Rollin’ on the river
The Truckee River Band
The Truckee River Band, whom I saw perform recently, is not a typical Reno rock band. The lead guitarist, Imann “Sparky” Singh, is 12 years old. His tiny hands wail and pound out big ol’ classic rock guitar solos. He likes to wear a purple top hat and has a wide-eyed look on his face as he plays—something between baffled astonishment and giddy excitement.
Mark “Shadow” Chamness, 22, a soft-spoken African-American, is the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist. His vocals seem casual at first, but he’s able to carry big melodies and convey complex emotions, like the dread of “Bad Moon Rising.”
Bassist Cliff “The Black Hat Gringo” Perry, 32, is Singh’s brother. He stands about two feet taller than his band mates, and whereas they look young dudes who might be into skateboarding and videogames, he dresses in full cowboy regalia—hat, boots, belt buckle, mustache and all.
Drummer Troy White, who, continuing the mathematical pattern, is 42, lives in Dayton and has other musical projects, so he only occasionally performs with the group. He was absent when I saw the group perform at a recent open mic at Hi Point Coffee, a friendly neighborhood coffee shop on Robb Drive in Northwest Reno.
Hi Point has a weekly open mic, 6 p.m. on Fridays, hosted by the hammy Lenny El Bajo. He also hosts an open mic every Tuesday at Lamppost Pizza. He’s fairly charismatic and started things off by singing a good version of “In the Pines” (or, as Nirvana fans might call it, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”). But he’s also a fairly shameless self-promoter and, once alerted to my presence, did his best to hijack my interview with The Truckee River Band.
The small crowd of about 25 or 30 at Hi Point was composed mostly of regulars, many of whom were also there to perform. Almost everyone in the place had a guitar case sitting next to them, and they all seemed to know each other, so already I felt a bit like an outsider, a visitor to somebody else’s church, even before El Bajo singled me out for hazing: “Brad Bynum is here!” he said. “Give it up for Brad!” I was just sitting there drinking coffee and all of a sudden, much to my embarrassment, everybody in the place was applauding me for no discernable reason.
Anyway, there were some good performances at the open mic, including an excellent slide guitar blues player who went by the name Reno Tiger and played some convincing takes of old Robert Johnson tunes.
And The Truckee River Band’s short set was very entertaining. They started off with a rollicking version of “Johnny B. Goode,” then performed an original, “Broke as a Joke Blues,” a song along a theme as old as love: poverty. “I ain’t got no money, because I can’t find a job,” it begins.
Then the band performed “Free Bird,” without irony, and not as a snarky response to a shouted request. It was refreshing because “Free Bird” has become such a punchline, a stupid thing for idiots to yell at concerts, that it’s easy to forget it’s actually kind of a great song. Singh successfully and thrillingly navigated the guitar heroics at the end of the song.
They finished off with “Bad Moon Rising.” The set was interesting because it was clearly in the wrong venue: Young guys who wanted to kick out the jams playing among the crowd of older, finger-picking troubadours.
“We get told to turn down a lot,” Singh told me later.
The band has a repertoire of about 50 songs, mostly classic rock, with a few ’80s power ballads thrown in for good measure.
“I can’t get into the new stuff,” says Perry.
“Me neither,” agrees Singh. “I’m learning ‘Stairway to Heaven’ right now, but I don’t quite have the solo down yet.”