‘This band has lasted’: After 30 years together, Blues Monsters reflect on music’s binding power
Local band celebrates 30 year anniversary, reflects on music’s binding power
Thirty years ago, Chuckie Dunn, Tom Barnes, Barry Slayton, and Michael Overhauser made the decision to stay in Tahoe.
Since then, the foursome — known as the Blues Monsters — have performed thousands of times across the North Lake Tahoe-Reno region, including in the regular concert series that takes place at King’s Beach, Northstar and Squaw every summer. The men played at Tahoe Regional Park Wednesday.
Dunn, the band’s lead singer, rhythm guitarist and promoter, said the band’s longevity comes from its members “just getting along.”
To Dunn, that means underlying mutual respect combined with a good sense of humor.
“When you like someone you just like them, you don’t try to argue,” Dunn said.
Dunn said his band mates have known each other for years and use the ample content available to tease one another.
Overhauser said the musicians do not necessarily share the same political beliefs, but ideological differences have never surpassed the importance of music and performance in their lives. The result is a band that plays more than the blues, and lifelong friendships.
Each member adds a different musical flavor to the mix, Dunn explained.
“People — purists — come up to us and say, ‘You don’t play the blues,” Dunn said. “We’re the Blues Monsters. We’re not a blues band.”
Dunn said his own upbringing highlights the genre’s country-adjacent aspects of rhythm and blues, while bassist Barnes brings the funk.
Dunn said he and his band mates live for the sensation of live performance, and have enjoyed heavy tippers surprised by the group’s set list.
The band was approached recently after playing a Mayor Hawthorne cover, and at another performance a cover of The Spinners, an an R&B group with hits from the 1960s.
“There’s a lot of gratification playing music,” Dunn said. “When you’re approached by someone saying ‘I had a really good time tonight’ or ‘this was the first time my wife and I have been on a date’ — that person made your night.”
Dunn said the Blues Monsters’ former keyboardist, Terry Ogg, was the group’s “secret weapon” and helped highlight the group’s groove. Ogg died in his sleep of a heart attack in July 2020. Now, the foursome bring on a brass trio to their musical explorations. Todd Mather plays the tenor saxophone, Jen Campbell plays the trumpet and Brian Nakagawa plays the trombone.
Harmonica player and singer Larry Yates began assembling the group in 1980, after showing up to play a gig at Northstar without a band. Eleven years later — five after the lasting foursome united — Yates left for Los Angeles. The band opted to stay in Tahoe, together.
“This band has lasted longer than many marriages,” Dunn said.
Bassist Tom Barnes moved from South Dakota to Reno in 1985. Barnes said he moved to the region to realize his dream to become a working musician, but two years of playing casino showroom gigs was beginning to burn him out.
“For me, moving out here meant a lot more steady work playing,” Barnes said, adding that the region’s landscape and wildlife was also an obvious draw. “I always thought this area was beautiful.”
Barnes and Slayton both live in Reno with their respective families. Dunn lives in Kings Beach, and drummer Overhauser lives in Soda Springs.
Barnes began to play with Yates at Northstar’s Blues Nights through his friendship with Slayton.
“Northstar started doing that before anything like what Northstar looks like now, and that’s kind of where we all really met,” Barnes said.
When Yates left the region, Dunn said the band chose to continue developing their sound under the same name to leverage the existing reputation.
“I stepped in to front the band,” Dunn said.
Thirty years later, Dunn said he feels like a big fish in a little pond, living like a rock star.
At this point in Dunn’s career, the daytime drywall contractor greets the Casa Baeza employees by name and orders his signature margarita. The restaurant has been in the region as long as he has.
Barnes said his day job has changed over the last three decades, but music and the band have been a constant. Barnes said he worked odd jobs at Squaw Valley while playing more regularly in Tahoe.
Barnes said after enduring a layoff from a company he worked for longer than 11 years, he was able to spend a lot of time with his son growing up — and playing music.
“I’ve always regarded myself as a musician,” Barnes said of taking on other jobs related to security or technology to pay the bills. “As a bass player during COVID-19, I thought of myself as out of luck.”
Barnes said the area’s natural beauty, combined with the diverse batch of visual and performing artists who practice their craft in the region, is a gift.
“Even driving to gigs I feel actually pretty fortunate that I’ve been able to stay out here and be a part of the community between Reno and Truckee,” Barnes said.
Members of the band have shared the stage with a variety of musicians. Journey’s Neal Schon, the Drifters, David Coverdale of Whitesnake, Jimmy Page, Creedence Clearwater’s Doug Clifford and Stu Cook, Stephen Stills, Lydia Pense and Cold Blood, Bo Diddley, Grateful Dead’s Bob Wier, Booker T and the MGs, and The Commitments.
Over their tenure, the band produced three albums. Of the collection, Dunn recommends a listen to their originals — “Red Hot Hat” and “Long Gone.”
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer for the Sierra Sun and The Union, a sister publication of the Sun
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