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November 28, 2014

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VINTAGE VEGAS:

Jamming just like it’s Old Vegas

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Tiffany Brown

Guitarist Huck Daniels, center, and other Vegas performers play this month in Daniels’ organized jam session at El Cortez’s Fiesta lounge.

Huck Daniels

Huck  Daniels and other Las Vegas performers play during Daniels' organized jam session at the El Cortez Fiesta Room on Monday, June 8, 2009. Launch slideshow »

If You Go

  • What: Huck Daniels Celebrity Jam
  • When: 8 p.m. Saturdays
  • Where: Fiesta lounge, El Cortez
  • Admission: Two-drink minimum

Musicians and fans begin arriving early at El Cortez for the weekly Huck Daniels Celebrity Jam Session.

Performers file in: jazz vocalist Genevieve, back from a tour in Australia; classic rock brother and sister duo Brenda and Lennice Bolton, who drove in from Pahrump; blues vocalist Moody Scott, just in from the recording studio where he’s taping “The Many Moods of Moody.”

Onstage at El Cortez’s Fiesta lounge, Phil Flowers belts out a series of classics — “Soul Man,” “Mustang Sally,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “My Girl” — backed by guitarist Huck Daniels and the house band.

After a break, the jam session gets under way. Until 1 or 2 in the morning, more than a dozen musicians and vocalists will take turns onstage, providing some of the best entertainment in town at a price that’s hard to beat: a two-drink minimum.

The 19-year-old jam session traditionally has been on Monday nights, and it was on Mondays when it debuted at El Cortez in April. But it’s moving to Saturdays, starting this weekend, with sets roughly at 8 p.m., 10 p.m. and midnight.

Daniels, who moved to Vegas from Reno in 1962, remembers the good days.

“Now it’s a struggle to survive,” he says. “Back in the day, young musicians without a lot of experience could play smaller clubs till they got up on their instrument and stuff. We don’t have that anymore and as a result you have guys who don’t know how to act onstage.”

West Las Vegas was a proving ground for young musicians.

“There used to be six clubs on Jackson Street on the West Side,” he says. “They had music every night. If you didn’t know your craft, you could hang out down there till you could make it to the casinos up on the Strip. A lot of times guys in the business would come by and play with you. I miss those days.”

His jam sessions are an attempt to keep the old days breathing.

“I don’t like to take credit for starting jam sessions,” Daniels says. “I copied this from when we used to have all the big bands in town — Ray Anthony, Lionel Hampton, Sy Zentner. They all picked a spot on Monday nights and jammed, because most musicians were off on Mondays.”

The Huck Daniels Celebrity Jam Session began at the Aladdin and bounced around to the Maxim, the Continental and the Stratosphere.

“About a third of the people here are singers and musicians, the rest are just fans,” Daniels says. “We’ve had people from all over the world — this one couple from Ireland have been coming to see us eight years in a row.”

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