain development gets a free pass". Boulder Weekly. Archived from the original on 2006-11-12.
  6. ^ "Caribou Ranch", aired February 13, 2008
  7. ^ "Vintage King Restores Caribou Ranch Neve 8016". Pro Sound News. Vol. 31, no. 7. July 2009. p. 14. Retrieved 2020-02-13.
  8. ^ "Fabled Caribou Ranch above Nederland sells for $32.5 million".
  9. ^ "Caribou Ranch auction reaps $800,000, draws 1,500 bidders". Archived from the original on 2015-08-12. Retrieved 2015-08-06.
  10. ^ "Rock and roll history sold at Caribou Ranch auction". Archived from the original on 13 December 2015. Retrieved 22 May 2022.
  11. ^ "A Wm. Knabe & Co. Baby Grand Piano". Archived from the original on 2015-12-22. Retrieved 2015-08-14.
  12. ^ "A Hammond B3 Organ with Two Leslie Speakers | Leslie Hindman Auctioneers". Archived from the original on 2016-01-14. Retrieved 2016-01-03.
  13. ^ "A Historically Significant American Burl Walnut, Mahogany and Oak Bed". Archived from the original on 2015-12-22. Retrieved 2015-08-14.
  14. ^ "A 1985 Black Chevrolet Corvette". Archived from the original on 2015-12-22. Retrieved 2015-08-14.
  15. ^ "A Victorian Horn Chair". Archived from the original on 2015-12-22. Retrieved 2015-08-14.
  16. ^ Alicia Wallace (2013-08-03). "Caribou Ranch: Music central part of Nederland property's future, owners say". Daily Camera. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g "The Legend of Caribou". Rocky Mountain News. 2008-01-25. Retrieved 2013-06-19.
  18. ^ a b Penny Parker (2009-10-08). "Pang relives Caribou times". Archived from the original on 2009-06-01.

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Coordinates: 39°59′50″N 105°30′51″W / 39.9972°N 105.5143°W / 39.9972; -105.5143