Bluesdays rocked until the summer sun went down.
Terry Hanck, a 69-year-old singer and tenor saxophone player, played a lively and extended final Bluesdays show of the summer on Tuesday, Aug. 26.
“The first rock and roll I heard was Fats Domino and Little Richard,” Hanck told Tahoe Onstage before the show. “Fats Domino never called it rock and roll. He called it rhythm and blues.
“Early rock and roll is what influenced me. Jazz, soul, blues, I really don’t separate it. Great tenor players from the bebop era could all really get down and play blues. I don’t think they thought, ‘Now I am playing blues and now I am playing jazz.’ They are interrelated.”
Ron Hacker, the blues guitar star from North Beach in San Francisco, described Hanck’s sound.
“It’s a mixture of the old R&B and the real soul blues and rock and roll,” Hacker said. “He’s just a master at it. He’s just such a road dog. He’s been out here for years just pounding the pavement and it really shows in his playing.”
Guitar, of course, gets rock ’n’ roll’s spotlight, but saxophone was the lead instrument in the early days.
Hanck, who grew up in Chicago’s suburbs, first saw guitar as the centerpiece at the Regal Theater at show with Chuck Jackson, Gene Chandler, Ruby & the Romantics and headliner B.B. King.
“You didn’t hear people play sustained electric guitar leads; it was mostly strumming guitar,” Hanck said. “Then all of a sudden this guy comes out and hits these notes that just went right through my spine. It was like, ‘Holy shit, what was this?”
Hanck learned of blues by listening to commercial radio, specifically station WIND, which played Jimmy Reed.
With hindsight, Hanck appreciates witnessing the British Invasion, but he did not at the time.
“I felt betrayed when everybody jumped on the bandwagon,” he said. “When The Beatles came out, I thought, ‘What’s the big deal? Why is everybody getting on this British bandwagon when we have all this great music here?’
“That being said, now I love The Beatles. … But at the time I don’t think I appreciated them. I was just starting out and thought, ‘They’re just white boys like me.’ ”
While Hanck was a great fan of music who especially loved Ray Charles, he didn’t get his real musical education until he moved to Southern California and began to play the horn.
“I thought, ‘Oh, shit. Now I’m out here and everything I love is back there.”
He moved in 1969 from his parents Orange County home to the San Francisco Bay Area. He started his own group in 1970 and was a bandleader until he joined Elvin Bishop, who had also moved out from Chicago. Hanck was with Bishop from 1977-87, the most commercially successful part of Bishop’s career.
Before he accepted Bishop’s third offer to become a member of his touring band, he performed on sessions for “Struttin’ My Stuff,” which included Bishop’s greatest hit, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.”
“He had written it seven years earlier,” Hanck said. “He kept trying to get people to sing it but nothing ever happened. He tried to sing it in the studio. Then Mickey (Thomas) comes along and he has a voice like an angel. Everybody knew then it was something special.”
While Bishop ended up helping Thomas get a big break, Hanck gets credit for bringing Chris “Kid” Andersen from Norway to Northern California.
Hanck, whose wife is from Norway, often plays shows during his visits there. Andersen played guitar in the house band for a venue that featured headlining blues players from the United States.
“I was looking for a guitar player and all his heroes were from California, guys like Junior Watson,” Hanck said. “I said, ‘If you are serious, let’s do it.’ He is such a talent, it (moving to the U.S.) was going to happen sooner or later. The guy is a force of nature.”
After Andersen left Hanck’s band, he replaced Little Charlie Baty in what is now called Rick Estrin and the Nightcats. Andersen is respected as a great guitarist, but he is revered by peers for his skill as a producer and his Greaseland Studio in San Jose. Hanck and the Kid have made four records together, including 2014’s “Gotta Bring It On Home To You.” Hanck’s impressive group of friends include Debbie Davies, Jim Pugh, Bob Welsh, Lorenzo Farrell, Doug James and Andersen’s wife and singer Lisa Leu Andersen.
Andersen is a self-taught producer.
“He’s a really smart person and he’s got an ear where he can hear finite things, plus he knows what you want,” Hanck said.
Hanck told Hacker the same thing.
“Terry told me Kid really makes recording easy,” Hacker said. “Terry’s a pretty tough guy. He’s been on the road for years. He doesn’t give anybody props unless they really deserve it. There’s a lot of talk about this Greaseland Studios out here, what they’re doing.”
Hanck’s touring band, which is based in California, also appeared on the album. Johnny Soubrand plays guitar, Tim Wagar bass and Butch Cousins the drums. Robert Cray’s longtime bassist is Richard Cousins. The Cousins are brothers.
The Squaw Valley show was the first on a six-week tour which includes Canada and the Rocky Mountains.
Hanck has for 11 years lived in South Florida, where his local band used to include J.P. Soars, who has become a solo star. A lover of the ocean, Hanck began to visit California to dive and surf as a teenager. Now he’s on the other side of the coast where the water is warmer.
“I could afford buy a house here near the ocean where I couldn’t buy a garage in Santa Cruz,” he said.
Although he will soon become a septuagenarian, don’t expect to stop hearing from Hanck.
“There’s no retirement for musicians,” he said. “I need the money. I never made two nickels that rubbed together but I managed to be lucky enough to do something I love doing. The playing part is the easy part. Traveling gets harder and harder.”