Bluesman Ron Hacker is a city treasure, much like his regular venue for the past 35 years, The Saloon, San Francisco’s oldest bar, which was saved by thirsty firefighters when the rest of the North Beach was ablaze following the 1906 earthquake.
Hacker since 1979 has played The Saloon once or twice a month.
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.”
Hacker is part of a dying breed.
Living in San Mateo for most of the last 50 years, Hacker was befriended, and toured numerous times with, Yank Rachell, a mandolin player from Brownsville, Tenn., 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.”
In response to an article in a Bay Area blues magazine, Hacker five years ago wrote a book, “White Trash Blueman.”
“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.”
Hacker usually plays is a trio. His rhythm section is called the Hacksaws.
On Tuesday he will join the Buddy Emmer Blues Band free on at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe’s Center Stage. Emmer’s band plays the first set at 8 p.m. followed by two sets with a guest artist.
While Hacker was eager to learn from Yank 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 or they might not give a shit and don’t want to do it.”
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.