Brown: Our valley loses an original |

Brown: Our valley loses an original

Ron Brown
Valley Voices

The 1970s were a great time in small town Vail. The interstate stopped at the “We Ask You Inn” motel, which was the only building in Avon and everything west of there was ranch land. The mud parking lot with a Trailways bus stop was where the parking structure sits now, and the Covered Bridge led to the heart of the action on Bridge Street.

The only building in Lionshead was the new Westwinds building. Days started with breakfast at Kentucky Fried Chicken followed by some serious turns on our overly long skis. Everyone who wasn’t working was there. Aprés-ski frequently found people at “The Slope” which was downstairs, dark and had a floor covered with carpet that invited everyone to curl up and watch the never-ending ski movies they showed.

But by far the hottest spot for the after-ski crowd was the downstairs bar at the Clock Tower restaurant. John Kaemmer was the owner and the lighting in the bar had a pink cast because he said it made everybody look good. Besides the fact that they looked good, everyone loved that bar because JoJo Liles played his guitar and sang there.

Saying he sang there is just part of the picture because JoJo had the enviable ability of being able to keep up a mind-numbingly impressive, non-stop string of jokes and wisecracks. I always admired him because I never heard him make a comment that was meanspirited or at someone else’s expense. JoJo made everyone who walked down the stairs to that bar feel like a big shot because he called out to them by name and made sure everyone knew they were part of the family.

Vail’s Fourth of July parade was a big deal back then. For the occasion, JoJo generally sported a woman’s swimming cap, a pair of sunglasses and with his toilet plunger raised high, led his “Marching Band” through town. Karl Wegman played a march on his clarinet and a couple dozen other “band members” joined in playing their kazoos. The “Precision Armchair Drill Team” impressed us all by snapping their aluminum patio chairs open and shut in a choreographed rhythm in time with the “music.” They marched with a pride that befitted the occasion and it was a grand sight.

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JoJo had an especially effective manner when he was talking to the ladies. He introduced me to far more than my fair share and when he did, they already thought way more of me than I deserved. But most importantly, he introduced me to my lovely wife, Mary, for which I will be eternally grateful.

JoJo Liles passed away Nov 27, 2022, in Atlanta, Ga. at age 76. He had the wonderful ability to make everyone he met feel like an old friend, and I know how much we’ll all miss him. When I think about those times, they seem like yesterday, but it’s more than 50 years now.

I hope all you “oldsters” out there can find a few moments to remember our good buddy JoJo and how great those early days were. For you “youngsters,” I hope you’ll take time to slow down and savor the wonder-filled environment we live in and enjoy all our friends who make it great. It’s a short ride.  

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