Nov. 30—While Jim Gallagher claims a piece of Colorado music history as the drummer in the Boulder-based surf band the Astronauts, his friends remember him best as "a delightful human being."
Gallagher, a longtime Boulder resident, died Nov. 20. He was 78. He moved to Boulder at age 9, attending two north Boulder elementary schools followed by Casey Junior High and Boulder High. He graduated from Boulder High in 1961.
Journalist Doug Looney, a longtime friend, described Gallagher as "a decent, good guy who was a good time waiting to happen and lit up every room he walked into."
"If you couldn't have a good time with Jimmy, the fault was yours, not his," he said. "He seemingly always was in a good mood, always had a smile on his face, always was engaged in any conversation he had."
In the early '60s, Gallagher replaced Brad Leach, who later became the Boulder County Sheriff, as the drummer in the Astronauts. Along with Gallagher, the band included three Boulder High classmates and a Fairview High graduate.
"The Astronauts were huge favorites in Boulder, playing frequently at the legendary Tulagi on the Hill and at Olympic Bowling Lanes on 30th Street," Looney said.
The band started out playing rock hits around the University of Colorado Boulder campus, then transitioned to a surf band as the Beach Boys began gaining popularity. The band was most popular in Japan, where they had three major hits. Their first album, "Surfin with the Astronauts," also made it to No. 61 on Billboard's national charts. Later, they had cameos in several teen movies.
Looney said Gallagher generously credited him with launching the Astronauts by writing an article about the band in the national magazine of his fraternity, Sigma Nu, while at the University of Colorado Boulder in the early '60s. An RCA record company executive saw the article and reached out to the band.
"Talent had a heckuva lot more to do with their success than a magazine article, for sure — and Jimmy was a cornerstone," Looney said.
G. Brown, executive director of the Colorado Music Experience, said the band was in California, "fishing for a contract," when they overheard a talent scout talking on the phone about how Capitol Records was killing RCA with the Beach Boys. Off the phone, the scout asked the Astronauts whether they could play surf music, and they said sure — though they lived in landlocked Boulder and had never surfed.
"The great irony is they became bigger than the Beach Boys in Japan," Brown said. "They were followed by hundreds of screaming fans there, then came back and played a gymnasium in Longmont."
He said Gallagher was a world class drummer at a time when the "rock star era" was still a few years away. While they found success as a "working" band, touring and playing clubs, they didn't see the national success they deserved, he said.
"The Astronauts were a fantastic band," he said. "They were exceptional, not just good players, but great players. If talent was the only barometer, the charts would look a lot different."
The Astronauts were inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in 2012, with an introduction by Brown as the founding director. Brown also interviewed Gallagher about his experiences growing up in Boulder and playing with the Astronauts in a podcast.
As he wrote about the band with a goal of maintaining their legacy, Brown said, Gallagher became a great friend.
"He was as fine a guy as I knew," he said.
Gallagher and a second Astronauts band member were drafted to serve in Vietnam in 1966, marking the end of the band. He served as staff sergeant at an air base, received a Bronze Star for his service and was honorably discharged in 1969.
He married Carol Corbitt Gallagher in 1964, when he was 20 and she was 19. They celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary this year. The couple moved back to Boulder after the war in 1969 and had two daughters, Wendy and Megan. He is survived by his wife, daughters and two grandchildren.
Wendy Gallagher said her father was an entrepreneur, opening two bicycle shops and a Dairy Queen in Westminster with lifelong friend Keith Cracraft. For the 35 years before his recent retirement, he and his wife owned and operated Christmas Letters, a Christmas card business.
John Meadows met Gallagher in the early '60s while working at Tulagi, recalling the Astronauts as a "fabulous" live band. Later, Gallagher and Looney were part of a group that met for more than 40 years to watch Monday Night Football.
"He was one of the nicest people ever, just the most positive person," Meadows said. "If there was anything that needed to be done or somebody needed help, he was there. He was a good friend."
No services are currently planned.
Donations may be made in memory of Jim Gallagher, and/or in honor of Megan Gallagher, to the Neurosurgery/Oncology Research Fund at the direction of Dr. Lillehei at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. To donate, go to tinyurl.com/2p8pxhk7.