OURAY, Jan. 2, 8:12 a.m. – From rock star to homestead housewife to spa owner, Sherrah Taylor, owner/manager of Spa Vivante at Ouray’s Beaumont hotel, has done it all.
Lots of people around town know that Taylor plays piano. What they probably don’t know is that she played piano in rock and roll bands for much of her early adult life.
Trained in classical music, Taylor started her first rock band, The Feebeez, at 19.
“We were horrible,” she said. “None of us had ever really played.”
Soon thereafter, Taylor, who was born in Los Alamos, N.M., left her childhood town of Albuquerque for Los Angeles “to become a star.” It worked.
There, in the late 1960s when rock and roll was in its heyday, she joined the rock quartet Birtha. One of the first all-woman rock bands ever, Birtha released two albums, Birtha and Can’t Stop the Madness, both currently available on eBay and as a two-CD re-release at Amazon.com.
With wild hats and attitudes to match, Birtha toured the United States and Europe, spending most of eight years on the road. They toured Germany with rock band Three Dog Night. They shared the bill with other such notables as BB King, The Kinks, The James Gang, Blood Sweat and Tears, Fleetwood Mac, and Alice Cooper to name a few. According to various websites, and verified by a quick listen to a myspace.com video clip put together by a fan, Birtha is known as the more hard-rocking of the three all-woman bands that came out of the era.
You’d never know it from listening to her current music. Taylor’s solo CD, Mountain Kisses, features lilting piano free of vocals or sonic manipulation. “Simple me,” she calls it.
“In my 20s, I used to just sit down and play,” she said. “I’d play to calm myself down.” Her mother’s recent death gave Taylor the impetus to put the finishing touches on those old songs and commit them to disc, along with a host of cover songs such as Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” and The Beatles’ “Let It Be.”
In 1976, life took a hard right turn for Taylor.
“I went from being in a rock and roll band to being a New Zealand housewife,” Taylor said. “Being a New Zealand housewife is a hard gig.”
Taylor married a Kiwi and moved with him to his home in a small, remote community on the shores of Lake Hawea on the South Island. Taylor ran a houseplants and crafts store called Sticks and Stones, and she learned to live like the locals: washing clothes with a wringer washer, birthing her children in a birthing home, heating her wash water over a fire. There were no disposable diapers, no central heat. “It seemed primitive, like going back 30 years,” she said. “But I liked it.”
With a population at the time of 3 million people and 24 million sheep, “everyone there spins and knits,” she said. “If you wanted to have vegetables in the winter, you had to grow them and preserve them yourself. I had books on everything. I was definitely considered ‘the bloody spoiled Yank,’” she said. “But I learned to be frugal and respectful of the environment.”
Eventually Taylor and her husband divorced, and she took her two children and moved back to Albuquerque where she could be close to her mother. She went into the restaurant business.
“I had to figure out a way to support my kids, and I wasn’t going to be able to do it with music in Albuquerque.” Restaurant work taught Taylor management skills that later proved useful.
In 1992, Taylor studied massage therapy at Crystal Mountain Massage School, embarking on a long career of service and education that continues to fulfill her as well as music did. From the deep interpersonal connection to the verbal and non-verbal communication, “it makes me feel how I feel when I play music,” she said. “You are giving, but you are receiving as well. It’s like when you’re playing music, and someone says how much they like it, and that makes you play better. It’s as exciting to me as music because it’s basically communication.”
In 2001, Taylor came to Ouray for the Fourth of July. She got a massage at the Wiesbaden and while soaking in the vapor cave, thought, “I could probably live here and do massage and play music.” Two years later, she moved to Ouray to work at, then manage, the spa at the Wiesbaden, playing piano at the Outlaw on the side.
In July 2006, Taylor opened Spa Vivante. She began with a simple menu of massage and stone treatments but has expanded the offerings to include aromatherapy, mud wraps, dry brush treatments, foot and facial massage, and deep tissue therapy. She also offers skin and body care products from Starflower Botanicals as well as wellness formulas from local growers Shining Mountain Herbs. The atmosphere is calm and welcoming. The space is small but boasts all the amenities of a full spa, including a Swiss shower, a Jacuzzi, a sauna, stacks of fresh towels and robes, and views of the Amphitheater and Cascade Falls from every room.
“I love it here,” Taylor said.
Spa Vivante is open by appointment during the winter. Call 325-7055 or 209-8387 for an appointment. Let Taylor know if you live around here; she treats locals generously.