Back in Blues: Buddy Emmer & pals blow ’em away

Smiling Buddy Emmer is back in Tahoe onstage with Andy Santana.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Tim Parsons

The request for Led Zeppelin was a bit unconventional but most appropriate.

“It’s been a long time since I rock and rolled,” Kim Emmer sang to open the final set of Harrah’s Tuesday Night Blues.

A weekly tradition since 2014, the free blues show at Center Stage was halted for 16 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.

Earlier, between sets, Emmer told a friend, “It feels like it’s been years since I’ve been onstage and it feels like it was just yesterday.”

Tuesday Night Blues opens at 8 p.m. and a little after 9, a featured guest artist joins the Buddy Emmer Blues Band. For the comeback show, Sacramento Blues Society Hall of Fame member Andy Santana was the guest. The harmonica player opened with a famed triumvirate of the genre: A Junior Wells song, followed by Little Walter and then finally James Cotton, which began with a 2-minute solo.

The chairs surrounding the stage were filled from the get-go. After the first set, there was a line to get drinks and a bartender moved his arms as fast as drummer Bryan Jenkins twirled his sticks.

Bryan Jenkins drops the beats but never a stick.

Mark Ishkawa is the cool cat on the keyboard, and the new bassist is Thomas Barnes, a familiar player to Tahoe music fans – he’s a founding member of the Blues Monsters, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

The bandleader is Buddy Emmer, a guitarist who has shared the stage with Billy Gibbons, Jimmie Vaughan and Joe Bonamassa. Smiling Buddy was happy to be back on the bandstand.

“It was pretty much shaking off the rust for me but I think we pulled it off pretty good,” Emmer said.

Clearly, the crowd agreed. After 3 ½ hours, Santana and the Buddy Emmer Blues Band were called back for an encore.

Kyle Rowland
Kyle Rowland is a young player with a traditional approach.

This week’s guest star will be another harp player who has guitar chops: Kyle Rowland, who says, “It’s not how many notes I can play in a second, it’s how I feel.”

The 28-year-old has a traditional approach to blues, not unusual when you hear his story.

As a 10-year-old attending 2004 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, he played harmonica in the crowd. From the stage Mick Martin stopped to show to ask who it was. Rowland had to stand on a chair to be seen, and Martin invited the boy to the stage. A lifelong mentorship and collaboration began. Rowland played with Martin for six years before starting his own band.

James Cotton befriended Rowland at age 13, introduced him to guitarist Hubert Sumlin at 16 and by the time he was 19, Rowland was performing around the Bay Area with Cotton and Matt “Guitar” Murphy.

Rowland also spent weeks visiting Cotton and his neighbor Paul Oscher in Austin, Texas.

“James Cotton’s wife made us scrambled eggs and toast from special bread for breakfast, then we’d have barbecue for lunch and dinner,” Rowland said. “We would stay up talking and listening to stories until 5 in the morning.”

Cotton, Oscher and Sumlin all played in Muddy Waters’ band.

“They taught me about humility,” he said. “It’s all about the people and treating them with kindness.”

Oscher also showed Rowland how to get intimate with an audience by jumping offstage and joining the people during performances.

During the lockdown, Rowland taught himself how to play upright bass. He made several recordings for musicians at his studio with vintage gear, including Martin’s first album with strictly traditional Delta blues. Listeners of “Mick Martin’s Blues Party” on Capradio.org know that the host usually leans heavily of British blues rock.

Tuesday will be Rowland’s sixth appearance at the Buddy Emmer’s Tuesday Night Blues.

“It’s a fun time,” Rowland said. “Buddy does a really great job up there.”

Jeff Watson is on deck. Mighty Mike Schermer is in the hole.

  • Buddy Emmer’s Tuesday Night Blues
    8-11:30 p.m. Tuesdays
    Harrah’s Lake Taho
    e
    July 6: Kyle Rowland
    July 13: Jeff Watson
    July 20: Mighty Mike Schermer
    July 27: Chuck Dunn
One night a week, a casino is converted into the coolest blues club.
Meet the new bass: Thomas Barnes.
Mark Ishakawa is the key man in the band.
It’s not a dream: Kim and Buddy Emmer are back onstage.
Bluesman Andy Santana under the white light.
Having a devil of a time: It’s Buddy and Andy.
Blues in black and white: Buddy Emmer.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

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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