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|Birth name||Eugene Denson|
|Born||1940 (age 79–80)|
Washington D.C., United States
|Occupation(s)||Music group manager, record producer, record label owner, lawyer|
Eugene "ED" Denson (the capitalization of both letters in his "first name" is his own spelling that evolved from constantly using his initials) is an American music group manager, producer, record label owner, and, later, lawyer, who has made notable contributions to folk, blues, and early San Francisco rock.
Denson was born in Washington, D.C., in 1940. His parents were civil servants, and they had a succession of homes in suburbs of Washington in Montgomery County, Maryland, each home being a bit larger and a bit farther from the city. He has one sister, Helen, who is four years younger. Denson was educated in the public schools, except for one year at Fishburne Military School. While attending the University of Maryland, in College Park, intending to study physics, he became interested in folk music and learned much from the record collector Dick Spottswood. He met John Fahey, Robbie Basho, and Max Ochs—all folk guitarists—before leaving for the West Coast with his first wife, the guitarist and singer Pat Sullivan. There he became a student of English, first at Merritt College, then at the Berkeley campus of the University of California. In the late 1960s, Denson and his first wife divorced, and he married Gloria Naramatsu. They remained together for a decade, living in a brown shingle house in the Oakland foothills. They divorced in the late 1970s, and she moved to Washington State when she remarried, and became the Postmaster of the town in which she and her husband live. Pat Sullivan, it is reported, died of a heart attack in the mid-1990s. Denson and Mary Alice Sexton moved to a 30-acre "ranch" in Alderpoint, a small ex-mill town in northern California, where they were married soon after and where they live today.
Around 1963, in the wake of Fahey's location of Bukka White, Denson and John Fahey set up Takoma Records with Norman Pierce as their first distributor. The label was a pioneer of what was to become the Indie records movement. Denson produced one or two of Fahey's early albums for the label, and by getting Tom Weller to design psychedelic covers for them helped shape John's early image. He brought Robbie Basho to the label. In the early 1960s, he was the road manager for the Blues Project and then for Mississippi John Hurt, helped manage and produce records of Bukka White, and Skip James, after Fahey located White and James was found by a folklorist in Mississippi. He sold his interest in Takoma records to Fahey in the mid-1960s.
In the mid-1960s, Denson expanded his management activities into rock and, with Country Joe McDonald, published a magazine, Rag Baby. He was also music columnist for the Berkeley Barb in this period. As a founder of the University's Pretentious Folk Front he produced a concert featuring Allen Ginsberg and the Fugs. From around 1965 to 1970 he managed Country Joe & the Fish and Joy of Cooking. In 1972 Denson and Stefan Grossman founded and managed Kicking Mule Records, which at first released acoustic guitar instrumentals with tablature and later branched out to include artists such as John Renbourn, Michael Bloomfield, and Charlie Musselwhite. Denson has been involved in radio work since the 1960s, when he and Michael Sunday produced a late-night show on KPFA in Berkeley. Since 1982, he has hosted folk and blues radio shows, first on station KERG, in Redway, California, and then briefly on KHSU at Humboldt State University in Arcata, and, since shortly after it went on-air, KMUD, in Garberville. His show is streamed on kmud.org Saturday mornings 10:00–12:00 am, Pacific time. At 25 songs per show, he estimated he had played over 47,000 tunes as of late 2020.
During the 1970s, Denson spent several summers as a volunteer river guide with Bill McGinnis's Whitewater Voyages, primarily working with inflatable kayaks. He was a guide on the South Fork of the American and Klamath rivers usually, and on one Klamath trip met Mary Alice Sexton, who later became his third wife. In the summer of 1980 they ran the Grand Canyon on a month-long private trip with Bill McGinnis and two other guides.
He and Mary Alice moved to Humboldt County in 1980 and for 15 years operated Kicking Mule records from the barn on their ranch. After dividing the masters with his partner, Stefan Grossman, in 1995, he sold the remaining masters and the label to Fantasy Records, so that he could devote his time to a new career, lawyering. In the mid-1980s Denson became involved in the civil rights movement occasioned by the government's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) and the marijuana eradication raids in southern Humboldt County. He was president of the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project (CLMP) for many years, and became a nonviolence preparer for the Citizens Observation Group (COG). In that capacity he travelled extensively in southern Humboldt County, training over 200 people in nonviolent techniques to use while monitoring police activity during marijuana raids. In 1990 after extensive litigation by CLMP, the government signed a consent decree to alter their raiding techniques, thanks in large part to the advocacy of Ron Sinoway and Mel Pearlston. It was this which inspired Denson to start studying law in 1995.
Legal and political work
In 1992, Denson ran for Humboldt County supervisor, but came in fourth in a field of eight. Nevertheless, the run was important for establishing the political clout of the "new settlers" who lived in rural sections of southern Humboldt County, one of whom, Estelle Fennell, was elected to the post in 2012 in what could be seen as a passing of political power from the older establishment. He received an inheritance, following his mother's death in 1994, which allowed him to study law. In 1995 he enrolled in William Howard Taft University, a mail-order law school, graduating in January 1999. He passed the California Bar Exam that month and in August 1999 was sworn in as an attorney. His practice for the first 16 years had been focused on defense of people charged with marijuana crimes or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. He has also represented, pro bono, activists arrested during protests of logging practices in the old-growth redwoods and, more recently, protesting the environmental impacts of the Willits bypass construction on US Highway 101. He has given public lectures on California's medical marijuana law to patients and their caregivers and hosts a monthly hour-long talk show on the topic, on a community radio station, KMUD. In 2006 he went to China as part of a Global Volunteers program and gave lectures on the American legal system to university students in Xi'an. In 2016, as cannabis law changed, relatively few cannabis arrests were made locally, and his law practice shifted from primarily criminal defense to counseling people who wanted Commercial Cannabis Cultivation permits under the Humboldt county ordinance. Perhaps 70-75 of his clients beat the December 31, 2016 deadline for applications to be filed. In 2017 he and Fred Fletcher filed a suit against Humboldt County alleging illegal changes to the county's marijuana tax law. The case is now in the Court of Appeals. In 2020 he is primarily working with clients wanting State of California Cannabis Business licenses, or defending against nusiance abatements for unlicened cannabis gardens, but maintains his criminal defense practice as well. He is mentoring a pre-law student.
In early 2011, Denson received a diagnosis of cancer of the tongue and underwent eight weeks of chemotherapy and radiation to treat it. His doctors were optimistic, and the cancer appears to be gone, but he started five years of "cancer probation" (as the legal mind would call it) on April 1, 2011. He is now cancer-free in his 8th year of recovery, and sees each of his two doctors once a year. There have been consequences from the radiation. The muscles in the radiated side of his neck have thickened, his vocal cords have become weak, he is in therapy for swallowing issues, and the thickened muscles have caused blockage of a major artery. However, he maintains his full-time law practice, and weekly radio show. Since his treatment began, he has published a daily diary of his experiences in treatment, recovery and life, on his Facebook page.
All of his life Denson has travelled, mainly in the lower 48 states of the United States until the 21st century, with a couple of brief trips to Europe as manager of Country Joe & the Fish. Around 2004, he and his wife began travelling the world, mainly by ship. He has been to every continent, she to six, missing Africa due to illness. They have taken 18 cruises, the latest being a Pacific coast cruise in 2015, from Vancouver, BC, to Los Angeles. He published extensive writings and many photographs on a travel blog, almost all of which is now lost to history as the blog host pulled the plug after several years, and most of the written material was not backed up. Denson's Facebook page contains some of the later travel writings.
An avid and lifelong (with intervals) stamp collector, Denson became interested in the philately of the Falkland Islands when he visited there in 2005. His collecting now focuses primarily on stamps from that area. He has in the past formed collections of German stamps, specialized in the US 1890 issue (Scott 219-229), collected Swedish stamps, and US Plate Number Coils (PNC). He published a catalog of PNC First Day Covers and has written articles on the US 1890 issue, early US machine cancellations, and Falkland Islands registration labels for several philatelic publications. Denson shared the Luff award for his philatelic writing on US First Day Covers. A nit picker, he has convinced the editors of Scott's Standard Catalog of Postage Stamps, and West's Annotated California Codes to make minor but important corrections to their publications. He is currently working on a project to update the categorization of the registration labels and markings used by the postal system of the Falkland Islands, and to try to determine their periods of use, and relative rarity. Publication of this research can be read at "Falkland Philately" on Blogger. The work was the basis for the illustrated list of label types in the 6th edition (2012) of the Heijtz catalog. His latest publication on-line is "Registration Labels on covers of the Falkland Island's Coronation Issue of 1937" also at "Falkland Philately." He is working on a Monograph on Falkland Islands Registration labels for the Falkland Islands Philatelic Study Group, slowly.