‘Jake Nielsen … He’ll be back’ — Tuesday Blues’ new star

Tahoe Onstage

Jake Nielsen uses his crutch as a bow during Harrah’s Tuesday Night Winter Blues on Jan. 26.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Tim Parsons

Editor’s note: Santa Cruz’s Jake Nielsen will be the featured guest this week at Harrah’s Tuesday Night Blues with the Buddy Emmer Blues Band. The show is from 8 p.m. until around 11:30. Below is the story that was posted after his first appearance at Harrah’s on Jan. 26.

Young guitarist Jake Nielsen was full of swagger and even boastful in the days leading up to his debut at Harrah’s Tuesday Night Winter Blues. But as he watched the tight, veteran house band open up the show, his mood changed.

“I’ve done this a million times before, I don’t know why I am so nervous,” the guest artist from Santa Cruz said. “That band is great.”

The musicianship of the Buddy Emmer Blues Band — Emmer (guitar, harp, vocals), Kimberly Emmer (vocals), Dave Clark (bass), Brian Jenkins (drums) and Mark Ishakawa (keyboards) — is undeniable. It is entering its third year as Stateline’s Tuesday night music staple, and the players know each other very well. The band plays an hour-long opening set, then it features a guest artist and his material in the second set. The third set, which last until around midnight, is a jam of blues covers with lots of improvisation.

Some of the top guitarists in Northern California and Nevada are regularly featured at Harrah’s Tuesday Night Blues, and Nielsen said he hoped to play well enough to join the rotation.

When Emmer emulated Billy Gibbons’ guitar on a ZZ Top tune, the 30-year-old Nielsen remarked, “Man, that’s chunky.”

Emmer pointed out John Packer, the public affairs chief for both Harrah’s and Harveys, thanking him for presenting the weekly show to Tahoe. Yes, the head honcho was in the crowd, another factor for a pensive Nielsen to consider.

A half-hour later, Emmer introduced Nielsen, who balanced on crutches and slowly maneuvered himself across the stage and into a chair. Nielsen has cerebral palsy and limited use of his feet and also is recovering from hernia surgery.

Nielsen’s guitar amp and microphone for his vocals were too low, and Packer himself went upstairs to the control room to have adjustments made. Then Nielsen appeared to jump in early during a solo on the keys by Ishkawa. The last thing a player wants to do is step on someone’s solo.

However, Nielsen found his groove as he played a couple of his original songs. Not only is he a skilled musician, he plays with great facial animation and he has a powerful stage presence. His swagger was back when he played his Fender Telecaster behind his head as did Jimi Hendrix.

“Once I got on the stage, I was good,” Nielsen said afterward.

After he somewhat dramatically rose out of his chair and maneuvered to the front of the stage, the crowd rumbled and roared. When it was over, Nielsen received the first of his three standing ovations, a rarity for a Tuesday show. “Jake was great,” said Packer, who also was on his feet.

However, the show did include a hurdle for Nielsen to clear. The man with all the faces literally busted a guitar nut onstage and his Telecaster fell out of tune. His only guitar was broken. Emmer offered his Stratocaster, and the show reached a new level.

“I know he’s playing blues, but when he uses that white guitar he reminds me of Jimmy Page,” said Garry Bowen, who regularly attends the weekly shows.

During the third set, Nielsen and the glowing Emmer fed off each other, trading solos, playing call and response licks and even synchronizing their notes.

“Buddy is a bad ass,” Nielsen said. “And that band. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give each one a 10.”

During the final song of the night, Emmer introduced each musician. He saved his first-time guest for last, proclaiming what everyone in attendance already knew: “Jake Nielsen! He will be back!”

  • Harrah’s Tuesday Night Winter Blues8 p.m. Tuesdays, Center Stage
    Feb. 9: Chuck Dunn
    Feb. 16: Jason King
    Feb. 23: Chris Cain

Jake Nielsen 17

Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Buddy Emmer, left, and Brian Jenkins, right, appreciate the dramatically dexterous Jake Nielsen.

If this was "Spinal Tap," Jake Nielsen would give bassist Dave Clark an 11.

If this was “Spinal Tap,” Jake Nielsen would give bassist Dave Clark an 11.

Jake Nielsen 18 Jake Nielsen 4 Jake Nielsen 5 Jake Nielsen 7 Jake Nielsen 8 Jake Nielsen 9 Jake Nielsen 11 Jake Nielsen 13 Jake Nielsen 14 Jake Nielsen 15 Jake Nielsen 16

Jake Nielsen give a standing ovation back to the crowd.

Jake Nielsen gives a standing ovation back to the crowd.

Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Jake Nielsen, perhaps reluctantly, returns Buddy Emmer’s Stratocaster at the end of the show.

About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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