Too Wild Yankees
Sam Dehne is mainly known for his activities as a local political gadfly. For years he has attended every meeting of the Reno City Council, where he invariably expresses his opinions, often in song form. He sometimes calls himself “The Singing Encyclopedia of Reno Government,” and has irritated city officials with his topical songs such as “The Ballad of Bobby Cashell” and “The Ballad of Reno Toilets.”
But there are other, lesser-known sides to Dehne. He and retired Reno Police officer Tom Clark co-own a gold mine, provide commentary for amateur boxing matches, and bill themselves as Too Wild Yankees, a musical duo that Dehne describes as “the singing sensation that’s sweeping the nation.”
Dehne plays guitar and sings. Clark plays harmonica, kazoo, percussion instruments and occasionally sings or whistles. The duo offers its services free to charitable organizations. They keep their calendar full, playing frequently at hospitals and retirement homes.
Recently, Too Wild Yankees performed for residents of Alterra Assisted Living Residence in Sparks. The atmosphere was unusual for a musical performance—walkers were stowed against a back wall, and the audience members sat in a semi-circle of couches and easy chairs. Dehne encouraged the audience to sing along, and an audience member near the front accompanied the performance with a maraca, which Dehne inexplicably referred to as a “marimba.”
The set consisted of old popular, folk and rock ‘n’ roll songs, and a patriotic medley during which Clark, a burly former Marine dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and lei, produced a tiny American flag which he ceremoniously waved for the entirety of the number.
Sporting an acoustic guitar with a “Sam Dehne for Mayor” sticker, and wearing an American flag tie, Dehne displayed an easy charm while working the audience.
“Anyone here who’s never heard that song before?” Dehne asked his elderly audience after one number. “Anyone here who thinks he’s never heard it before?”
The two have been performing together for two and a half years now, though they still have never rehearsed.
“Ninety-nine percent of our songs we both know, by coincidence,” said Dehne.
Dehne estimates their entire repertoire to be around 500 songs, though, since they never use sheet music, they can usually only remember about half that at a given time. The pair usually plays acoustically, but for larger shows, they have a $10 microphone and a karaoke machine they use as a PA system.
Though the duo’s equipment may not be up to professional standards, Dehne and Clark are not without technical insight.
“We found out a long time ago it sounds better if we play in the same key,” Dehne explained between songs as Clark searched for an appropriate harmonica.
“I have to learn all the words, all the chords. I have to work on my choreography. He (Clark) just gets to stand there and play harmonica,” Dehne continued.
So why go through all the trouble just to play for free?
“We love doing it," said Dehne.