Craig Chaquico and his band delivered rock and roll at the Lake Tahoe Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, along with blues, jazz, a familiar dose of Jefferson Starship and a stranger who won’t be one for long.
Saturday’s performance before nearly 300 concertgoers in the nightclub Vinyl featured Chaquico, the guitar savant who wrote Starship’s big hits before he moved into the smooth jazz realm. But afterward, ears were ringing and the place was buzzing about singer Shae “Shaeny” Johnson, who took the stage about halfway into the show.
“She doesn’t know it but I might be auditioning to be her guitar player someday,” Chaquico said in a preconcert interview. At the time, we thought he was joking.
After a series of jazzy instrumentals featuring Chaquico’s musicianship on his signature electric-acoustic Carvin guitar, the band leader mentioned he is sometimes joined onstage by someone from the audience when he plays Starship’s hit song “Jane.” Moments later, Johnson was at the mic channeling Grace Slick dialed up several decibels.
The daughter of a music teacher who studied at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Johnson sings in her hometown Ashland, Ore., band the Rogue Suspects; perhaps not for long.
She not only gained Chaquico’s attention, she did as well with esteemed producer Narada Michael Walden. Johnson’s debut album, ‘Shae — Can You Feel The Music,” was released this winter. Walden also has produced records for Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Mariah Carey. His connection with Chaquico is producing Starship’s “Nothing Can Stop Us.”
“Her dad must have had the best record collection in the world because her taste is really into R&B and soul and it fits right into my style of rock,” Chaquico said. “She’s so fun to work with, kind of like Grace Slick. She had this reputation of being kind of an eccentric but she was always an inspiration and Shae’s kind of the same way (with) the same energy and dedication to music where it’s not about the image and looking good. It’s about delivering the actual talent and performance.”
“When I grow up, I want to be a musician,” a young Chaquico told his dad, who replied, “You can’t do both.”
Being a grown-up and a musician are not congruent concepts, he explained.
The talkative bandleader kept audience members amused with stories and anecdotes between songs during an outstanding two-hour set. Moreover, he immersed listeners in the scenes of his songs before the music began. Instrumental highlights included “Sacred Ground” and “Return of the Eagle.” In addition to Chaquico’s Starship and jazz songs, he showed off an electric guitar with riveting blues covers of “Crossroads,” “Voodoo Child” and “Stormy Monday.”
On another snowless Saturday night with a seemingly scant amount of tourists in town, the Hard Rock, which opened seven weeks ago, was busy. Vinyl offers free country music on Wednesdays and blues on Thursdays. When national touring bands don’t play weekends, there are top level regional acts which play for no cover charge. Live music is on the rise at Tahoe, and the Hard Rock is a major benefit.