When life takes an unexpected and sometimes uncomfortable turn, a true artist finds solace in his or her craft. For Pete Nevin, this was music. He is the leader of one of Tahoe’s most enduring and amusing bands: the Deckheads.
“Every major player in Truckee has played with the Deckheads at one time,” says Nevin.
“Through the variety of songs that we do, from the ballads to the rock, we are very conscious about telling a story. If you can tell a story and they can remember it, then you’ve touched somebody.”
— Pete Nevin
While The Deckheads played Music in the Park at Truckee River Regional Park for 17 years with their unique blend of Jimmy Buffet, classic rock and beach-themed scenery, their first gig was on the deck of Alpine Meadows Sun Deck in 2001.
“We didn’t have a name at the time, so we were looking around at things,” he recalls.
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It was a toss between Slippery When Wet from the orange cone warning and Deckheads. (Sorry, Bon Jovi, you lost out on this one.)
Nevins is originally from the “little podunk town” of Bloomington, just outside of Riverside. But it was at Camp Takodah in New Hampshire where he really fell in love with folk music. The counselors would play guitars around the campfire, singing classic compositions by Peter, Paul & Mary, Bob Dylan and The Kingston Trio.
“They had a music class and I started on a banjo, but soon figured out that the banjo wasn’t for me,” says the grizzled road warrior. “The women weren’t as interested in a banjo as they were with someone who played guitar and sang. It attracted more attention.”
So Nevin went back to California and formed a junior-high folk trio that played songs by Gordon Lightfoot and John Denver. The first song he wrote was called, “Mary Jane,” after his girlfriend at the time.
After working as a salesman for the Exer-Genie, an exercise contraption used by NASA and the Minnesota Vikings, Nevin began his music career in Dallas as a member of the Mad Armadillo Band. This raucous blues rock band played local venues such as Captain’s Cove, Belle Star and Texas Tea House and toured throughout the southwest.
“I slaved for nine years and never got to where I wanted to be,” says Nevin. “It was kind of a decadent time in Texas because of the strip clubs, the cocaine, the speed. I had to learn real quick if you are the leader of the band, the band goes where you go. Just to keep band members straight was a full-time job.”
With hair down to his waist, turquoise jeans tucked into his cowboy boots, Nevin played to rowdy crowds from oil workers in Odessa to rednecks in backwater Oklahoma.
“I once walked into a restroom in an Oklahoma bar with my Hawaiian shirt and cowboy hat,” he says. “Somebody said, ‘Boy, you better play some good music or we’re going to kick your ass.’ ”
Nevin toured the same circuit as Commander Cody, Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson. He opened a show for country legend John Anderson right when No. 1 hit “Swingin’” came out.
In the early 1980s, Nevin moved back to California to start a duo with his cousin Luanne Oakes in Santa Barbara. After a few years, they moved to Reno, Nev., where Nevin met his future ex-wife and started a family.
When divorce split them apart, Nevin started writing music more than ever. Songs called “Come Back Man,” “It’s Never Too Late to Love Again,” “Jose Can You See” (about tequila), “Highway Cowboy” and “Coffee and Patron” poured out of him. One of his favorite compositions, “Bar Harbor,” is about the time he accidentally discovered his favorite town when he was stranded in poor weather with a hard-docked ferry. After wandering into a local bar, he played an impromptu gig to an ever-growing gang of port town waiters as the rain lashed down.
What sets the Deckheads apart is discipline, dynamics and an aim to please, says Nevins.
“Through the variety of songs that we do, from the ballads to the rock, we are very conscious about telling a story. If you can tell a story and they can remember it, then you’ve touched somebody. We gear our performance to the audience that we are playing for — and then we can rock with the best of them.” | barofamerica.com