Rock of ages: Burgett rolls back time and reconnects fans
ZEPHYR COVE, Nev. – Sometimes the band credit must be shared with the fans because they’re the ones who often make the experience.
Fans of nearly 50 years came out last Tuesday to see the legendary Jim Burgett on his 77th birthday.
Whether he knows it or not, Burgett has touched the lives of so many people, especially those who grew up at South Lake Tahoe and the surrounding regions. And in his eyes, that feeling is mutual.
“It really hits me in the middle,” Burgett said.
The Round Hill Pines, Zephyr Cove Beach & Marina was an intimate setting for friends July 3 see the man who changed their lives in so many ways. It was an opportunity for people to hang with old friends and rehash some of the greatest memories of their lives. Some are still best friends to this day, while others hadn’t seen each other in more than 40 years, but those friendships and connections have not been forgotten.
Although many longtime residents have moved from Tahoe, they didn’t move far. A number of patrons mentioned they live down in the Carson Valley, Sacramento area, and as far as Visalia, Calif. Burgett, who moved from Tahoe 40 years ago, lives in Las Vegas
According to Jeff Naugle, that special day at the marina would not have been possible if it wasn’t for a surprise birthday party just four years ago. With a band hired to perform, no one expected Burgett to get on stage and after 20 years of not even picking up a microphone. Sure enough, after a couple hours, Burgett got the itch and took the stage. It was then when he realized his passion to perform was still there. Since then, he packed the house at Harrah’s South Shore Room in 2010 and now the Zephyr Cove Beach & Marina.
When it comes to the live music scene in Tahoe, Burgett was the pioneer trailblazer, first with his band, and then playing alongside other legends like the Grateful Dead and Carlos Santana. For nearly everyone there last Tuesday, those memories started at the American Legion Hall.
“If you didn’t know Jim Burgett, you weren’t doing much at night,” Naugle said.
Teri Foster-Leaverenz of South Tahoe High School class of 1967 said, “This is what you had every Friday and Saturday night at the legion. It was a trip. Now we’re here celebrating with friends of 48 years.
“The experience of going to the dances at the American Legion Hall was so much a part of our high school lives as there wasn’t a lot else to do then. Because it was a small town, a lot of different groups went and had fun together. Coming back to see Jim play was just such fun and sharing that with others who were there was priceless.”
The memories of high school days became a reality right from the beginning, going back to the high school dances where the boys and girls would sit on opposite sides until one brave boy got the courage ask a girl join him on the dance floor. This time, the men crowed the bar and kicked back drinks while the women sat in the seats waiting to be asked to dance. That was until a few couples from the Lake Tahoe Educational Foundation and Carson Valley residents Andrew and Diana (they declined to give their last names), hit the dance floor. It wasn’t long after that when couples joined in and the concert really came alive.
“He was an icon ’64, ’65, ’66,” Diana said. “We’re all remembering. We used to drive up from Carson back in the ’60s, back when we were young. We used to bring friends from the naval station in Fallon. Andrew and I were actually dating back then. Jim Burgett was definitely a factor in our marriage.”
Burgett shared and split the spotlight with his wife and renowned singer Marlene Ricci. Throughout the night, Burgett covered hits like “Louie Louie,” “Tequila,” “Light My Fire,” “Brown Eyed Girl” and “La Bamba.” Ricci sang some of the softer songs like “Too Much Baby” and “When Somebody Loves You.”
Longtime fan Tina Van Veenendaal saw Ricci when early in her career.
“She did a special network performance called ‘Cinderella at the Palace,’ ” Van Veenendaal said. “She also performed at Harrah’s and was Frank Sinatra’s opening act for a couple of years. She was quite a hit.”
Burgett’s relationship with his fans extended well beyond the stage and has carried on over the years. Van Veenendaal recalls, “babysitting Jim’s kids when they lived a couple houses up on Glenwood Way.”
Naugle said his role and friendship with Burgett, not only as a fan, but as an employee, and one that didn’t necessarily start off on the right foot.
Naugle remembered the days at the Legion Hall, but also remembered the rough times. He talked about the feud between Reno and Tahoe guys that resulted in nearly nightly fights at the Burgett shows. As the fighting became worse, Naugle and friends were pinpointed as the problem, and were kicked out. But twhen he fighting continued, Burgett called Naugle back and offered him a job. Naugle said, “I became Jim’s grunt worker.”
Later in the evening, Cindi Hathaway joined Burgett on stage.
Hathaway and Burgett performed together, back in the 1960s, when she was just 19 years old. After years of being apart, they re-united just two years ago at the Jim Burgett Reunion. Hathaway said she remembered the good old days with Burgett at the Legion like it was yesterday. She recalled that amazing time period in her life:
“My family moved from San Jose to South Lake Tahoe. I was entering the ninth grade and knew no one, but made friends fairly quickly. I asked around about what there was to do on the weekends and people looked at me like I had three heads. There is only one place to be on the weekends girl, the American Legion Hall dances with Jim Burgett I put on my dancing shoes and showed up.
“The dances were just a blast and this Jim Burgett guy was just the nicest guy ever. He had such a connection with everyone in the audience and often got the microphone down on the dance floor and let all the wannabe rock and roll stars finish up lyrics to a song. Somehow, that mic always ended up with me and eventually he pulled me on stage. It got to be a regular thing at every dance and he made me part of the show. They all treated me like one of their own.”
After Burgett broke some ribs in a car crash, he hired Hathaway to join his three-show-a-night act at Harrah’s
“I packed up my car and moved to Tahoe again,” she said. “I lasted three or four months and then needed to come home. Performing just wasn’t for me. Over the years we sort of lost touch, so I couldn’t wait to get to the reunion show at Harrah’s a couple years ago.
“I was reunited with those darling little Burgett girls who were all married and had kids and grandkids of their own. Jim was Jim. I felt like no time had passed at all and we just picked up where we left off all those years ago.”
Hathaway’s son, Adam, was overwhelmed seeing his mother performJuly 3. He called it “a reconnection of generations.”