Tunes for the melting pot

Tahoe band Cool Black Kettle releases an eclectic blend of styles on a new CD

Dave Musser (left) and Jessie Kalin Carson are Cool Black Kettle.

Dave Musser (left) and Jessie Kalin Carson are Cool Black Kettle.

Cool Black Kettle performs at The California Lodge, inside Heavenly Ski Resort, every Wednesday through Saturday from 3-6 p.m., and at Pub Tahoe in South Lake Tahoe every Sunday.

At Pub Tahoe in South Lake Tahoe, Jessie Kalin Carson starts singing and playing acoustic guitar. He looks at Dave Musser, his musical collaborator of 10 years, conniving a response with an impish grin. Musser covers a smile with his hand. Slightly embarrassed by the song’s subject matter, he nevertheless concedes by joining in on his Fender Stratocaster.

The song is called “Booty,” which, as the duo behind Cool Black Kettle informs the crowd, was written just a few weeks ago.

With their newly finished third recording (Paper Town) ready to hit the market and a big gig at the end of December (opening Rocky’s Sports Bar on top of the Gambler Casino in Reno), things look promising for the longtime pair of roots-rockers.

“We plan on this opening some doors,” Carson says. “It takes a long time to come into a town or region [and succeed]. We’re coming to a cusp now, where people are like, ‘Oh, yeah, Cool Black Kettle.’ “

Paper Town, recorded at Sierra Sonics in Reno, is a collection of 10 songs. Some were written at the inception of their musical partnership, and others, such as “Everybody Loves You When You’re Playing Your Guitar” and “Wasting Time,” were written within the last year.

“We are real grassroots,” Musser says. “We do everything ourselves: write our own songs, co-produce it and mix it with the engineers. From the beginning to the end, we’re right there. There’s no big corporate machine behind us.”

The two met in Aspen, Colo., where they were performing solo gigs at nearby clubs—Carson at the Red Onion and Musser at the Hard Rock Cafe. The band was first called Moon Dog and would prosper until 1995. They got back together in 1997 as Cool Black Kettle, a name that represents their eclectic, melting-pot philosophies on songwriting—rock, folk, blues, funk and country.

The title track for the new CD is an autobiographical portrait of growing up in a blue-collar family, which Musser and Carson both experienced, and the parental resistance that ensued with the pursuit of music.

Musser, who grew up in the paper mill town of Ticonderoga, N.Y., explains the essence of the song: “It’s a story about me growing up, struggling, playing rock ‘n’ roll, and my dad wanting me to come work for him in the factory, and I knew I didn’t want to do that.”

Prior to meeting Carson, Musser played in New Shooz, a band that in 1984 toured with Tina Turner and in 1985 scored a hit song, “I Can’t Wait.” But Musser’s passion lied elsewhere, and he soon left the band.

"[New Shooz] was almost a pre-Madonna sound, working towards that teen dance/funk thing,” he says. “I wanted to write songs that had more meaning to me, instead of ‘Let’s just go out and party and get laid and dance.’ “

After college, Carson played flute with eight conga players on the streets of Europe. When he met Musser, he had a job raking leaves for singer John Denver.

The pair often performs cover songs and sometimes plays with additional musicians. They have also lived and performed on the East Coast and have opened for REO Speedwagon, Chicago and Peter Frampton. Prior releases include 1994’s 2,600 Miles under the name Moon Dog and a self-titled, five-song promotional recording in 1999 as Cool Black Kettle.