Got My Rojo’s Workin’: Top musicians in town drop by for open jams
The music begins a little after 10 p.m. It’s Eddie Bullmaster on drums, Mark Sheets the guitar, Dave Coleman bass and Tom Deputy on keys.
The first song is a Santana cover. Then it’s Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” upon which Janice Manning enters with the alto saxophone, and ” wow ” she’s good.
“My dad raised me on Charlie Parker,” Manning said.
Although it’s been going on since October, open jam night at Rojo’s Tavern has really taken off in the last three weeks.
As the evening continues, musicians keep walking through the door. There are curious looks toward a man entering with an upright bass.
“It gets kind of exciting because you never know who is going to come in,” said Bill Behr, a guitarist and owner of the compact Bose system with tower speakers and a huge sound.
Trey Stone plugs into a Matchless amp, and plays and sings “The Blues is All Right.” Then he goes into Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child.” After Stone’s skillful performance, it seems foolhardy for other guitarists to step up. But they do.
“It’s no big deal nowadays,” said Jesse Kalin of Cool Black Kettle. “People don’t get intimidated because they already think they’re all that.”
Self-deprecating guitarist Tom Ritchie says “I’m toast” before rocking with the jam.
Bullmaster gives up his seat for Carole Colombo, a longtime casino lounge player who recently landed in Tahoe.
“I’m not looking for a job,” Colombo joked. “It’s just a lot of fun. I just bring my sticks. I’ve been coming here since January, when it was 14 degrees.”
Bullmaster lives in Tahoe, too, but he drives all the way to Reno on other nights to find open jams. He stays ready to start, as James Brown said, on the one.
“Sometimes guitarists just start playing, and you come along with them,” he said.
Rojo’s host is Erika Hansen, who can belt out “Stormy Monday” as soulfully as anyone.
“Everybody that’s a good musician in town has been here,” she said. “A lot of these people started here at Rojo’s 25 years ago so it’s like they’re coming home.”
Troy Helenick, the Sunday and Tuesday karaoke host, pays homage to the place by changing the words in a Doors song: “I went down to Rojo’s and got myself a beer.”
Some of the players, like bassist Charlie Schofield and guitarist Dan McGinty, are clearly pros. Some are not. Nobody joined in with the upright bass player, although he played a cool Les Claypool riff after he borrowed an electric bass.
“You can tell the bedroom players because they get thrown off very easily,” Behr said. “Part of the attraction of the open mike is to see how they can do with a band.”
Behr and Deputy, the core of the Blues Network, have been putting on the open jams since the late 1980s at Hoss Hogg’s with the guys from Cosmic Free Way. They usually play at a venue for three or four months. The Network’s recent homes have been the Fox and Hound, Lakeside Inn, Whiskey Dick’s and the Coyote Grill.
“We’re just good enough that if somebody comes in we can pull it off,” Deputy said. “The challenge is to getting to everybody. Sometimes it gets too good. Bands sprout out of this.”
Behr was too busy keeping the sound system going on this night to pick up his guitar.
“We have a lot of pro guys who play the casinos,” Behr said. “It’s falling back into how it was at Hoss Hogg’s. Trey’s been here three times in a row, and he’s not getting paid. I feel humbled.
“There’s a camaraderie of musicians, old friends who get to play songs they don’t normally play at their so-called professional gigs. And they get to talk shop a little bit.”