One local musician plays acoustic piano, B-3 Hammond organ, and programs computers,
but at the core he is Nat King Cole and an OG funkster. Another
is a guitarist who may play Girl from Ipanema, but is steeped in the
polyglot of flamenco. Frank Sinatra, Jack Benny, and funky accordion music are
muses of still another musician. All have watched Reno devolve from exclusive
destination for the most exciting entertainment in Nevada to Las Vegas
While Nevadas music mecca has moved south, keyboardist/vocalist Ron Perry,
guitarist Phil Amundson, and pianist Corky Bennett have survived after enduring
30- to 40-plus years in the Reno music scene. They learned only the lonely are
free, and accomplished solo artists in Northern Nevada have a market among dwindling
opportunities for older musicians.
Phil is flamenco
Arriving in Reno in 1974 from Spain, Amundson was lucky to meet some players
Dana Blanc and Jim Griffel of the MGM before it became the Hilton.
I got a lot of work when I first came here because I was a soloist, playing
guitar, said Amundson, who admits hes a worker, coming to the job,
playing his unique music, and then going home to cut the lawn.
I played a lot of conventions people from St. Louis were listening
to my music, he said. I had to learn how to arrange other music,
because I had spent six years in Spain learning flamenco.
Amundson grew up in Southern California and arrived at Restaurante Orozko at
John Ascuagas Nugget in Sparks, where he still plays.
During his six-year odyssey in Spain, Amundson said he was immersed in flamenco,
old-school players drilled the Gypsy-spawned music into his psyche, until he
learned each nuance of this intricate folk music.
Marrying his wife, Olga (who he met in one of the many flamenco venues in which
he honed his craft), Amundson returned to the United States, began his career,
and quickly learned playing his flamenco was not enough.
I had played on the same bill with (flamenco guitarist Carlos) Montoya
and his daughter, but I realized I had to learn a wider variety of music,
Show tunes, blues, and such have become part of his musical mix, although,
he said, I couldnt do any of it without the flamenco technique.
Bennett started his Northern Nevada experience on July 4, 1963 at the newly
rebuilt Golden Hotel on Center Street (now the site of Harrahs), playing
piano on the afternoon shift.
Music was everywhere, 24/7, Bennett said. There was even
music midnight to 6 in the morning.
He remembered working early and handing off to folks such as Harry James, Billy
Eckstine, and Della Reese.
This is where I got my education, said the Seattle, Wash., native.
All the while he was developing his comedy act, and in 1993 he took a gig
at Columbos, a restaurant once situated by the Truckee River.
It was an after-hours kinda place where dealers, waitresses, bartenders
from the casinos would come and hang out, Bennett said. It was a
steady gig, I enjoyed it until 1997 when the flood washed Columbos and
my piano upstream.
But Bennett got to open other venues, such as Roxys in the Eldorado
Hotel & Casino (They built that piano bar for me, he said),
and later was a featured act at Lexies lounge at the Siena Hotel Spa Casino.
Bennett believes he survived the decline of live music in Reno because of his
I remember I was sitting at the piano at the Eldorado talking, doing
comedy, he said, and a guy sitting nearby looked up and said, Hey,
are you gonna play that thing?
If not for then-Columbia Records Group president Clive Davis infatuation
and commitment to Sly and the Family Stones Family Affair album, Perry
may not have discovered the charms of Northern Nevada.
My ex-wife and I had a group that did funk and R&B, sort of a sweetheart
group like Peaches and Herb, but we could burn, he recalled.
Attention paid to Sly cost Perry and his wife, Lorne, a recording contract.
We were doing quite well performing in Ventura County (California),
but our agent John Foster had booked us a gig at Sahara Tahoe for three days,
Perry said. It turned into three weeks, then three months, almost three
Pine Cone Lounge at Tahoe Sahara was where people came to hear Ron and Lorne,
but also to watch Bill Cosby drop in and play drums, Liza Minnelli come and
sit in on standards, Tom Jones sneak away from his lakeside gig and belt out
There were acts galore up there, he said. It was the best.
Things began to change in the mid-70s, Perry said. Some of the
lounges stopped paying as much as they used to, he said.
Ron and Lorne eventually migrated to the Truckee Meadows, performing at places
such as the old Ponderosa, Hobo Junction (on the spot that now is Famous Murphys)
and a myriad of other venues.
I started to try something different, Perry said. I began
to take some gigs outside of the group, which had grown to a family quartet
and was named Marthas Children. I started to do solo gigs, singing
a wider variety of music, things from Nat King Cole and some jazz
I found more work, said Perry, who now is a regular pianist at
Peppermills Steak House restaurant. He also still plays with bands at
the Speakeasy and EJs Jazz Café, from which there are live broadcasts.
I love doing this, Perry said. Im expressing myself.
These musicians talent and a love for their brands of music have kept
them in the game. And locals still enjoy listening to them.
Michael Martinez is city editor at the Reno Gazette-Journal.