A popular Durango musician with The High Rollers died Wednesday from complications with COVID-19, according to friends and bandmates.
Robert Gerst, an elder with First Baptist Church, said Andy Janowsky, 60, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in January, and was hospitalized because of respiratory issues.
Not long after Janowsky was hospitalized, Gerst said his condition worsened and he was taken by Flight For Life for further care in Colorado Springs. He was placed on a ventilator earlier this week, but died Wednesday.
“It’s staggering,” Gerst said. “I don’t know if there’s anyone as strong or as fit as Andy in Durango. If there was anyone who should have whooped it, it would have been him.”
Janowsky was most publicly known as the founder, singer and bassist of The High Rollers, a popular local country band that performed regularly at the Wild Horse Saloon and the Sky Ute Casino, among other local haunts.
Over the years, the band opened for Dwight Yoakam and Uncle Cracker, had a popular hit called “Colorado Girl,” and even attained fandom in France after a couple of tours in Europe.
For Janowsky, who founded the band more than two decades ago, it was never about making it big.
“Durango’s such a terrific place to live. You’d have to give up on some of that,” Janowsky told The Durango Herald in 2015. “I don’t know where this is going, but we’ll enjoy the ride.”
Mike Canterbury, another founding member who played drums, said he met Janowsky 40 years ago, and when the two were in their early 20s, started a band called Highway Robbery, which started to get a local following.
Ultimately, The High Rollers was founded in 1994 and took off from there. The band would play nightclubs, bars, festivals – sometimes playing from 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. without a break.
“When people came to listen to The High Rollers, they definitely got their money’s worth,” Canterbury said. “That was all Andy’s doing. His work ethic was unreal.”
Canterbury left the band a few years ago, but remained close with Janowsky.
“I lost a family member,” Canterbury said. “I couldn’t go to work today because I couldn’t sleep last night. We all went through a lot together.”
Clay Lowder, who took over drums in The High Rollers, said he met Janowsky in 2015, and the two were drawn together through a love of music.
“He had a great talent for songwriting,” Lowder said. “And he was really into making his band special, and not just another typical band you go see.”
Lowder said The High Rollers disbanded around the fall/winter of 2019, in part because Janowsky’s day job as a private investigator became busier and required more of his time.
“He had been doing it a long time and I think he had finally just decided he was ready to hang it up,” Lowder said.
Still, Lowder believed the band would reunite for gigs here and there.
“I fully expected at some point, maybe even this year, for him to call and get it going again,” Lowder said. “Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen.”
Lowder, too, was shocked at the news of Janowsky’s passing.
“Andy was one of the healthiest people I know. He was in great shape and took care of himself,” Lowder said. “It’s hard to visualize anything killing that guy. It’s going to be very upsetting to this whole community.”
Jeff Johnson, who joined the band on fiddle around 2005, and who also is the general manager of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, said The High Rollers formed a brotherhood through the years.
“We came out of this band caring for each other in ways we never could have imagined,” he said. “We always hoped we’d do something together again. That’s part of what hits us in the face so hard, that moment is not going to happen now.”
Gerst said he met Janowsky around 2014. Janowsky was a deeply religious man, Gerst said, serving as an elder for the First Baptist Church of Durango for a time. He also participated in mission trips in places like Nicaragua.
In November, Janowsky became the pastor for Sargent Community Church in Monte Vista, where his father used to be a pastor and where Janowsky married his wife, Linda.
“I don’t think he ever met a stranger,” Gerst said. “He was one of those guys full of love, and he wasn’t afraid to show his emotions.”
Gerst said Janowsky used to work for local law enforcement, and was an avid mountain biker and weight lifter.
“He was uber athletic,” he said. “This guy was just the epitome of health. ... That’s what caught so many people off guard.”
Gerst started a GoFundMe page to help Janowsky’s wife, which can be viewed at https://bit.ly/3d4723O.
Johnson, too, reiterated a similar sentiment, that for many people in the community, Janowsky was their “rock.”
“So many people will tell you he had an uncanny way of reaching out and making a big impact in people’s lives,” he said. “He was a larger-than-life personality, but also had a huge heart and was there when people were in need.”
Janowsky also served with the Durango Police Department from 1985 until 1999, according to his friend, Sgt. Deck Shaline. Janowsky started as a patrol officer, then served as a field training officer, worked on the SWAT team and even started the department’s bike patrols.
“He was a trailblazer back then. It was one of the first bike patrols in the country,” Shaline said.
Janowsky eventually worked his way up to sergeant.
“He didn’t change who he was,” Shaline said. “He was just such a kind person.”
Janowsky, according to a previous report in the Herald, was a native of western Kansas. He also spent time studying music in Nashville.
“It’s hard to believe we won’t have a moment to sit down and play a song together again,” Johnson said.