Truckee’s Sam Ravenna finally busts out his soul

Clare Foster
Sam Ravenna, center, and his music peers on a pier in Tahoe City.

Sam Ravenna has been keeping something to himself for quite while, but on June 23 let everybody in on it. Recorded almost three years ago, Ravenna’s self-titled album will be released online, and the CDs were available Sunday, June 25, at an album release party at Moe’s Original BBQ in Tahoe City.

“I’ve been listening to the record for 2½ years now, knowing it’s a true expression of my art and not many people have really heard it,” Ravenna told Tahoe Onstage. “I’ve had great feedback from people I really respect. I just can’t wait for it to be out there and have people hear what I’ve been working on for so long.”

A bass player, Ravenna himself is a bit of a secret around Lake Tahoe. A graduate of the Boston’s Berklee College of Music, he is a major talent and part of the burgeoning Tahoe-Reno music scene. His story is a familiar one: He came here in 2013 to be a ski bum and never left.

“I moved here to get away from the hustle and the grind,” said Ravenna, who bussed tables at the Dragonfly restaurant in Truckee. He broke his leg at the end of his first Tahoe ski season.

“I didn’t have financial or physical ability to move or to work at the restaurant,” he said. “I hit up Ben Martin at Tahoe School of Music to do lessons and move in a recording studio. People started calling me for gigs. I started actually making a better living playing and making music than waiting tables, which had never really happened before.

Clare Foster / Tahoe Onstage“I thought why would I ever leave this place where I could make music and ski and in the summer ride my bike and be surrounded by like-minded people who love the outdoors that I could really connect with? That’s why I ended up here permanently and why I call Tahoe home.”

One of his connections was South Shore guitarist and songwriter Wesley Orsolic, who now plays in Ravenna’s band (along with drummer John Reilly and keyboardist Brian Silverman). When Prince died, Jelly Bread keyboardist Eric Matlock put together a tribute show with himself, Ravenna, Orsolic and Jelly Bread’s Cliff Porter.

“It is hard to tell about somebody when you are playing covers,” Orsolic said. “But then Sam gave me some of his music and when I started listening, I realized he is a very talented writer and musician. He understands music theory. He writes all the time. He has a bunch of ideas and puts them together. He works on his craft. He’s like me, I spend 80 percent of my day indulged in music.”

Ravenna got into music when he was 13 and his friends all played guitar. Someone suggested he try bass.

“I said, ‘Well, I really do like Flea (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers),” Ravenna said. “Bass was my first instrument and I was pretty much obsessed with it. Then my brother showed me Victor Wooten. That was mind blowing. I didn’t know you could do that with a bass. That song ‘Classical Thump’ opened my mind to what a bass could really be like. And then I discovered Jaco Pastorious, of course.”

Most musicians detest having their music put in a category. Not so with Sam.

“I’m not afraid to call it a genre: It’s soul,” Ravenna said. “I blend classic soul and neo soul with elements of funk.”

Ravenna has plenty of funky friends who he met at school in Boston and contributed to the album. After he broke his leg and wrote a bunch of songs, he called his friend Michelangelo Carubba, the drummer in the Brooklyn funk-jam band Turkuaz, which was on tour and headed to the Tahoe area.

The initial plan was to record the album in Truckee, but it wound up happening in Syracuse, New York.

“I got a call from (Turkuaz bandleader) Dave Brandwein, who said, ‘I’d love to be a part of it.’

Brandwein became the co-producer. He also advised Ravenna on a 2014 Kickstarter program that funded the production.

Ravenna took his time with the overdub process, adding background vocals, strings and horns. He also was selective in picking the artist for the cover work.

“I wanted to make sure everything was just right, and a big part of it was assembling a band that I could tour it out with,” he said.

This week, the record finally will be released, and it will be one of three, actually, to be performed in its entirety at Moe’s on Sunday.

Ravenna’s band also will play the songs from a record in progress, and his band Rapplesauce will perform all the songs from its album “Good For You.” During the long-anticipated celebration, there will be plenty more artists who will appear on stage, including Drop Theory’s Isaac Freed. Ravenna and Freed’s dual bass attack likely will make waves on the lake.

After the Tahoe show, Ravenna will perform solo, opening for Cas Haley for some shows in Texas and Oklahoma. On July 13, he will have an album release show in New York, sharing the stage with Palm Slap and Joanna Teters, who sings chorus on one the songs on his album. His band will place a number of shows in August, including the Brews, Jazz and Funk Festival after-party in the Auld Dubliner at Squaw Valley and the For The Funk of it Fest in Belden, California.

Clare Foster / Tahoe Onstage
Sam Ravenna onstage during his album release show at Moe’s Original BBQ in Tahoe City.
Clare Foster / Tahoe Onstage
Sam Ravenna and Wesley Orsolic during the show at Moe’s in Tahoe City.

ABOUT Tim Parsons

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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