- Getting In Tune With Las Vegas' Hardest Working Musician
by Lee Abraham
"Itís the moments that you can only get while playing," says blues guitarist Scott Rhiner, "you know, your eyes are closed, and you can feel the music going ~through~ you. It's not like you're ~making~ it happen, you're allowing it to come through you and that's what it's all about."
Although only in his mid thirties, Rhiner has been playing music professionally for almost two decades. In the process, he has developed a philosophical approach to the music business, an approach that enables him to focus on playing, rather than where the music will "take him."
That approach is working he's playing more than ever. In addition to fronting The Moanin' Blacksnakes, his southern-rock-blues band, Rhiner fills the lead guitar slot for jump-swing-hipsters "Uncle Sugar and the Sweet Daddies," as well as for local rocker and songwriter, Mark Huff's band.
"Playing music is what keeps me going," says the soft-spoken guitar-slinger. "I work ridiculous hours because of it."
Those ridiculous hours also include a full time "day job" as a technician for a local long-distance fiber optics company. A typical day for Rhiner goes something like this: leave for work at 6:30 am, work until about 2:30, when he gets home to take care of Dakota, his six month old, baby daughter. His wife Lisa gets home a few hours later and the family spends some quality time together until Rhiner heads out to play, practice or record, depending on the night, usually getting to where he has to be at about 9pm. He'll get home anywhere from midnight 'til the wee hours. After the show, he gets as much sleep as possible and then starts again the next day.
On weekends he's been known to play an early gig with the Mark Huff band and then head over to another venue for a late show with the Snakes. That adds up to more than 25 shows a month, in addition to all the rehearsal and recording sessions he's involved with.
Some of his work ethic can be credited to a Midwest upbringing. Originally from Omaha, Nebraska, Rhiner came to Las Vegas in 1984 while in his early twenties. A veteran of several bands from the Midwest, Rhiner's passionate blues stylings earned him the gig of playing guitar for "Smart? Johnny & the Dinatones" which later became the legendary "Blues Kings."
"Back in the days of the Blues Kings things were very wild," remembers Rhiner, "I'd stay up nights, go directly to work when the sun came up and then back to the bar to play the next night without ever stopping home. That pretty much stopped when I moved to Austin."
"When I turned twenty-five," continues Rhiner, "I looked at all the guys that were around me and I was like, man, do I want to end up like these guys? So that's when I split for Austin. Just me and the van. Didn't know anybody there or anything. Just took off."
His first night in Austin, Rhiner played at an "open mic." blues jam and was so impressive, that an established local player asked if he'd like to sit-in for an upcoming Tuesday gig. He wound up playing there for three years on Tuesday nights with a roadhouse blues boogie band called Walter Higgs and the Shuffle Pigs.
In addition to playing in several different bands, Rhiner worked in "The Heart Of Texas(?)," an Austin music store, which turned out to be just as important to his career as playing guitar. While there, Rhiner made numerous connections and also met both Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
"The first week I was in Austin, I was playing at a place called the Black Hat Lounge," says Rhiner. "I'm jammin' and I look down and I see Stevie Ray Vaughan standing right there, and I was like, oh man, I could hardly hold on to my pick. Then about two weeks later when I started working at the music store, he came in and walked over to me and said, "Hey, I saw you play the other night and it was really good." I was likeÖ" (imitates a choking sound like someone trying to speak that's at a loss for words, and then laughs).
Although Austin had its high points, when he hit 30, Rhiner's travelin'-jones again tapped him on the shoulder. He told his Texas pals to look him up if they were ever in Vegas and with that, he jumped back in the van and headed west.
Back in town, Rhiner and some of his old Blues Kings pals put together another blues outfit, this time called "The Vegas Kings." After that band ran its course, Rhiner hooked up with the most popular blues band in Las Vegas, John Earl and the Boogie Man Band.
"The Blacksnakes came together during the last phase of John Earl's band," says Rhiner. "I was doing a blues jam on Monday nights and AJ from the Reggae & Blues Club asked us to play Tuesday nights, Then Chris Funk, who was managing the Wet Stop, wanted us to play at his place on Wednesdays."
"Then at some point, John Earl decided that he wanted to retire or something like that, which was only temporary, but when that happened we booked weekend gigs. By the time John changed his mind we had already made other commitments."
From there, the Moanin' Blacksnakes worked as much as possible and began to develop a loyal following. The Snakes have gone through a several phases over the past few years. Depending on the players, the band's music has explored jazz, fusion and rock influences, but it's always Rhiner's super-slinky and carefully crafted blues chops that make the Blacksnakes moan.
With the Snakes firmly established and ready for a new challenge, Rhiner got together with some of his old kings buddies, including Bill Bailey on bass and Dave Holt on drums, to do something they had always wanted to do, start a jump-swing band called Uncle Sugar and the Sweet Daddies. Shortly after that, local songwriter and bandleader Mark Huff asked Rhiner to join his band.
"I'm the lead guitar player in all three bands and a side man in two. They're totally different styles and I love it," says Rhiner. "Mark's band is all originals, so it's a lot more of a creative thing for me. Its more a blank slate. When I play a genre like Swing, it's pretty much all been done before, and you have to have to stay within certain rules and confines for that style. The whole point of that band is to be tradition oriented."
"In the jump-swing-blues thing, the guitar isn't the emphasis," continues Rhiner. "It's the horns and the vocalist that are out front. In Mark's band, the role of the lead guitar is much more critical to the music overall. Playing with Mark creates different situations for me. I enjoy just Swinging around and having fun, but with Mark's band it's more of a challenge and I like that too."
"Playing with the Blacksnakes, that's the stuff I grew up with, plus we do some of my originals, so that stuff I don't even have to think about, I just go for it and have fun."
Going for it and having fun are Rhiner's stock and trade. While most musicians become driven by the dangling carrot of "making it," or get burned out in the process, Rhiner has worked hard to just play what he wants.
"In my twenties I was playin' music to really "go somewhere," you know, with just the music and see how far it would take me. I did the road thing, all that, but I got to a point where I didn't want to do that anymore."
"(Sax player) Bobby Mercereux had a big influence on me, how I play and how I look at everything from music to life itself" says Rhiner. "He taught me that being true to the music is the most important thing. After that everything else falls into place."
"Back when I was like twenty-two years old, everybody was like 'Wow, the blues at twenty-two,' all this bullshit you know," says Rhiner. "I was always the baby or the kid. But now, we were playing at the Boston one night, and there was this young guy, he had to be like twenty-one or so, and he was like, "hey man, you play pretty good (pause), for an old guy!" he says laughing. "That's it man, now I've seen everything!"