A very happy man with the blues and a brand new guitar will be featured at the debut of a Tuesday night show at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe’s Center Stage.
Rick Hammond, whose band last week made it to the semifinals of the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn., is the opening gunslinger to sit in with the Buddy Emmer Blues band Tuesday from 8:30 p.m. to 12:15 p.m. The free blues show will feature a different guest artist each night through March 25.
Hammond represented the Reno Blues Society at the IBC. The competition was held in more than a dozen venues on the famed Beale Street.
“I was on a cloud,” Hammond said. “I couldn’t believe I was there.”
In between performances, Hammond made three visits to the Gibson guitar factory, where he watched the construction of his new instrument.
“It’s a cherry red Gibson ES 335,” Hammond said. “I am the first one to touch it, and I don’t think anyone else ever will. It’s a work of art, a thing of beauty.”
The guitar is the same model used by Freddie King and Eric Clapton.
“It has a lot of style and a lot of class,” he said. “It has a thick tone and it’s easy to play. It is a little heavy but the weight is spread out.”
With four straight years of having a band representative at the IBC, Reno is building a reputation for its blues, and its best known guitarists will be featured at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe’s Tuesday night shows. Hammond plays Tuesday, Feb. 4, and on Feb. 11 it will be Jason King, whose band competed in Memphis in 2011 and 2012. King and Tommy Stiles played in the solo/duo competition this year.
Originally from Dallas, Emmer has opened for and played with the biggest stars in blues at the now-closed down Garage in Reno, including fellow Texans Johnny Winter, Jimmie Vaughan and Billy Gibbons.
“We are working on trying to get people from the Bay Area and to try to build a blues scene in Tahoe,” Emmer said. “You are not going to get anything like Lady Gaga or the Black Eyed Peas. It will be straight-ahead blues, and we are looking for caliber guys like Rick, Jason and myself.”
Emmer’s band includes his wife Kimberly Anne Emmer, six-string bassist Dave Clark, keyboardist Jess Conrad and drummer Michael Patrick Moore, who before he moved from Truckee, played with the Jason King Band.
“It’s a great band,” Harrah’s Director of Entertainment John Packer said. “Buddy played the tailgate party at our Food and Wine Festival in September. We are trying it out during ski season. There are a lot of people here during the week.”
If the Tuesday blues night is a success, it could continue indefinitely.
More about Memphis
The IBC quarterfinals are held over two nights. The Rick Hammond Band was one of 10 which played in Alfred’s, a club that displays behind the stage neon lights that used to shine across town at the Stax studio, where the greatest soul music from the 1960s was created. Four of the 10 bands were selected by two panels of judges to advance to the semifinals. Overall there were 255 bands and solo-duo entrants.
“It was kind of intimidating because all of the bands are very good,” said Hammond, who received an early clue that things might go his way in Memphis.
After his band did its sound check, Hammond decided to eat dinner at Alfred’s.
“I heard some very familiar music,” said Hammond, who approached a woman who was listening to one of his songs on an iPhone.
“I said, ‘That’s me,’” Hammond said. “She said, ‘You’re really good!’”
Hammond’s band went onstage second on the opening night and last the final night.
Freddy Mills plays harmonica, Kevin Vidal the bass and the drummer is Bruce Seidel.
“I am lucky to have such a good band,” Hammond said. “The sound is real good in Alfred’s and the stage was just perfect for us. It’s elevated three feet, and the place was packed.”
Hammond said every band member had solos, which displayed the strong overall musicianship of the group. He said once he began to play his nervousness went away.
“I tried to do what we normally do, only better,” said Hammond, who met many fellow blues artists and business people. During the Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive reception, he was seated at a table with artist Kate Moss and the owner of the popular San Francisco club Biscuits and Blues.
Hammond, who wore a sharkskin suit for his Beale Street debut, said why he loves blues.
“I like music I can sink my teeth into,” he said. “I started playing guitar when I was 7 and when I was 13 was listening to electric guitarists Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, and they were talking about Muddy Waters.”
As Hammond learned the history of blues music, it shaped his musical path.
“I’ve had a few rock bands but I’ve always turned them into blues bands,” he said.
Our phone call to Hammond came at a singular moment. His cherry red Gibson had just arrived. Hammond took the interview before he had a chance to even tune it, and he sounded euphoric.
“I am not going to let all of this go to my head,” he said. “Hopefully, it will get me more gigs.”
The next gig is Tuesday at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe’s Center Stage.