While celebrities pour into town this week to play golf, a legend from San Francisco will check in Tuesday to play some blues.
Ron Hacker, the “white-trash bluesman,” will join the Buddy Emmer Blues Band at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. The three-set show is from 8 p.m. to 11 or so at Center Stage on the casino floor.
The 71-year-old Hacker played on Saturday nights in the Saloon in San Francisco’s North Beach for 35 years. He recently moved to New Orleans. A slide guitarist inspired by Hound Dog Taylor and R.L. Burnside, Hacker has a unique sound from a guitar he breaks to pieces and duct tapes back together.
“I really like that real old stuff and modernize it and crunch it up a little bit,” he told Tahoe Onstage. “I like a really dirty sound. I am a rough player, anyway. I’m not a finesse type player. I really bang on my guitar.”
Kurt Johnson, a drummer with the Tahoe band Mudd Bonz, described Hacker’s sound.
“Hacker’s songs start like a freight train you hear coming in the distance and it just builds and builds,” Johnson said. “With the low tone of Ron’s voice, he growls out the lyrics in a style all his own. His slide guitar technique that he uses on an old acoustic guitar is amazing to see and hear.”
“He channels the old-school guys,” Emmer said. “He’s not worried about trying to be a modern-day technical wizard. He’s really authentic.”
Hacker’s authenticity was once questioned by a Bay Area writer who said white men cannot play real blues because they don’t know about hardship. Hacker explicitly repudiated the writer in his autobiography, “White Trash Bluesman,” an entertaining and shocking page turner. Hacker’s graphicly detailed hardships started with his very first memory. Check out the book to learn about his singular tale of a lifetime of paying his dues to play blues. Music, in fact, is only mentioned in the last couple pages, almost as an afterthought.
“Some guy wrote some stuff … white guys don’t have the credentials to play the blues and I was so fucking offended that I wrote the whole damned book,” he said. “If you don’t think that I’ve had the kind of life that I don’t have the right to express myself with the blues art form, I don’t know what’s the matter with you.
“The guy also said white guys listen to some records, learn some licks and they think they know how to play the blues. Well, you know I asked that old man, Yank Rachell, who made his first recording in 1929, I asked him, ‘How did you learn to play the blues?’ He said, ‘I watched my uncle play and I listened to Charlie Patton records.’ That’s right on, man. We all listen to records. We all listen to each other how to do it.”
Living in San Mateo for most of the last 50 years, Hacker was befriended by, and toured numerous times with, Rachell, a mandolin player from Brownsville, Tennessee, best known as the longtime accompanist of Sleepy John Estes.
“There are not many of us white guys left who searched out those old dudes and played with them,” he said. “There’s a few of us left but not many. They’re all gone and now we’re all getting old, too.”
While Hacker was eager to learn from Rachell, younger players do not seek his advice, he said.
“That’s a big disappointment in my whole career,” he said. “I had one guy who wanted a lesson one time. I gave him a lesson and he never came back. I think my stuff is so personal in the way I do it, I might intimidate them.”
Related stories: Read all about Lake Tahoe’s blues here: LINK