Maxx Cabello Jr. says he grew up surrounded by music and he has photos to prove it. Images of a toddler sleeping in his father’s guitar case show he was destined to be a musician.
“Dad plays folk-Spanish music,” Cabello said. “When him and my mom sing, it will make you cry. It’s that kind of deep, real traditional Spanish music. I grew up listening to nothing but Mexican music (with) singing in Spanish.”
But his corazon led him to the blues.
“That’s really what I love about the blues,” he said. “There’s no right or wrong way to do it. It’s in the delivery. If the people can feel it, then you are doing it right. It’s not like I sit there with music charts and stuff. I play from my heart.”
Cabello will perform Saturday in a free show celebrating the 33rd anniversary of the Carson Valley Inn in Minden. He and Alastair Greene will each be featured and supported by the Buddy Emmer Blues Band.
As a teenager, Cabello said he listened “night and day” to traditional rock ‘n’ roll on San Francisco radio station KFRC, and when he began to play guitar at the age of 13, he learned tunes such as “Wipe Out” and “Gloria.” At 14, he learned about blues.
“My dad brought home a Jimi Hendrix record and my friend gave me a bunch of Freddie King CDs and it just started falling into place,” he said. “Blues just seemed so real to me. It was not so much about all those different chord changes, but it was more about the simplicity and the soul that you put into it that makes the song cry and sing.”
While listeners can hear early rock influences in Cabello’s sound, there is a soulful groove to it like an urban Hill Country. He calls it rock and soul.
The young gun from San Jose has been seen and heard a lot recently in and around Lake Tahoe. He has joined the rotation for the Harrah’s Tuesday Night Blues, sitting in with the Buddy Emmer Blues Band, and last June at Reno’s Great Eldorado BBQ, Brews and Blues Festival.
Lake Tahoe is where Cabello had some of his first high-profile shows, playing underage in William’s Backdoor Blues club in the long-gone Bill’s Casino in Stateline.
“(Bill’s Marketing Manager) Mike Traum was really, really cool to me,” Cabello said. “He gave me tons of opportunities. He gave me one of my first big starts. At the outdoor show, I opened for Duke Robillard and Roomful of Blues and Third Eye Blind. I was really young and we opened for a major rock band and we got a standing ovation that day.”
Cabello’s friend and neighbor, Jerry Rubalcava, who played with Johnny Rocket and the Rolls, took him to blues shows, including a memorable performance by fellow San Jose player Chris Cain.
“Jerry would sneak me in I was 15. He said, ‘Just sit there on this milk crate and don’t move.’ I remember Chris breaking five guitar strings and you wouldn’t even know. He was just killing it, ripping it, not missing a single note. Being inspired as a young kid really does something for you. It puts a spark in you and all those opportunities made me who I am today.”
Cabello also visited the home of John Lee Hooker, who lived in nearby Los Altos.
“He said Jimi and Janis (Joplin) used to come to his house,” he said. “His hands were so soft, like silk. The funniest thing was I would tell a story and he would just fall asleep on me.
“He paid his dues. He told me stories about washing his socks in a sink after gigs. That really humbled me. It gave me perspective because, yeah, there are cats out there who are handed a silver spoon but you’ve really got to live the blues to tell that story. I was in awe that he was able to overcome those things.”
Cabello graduated from high school at age 15 and he had aspirations of getting a degree from Stanford or Berkeley. But at the age of 18, he decided to leave school and go on tour. Rubalcava gave him an ES-335 Gibson, which remains his No. 1 performance guitar.
“I named her Hope, because growing up, this was the only hope I had,” he said. “I’ve been so blessed with people who really appreciate my work and have a lot of confidence in me. I feel that I owe it to people like that that I have to work that much harder at my craft.”
Before he turned 21, Cabello said he used to wear a wig and glasses and sit in for a few songs at shows with Rubalcava.
“He didn’t want me to be afraid to get up there,” he said. “That was the biggest thing, being intimidated. Over the years, I’ve learned, it’s not a competition. I know I’m not as great a player as Jimi or Stevie (Ray Vaughan). I do what I do because that’s what I know. Music is supposed to be fun. It’s not a competition.
“It’s not about how many notes you can play, how fast you can play it or how many songs you know, it’s about what you know, and how you get it out there and how people can relate to it.”
Blues, Brews & BBQs will be enjoyed in TJ’s Corral at the Carson Valley Inn starting at 5:30 p.m. Entry is free. The Buddy Emmer Blues Band will be the host. Guest guitarist-singers are Maxx Cabello Jr., who opens the music at 6 p.m., and Alastair Green. It is the 33rd anniversary celebration of CVI. Beers pulled pork sandwiches with slaw are $2, $3 wine, and just a buck for hot dogs, water and sodas. Free ice cream for children.
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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