Las Vegas Sun

October 1, 2014

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Columnist Jerry Fink: Daniels riding high at Stratosphere lounge

R&B guitarist Huck Daniels has been an integral part of the Las Vegas music scene for more than 40 years.

For the past four years, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays, he has hosted a standing-room-only jam session at the Stratosphere's Image Lounge. When he isn't at the Stratosphere he can be found at a number of venues around town -- as well as in Jean and Laughlin.

The Reno native began playing in school bands in the fifth grade and continued through high school.

"We found out that the girls would chase the guys playing in the band quicker than they would chase the guys in sports," the 60-year-old Daniels said. "When we found that out we formed a little band -- it all started as a way to get the girls, but then we found out there was more money in music than doing menial jobs."

After graduating from high school in 1962 he moved to Vegas. Even though Reno was a bigger city at that time, it seemed all the job opportunities in music were down South.

He and high school bandmate Rick Stevens made the trip.

"We got a job playing with Good Rockin' Brown, a tenor saxophone player, at the Louisiana Club over on Jackson and F streets," Daniels recalled. "But then he left and went to Alaska and I formed a band and stayed here.

"This was pre-integration -- Jackson Street was like the Strip for the west side. There were six casinos, most of them owned by Chinese people."

Jobs for musicians were plentiful.

"The casinos had 16, 17 hours of music a day," he said. "When the musicians got finished with their gigs on the Strip, they would come to the west side and play with us. We had members of the Lionel Hampton band, Ray Anthony's band -- everyone would come to play with us."

Stevens stayed in Vegas a year and then moved to San Francisco. In 1965 he called Daniels and invited him up.

"I joined him and stayed 2 1/2 years," he said.

Daniels played with some big names.

"I was with the house band at the Long Island Club, which was the biggest R&B club on the West Coast at the time," Daniels said. "I played with T. Bone Walker -- the 'Stormy Monday' guy; and (Willie Mae) 'Big Mama' Thornton, who did 'Hound Dog' before Elvis."

Daniels was performing at gigs, cutting records and enjoying the lifestyle of San Francisco in the '60s.

"Then I went off on this hippie bag," he said. "I'd pull off my tux at 1:30 in the morning and hang with the hippies at Haight-Ashbury 'til daybreak."

Daniels was married at the time, with two young daughters.

One daybreak he came home to an empty house.

"My wife pulled up and came back to Vegas," Daniels said.

He decided to leave San Francisco and reunite with his family. They remained together until the children were grown and then divorced. Daniels eventually remarried.

Stevens remained in the city, eventually helping form the new group Tower of Power. He was its lead singer for the first two years, '70 to '72, until he got into drugs, was involved in an accident that killed two people and went to prison.

When Daniels returned to Vegas he joined Danny Owens (a former member of the Ink Spots) in a gig at the Hacienda that lasted five years.

"I played in that band from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. and then from 2 a.m. until 8 a.m. I ran a band for Bob Bailey at Sugar Hill," Daniels said.

Daniels said Bailey convinced him and his musicians to clean up their act.

"To stop chasin' the girls and to get more serious with our music," he said. "He got us to rehearsing. He opened his club at 4 p.m. and let us rehearse during the day.

"At first we just went in to drink up his booze and goof off, but then we saw we were getting something done -- we noticed our crowds doubled and then tripled."

He met B.B. King, and King invited him to perform on one of his records.

"After the session he told me to go to L.A. to meet with the Bahari brothers, who owned Kent records," Daniels said. "My first single came out of that, 'I'm the Reason,' and an album, 'Huck and the Soul Patrol.' "

Back then he said the music was called "soul" and now it's called "funk."

His Kent albums have recently been released in Great Britain by Ace Records, which bought the Kent library.

Daniels was hired to open the Plaza in '71.

"After that first single was released, everything started happening," Daniels said. "Everything took off then for 'Huck and the Soul Patrol,' which became 'The Huck Daniels Revue.' "

Daniels played almost every major hotel in Vegas.

"The times were great, but when the record took off, the audiences got 10 times as great," he said.

He toured the country, from the Chitlin Circuit of the South to most of the major hotels and nightclubs in major cities around the country.

The good times lasted until about '79, when music union problems cooled things off.

"I decided to retire," Daniels said.

He drove a street-cleaning truck for five years, but when he found himself parking the truck and going inside a nightclub to play, he came out of retirement in '84 and started a gig at Sonny's Saloon on Spring Mountain Road.

"Things took off again," he said.

He was at Sonny's for two years, performing four nights a week.

"To enhance the crowd we started a jam session," Daniels said.

He moved the jam to the Aladdin, where he was given a year's contract "and all the weekly work they could put together for me."

After a couple of years the Maxim offered him more money, so he moved again.

"Momentum started picking up, so I took on an agent who started booking us all over the state, as well as Las Vegas," Daniels said.

He is now at the Stratosphere, where he has attracted an enormous following.

Daniels retired once. Will he do it again?

"I haven't even entertained the idea," he said.

Lounging around

Popular dance band Doo-Wopp.com performs in the Suncoast Showroom beginning at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays. The group performs rock 'n' roll from the '50s and '60s.

Lou Martinez performs at 10 p.m. Fridays at Zingers, 1000 E. Sahara Ave.

Keyboardist Dennis Mellen has a new gig at Capozzoli's on Sunday evenings. He continues to host a jazz jam session at Steven David's on Wednesday nights.

Speaking of Steven David's, the nightclub has become so popular with local musicians the stage has been expanded to accommodate the huge turnout for jam sessions. The centerpiece of the larger stage is a $40,000 Petrof Grand Piano -- not too shabby for a room that just opened in November.

The Southern Nevada Blues Association (SNBA) has received a grant from the Las Vegas Centennial Committee to participate in commemorating the city's 100th birthday.

A concert will be held in honor of Vegas' blues heritage at noon April 17 at the Sammy Davis Jr. Festival Pavilion in Lorenzi Park. Artists that will be honored include B.B. King, Little Milton, Ruth Brown and the late Albert Collins, Joe Williams and Louis Jordon.