Remembering Brethren Fast

Music community fondly recall Don Messina, Mik Messina and Gordon Beesley

Ryan Dunn
rdunn@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 9/16/21

For those who were around the Denver music scene in the 90’s, Brethren Fast needs no introduction. The purveyors of “electrified hillbilly hot-rod funk” charmed audiences and contemporaries …

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Remembering Brethren Fast

Music community fondly recall Don Messina, Mik Messina and Gordon Beesley

Posted

For those who were around the Denver music scene in the 90’s, Brethren Fast needs no introduction. The purveyors of “electrified hillbilly hot-rod funk” charmed audiences and contemporaries alike with their good looks, groovy riffs and racing team outfits for over a decade, during which they rose to prominence as one of — if not the — most visible bands in Colorado.

During their peak in the late 90’s — which included sponsorships from Harley Davidson and Budweiser, along with gigs playing Broncos and Avalanche games — the band consisted of brothers Don “Dynamite” Messina on vocals and guitar, Mik “The Stick” Messina on bass and Gordon Beesley on drums.

Tragically, all three of the Brethren Fast members met untimely deaths. Don died in a 2015 car accident on Lookout Mountain, Mik died of organ failure in July and Beesley — who became an Arvada Police officer in 2002 — was killed in the Olde Town Arvada shooting in June.

Though their time was unduly cut short, their far-reaching influence on the local music culture continues to be felt today.

Their albums Sideburns from HellWhat in the Hell?,  500 Laps of Beer Drinkin’ Fun and Diesel Drivin Buddies earned them placements on MTV, Fox Sports and the Discovery Channel, and their raucous live shows saw them playing nearly 200 gigs a year at during their peak.

The band started in 1995 after the dissolution of Don’s project Elik Pink. By that time, Mik and Don had spent a few years playing in different projects and decided they wanted to join forces.

“The brothers played in a bunch of different bands separately and then in the mid-90’s locked in on playing together and kind of rotated through drummers,” said G. Brown, who was one of the Denver Post’s music reporters at the time. “But when they got Gordon in there, that’s when they had their heyday, if you will.”

While the trio started out with Ordy Garrison behind the kit, Beesley soon took the sticks and continued playing with the group until other responsibilities demanded more of his attention. He was replaced by Nate “Dawg” Nicholsen for the latter years of the group’s run.

Brown says Beesley was integral to the group’s sound.

“You need a guy to lock it down in the back,” said Brown. “And Gordon was able to do that for them. He was their most notable drummer — that was kind of a rotating position. I think they had a couple of guys play before and after, but Gordon had the longest stint.”

Those who knew the Brethren Fast guys recall them as kindhearted, approachable people who loved to have a good time.

Wendy Clark played hundreds of shows alongside Brethren Fast with her band Tequila Mockingbird, and says the band always made themselves available and kindly offered tips.

“They were really sweet, good guys,” said Clark. “They were definitely rock stars. If you’re a different band, they’re just regular guys. Mik especially — all the girls had a crush on him. Gordon was, I think, the nicest drummer I’ve ever met. They were sweet, approachable guys.

“They gave us a lot of different advice,” Clark continued. “It’s simple stuff sometimes, like `walk towards the stage when you have a solo’ and `walk backwards when you’re letting someone else have the stage.’ Just good advice.”

James Elias fronted Furious George and the Monster Groove out of Arvada and played dozens of shows with Brethren Fast. Elias recalls the trio as scene builders who preferred to build community rather than be competitive with other bands.

“Brethren, we had known them and had done some small shows with them, and they were great,” said Elias. “They were good guys… they got us into some rooms. They got big and we were playing the Bluebird and the Gothic and all the other theatres in town — well heck, there was no other band we really wanted to share those bills with than Brethren Fast.

“We just had a great time together,” Elias continued. “They were scene builders. They were out to build; they weren’t out to compete with other bands or musicians. That’s what was so great. and that was a lesson I learned from them early, that that was a better position to be in, to be a scene builder and there was no competition between a bunch of small-town bands. The better we all did, the better we all did. And that was a real strong movement for all the bands in the 90’s in Denver.”

“Fast cars, fast motorcycles and fast women”

The Brethren Fast boys were not just known for their hospitality and scene building efforts. The trio, who grew up in Golden, were known motorcycle enthusiasts, a passion which culminated in a sponsorship with Harley-Davidson, yielding custom-made Brethren Fast racing team jumpsuits.

They were known to occasionally ride their bikes onto the stage to start gigs and would sometimes perform in their racing suits. Motorcycles were a core facet not just of the band’s iconography, but of the member’s lives; Mik and Don were known to ride Harleys and Gordon would later become a motorcycle officer with APD.

Jon Solomon of Westword wrote in a 2015 obituary for Don that the group liked “fast cars, fast motorcycles and fast women,” an attribution that is consistent with the subject matter of their songs.

Gina Burg, who was a fan and friend of the band, said that their style choices inspired others to follow suit, despite the presumed incongruity of biker style with 90’s fashion trends.

“All of a sudden they were geared out, and then of course, everybody wants to copy their style and then all the girls started to wear outfits with pinstripes down the pants and everything,” said Burg. “And I’m like — ‘this is the 90’s right now.’”

Jeff Gray was Brethren Fast’s photographer during the band’s peak, and said that when Beesley initially joined the group, he didn’t quite fit into the band’s aesthetic.

“The first photoshoot that we went to go do, Gordon is like two feet taller than Mik and Don,” said Gray. “So, I showed up and Mik and Don are in their usual gear — like chrome, jumpsuits, done up to the hill — and for the first photoshoot the best Gordon could do is a Sunday suit, a business suit. So, we tried to figure out how the hell we were going to make this mesh for the first photoshoot together.

“And I ended up having to put Gordon in the back because he was so much taller, and we went to a bridge that is right by the downtown Denver skatepark now, and we did some shots down there in a field right there kind of goofing around,” Gray continued. “I think we got some Elvis glasses on him to have him blend in a little bit more. Gordon just always had a smile on his face. they all did, our photoshoots were super fun. lots of joking around, lots of brainstorming.” 

At another photoshoot, Gray recalled the trio trying — and failing — to maintain a serious demeanor at the Colorado Raceway.

“We went to an old broken down early 40’s Ford that was sitting in the back like junk,” said Gray. “I wanted to do a serious shot because most everything we did was goofing around. I wanted to do one where they were mean mugging like tough guys, which wasn’t in any of their personalities at all.

“And Don and Mik kind of serious-uped for me, and then Gordon, the most serious he could get was sitting there grinning,” Gray continued. “But I think he was so happy to be in that band and just a happy person with everything and to be around those guys.”

“Everybody loved them”

Burg recalled a time when Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers was in town and started a jam session with Brethren Fast and other local musicians.

“There was one time around Thanksgiving where everybody’s in town and they were playing the night before Thanksgiving, that huge drinking night,” said Burg, “and the drummer from the Red Hot Chili Peppers was dating someone that lived in Colorado and then he got up on stage and was jamming with them and all the other rock bands like Furious George (and the Monster Groove) and all these people.

“Everybody’s up on stage rapping and singing and playing the instruments,” Burg continued. “It was fun. It was so much of a community. Everybody loved them”

As the trio progressed into middle-age, familial and professional obligations began to phase them out of the scene. The band was less active during the Messina brothers’ final years, but continued to play the odd gig here and there, and Beesley would depart to be the founding drummer of The Railbenders.

Clark said that the Denver music scene has changed drastically in their absence, shifting more to an every-person-for-themselves climate.

“I’d say it’s gotten a little more saturated,” said Clark. “I would say everybody’s in a band, it seems like. And a lot of bands aren’t as committed to each other, in my opinion, as they used to be. (Tequila Mockingbird) had a lineup for 12 years that stayed together.

“Everybody was friends and we all knew what band we were all in, rather than them being in seven different bands,” Clark continued. “It seemed like it was more of a family. I feel like there was a lot of competition, but in the right way. we were all competitive, but we were all family.”

Gray said that one of his last conversations with Beesley involved the two commiserating over teaching their kids about boomboxes.

“Maybe 6 months ago, I had posted a picture of my daughter with an 80’s boombox,” said Gray. “And Gordon called me up and said that he was explaining to his boys what a boombox was. And we just talked about philosophy, talked about the funness of teaching your kids what an 80s boombox is.”

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