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History Alive in Song

Sunday, Oct. 13, 6 p.m., Cottonwood
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Info: Free, 6 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 13, Cottonwood Restaurant, Truckee, (530) 587-5711,

Like many good ideas, this one began with a suggestion from a friend.

Following a gig one night, a friend suggested that Truckee guitarist Richard Blair take some of his local history-based songs and put them into a collection. The result is “From The Streets of Truckee,” a unique collection of songs celebrating Truckee’s colorful 19th century history.

“It’s good roots rock — Americana stuff,” Blair said. “The fact that it’s about Truckee history is taking it to another level. I wanted to keep people talking about these stories.”

One of the more compelling of the collection is “The Duel,” the story of the famed shootout between early Truckee Sherriff Jacob Teeter and James Reed, the deputy with whom he shared a rocky relationship.

“Russell Valley to Boca Town, there’s no room for two kinds of law in this town; Teeter started drinking at the Capitol Saloon; Reed walked in, and there was trouble real soon,” Blair sings. “A fast six gun was all it takes; that was his first and last mistake.”

Reed’s supposed affiliation with a local vigilante mob got the best of Teeter, and in the split second of the shootout, Teeter lay dead.

“Reed went free; self-defense they say. He lived alone; never took a wife,” Blair sings.

To hear the story told lyrically, with some sweet picking, casts the story in a whole new light.

“There’s nothing left but unmarked graves and wind in the sage where a town once lay,” Blair sings, lending a new weight and image to the abandonment of old Boca Town, years after the famed duel.

Art — be it literary renditions of true stories, or film or music — has the ability to lift history from the page, and that’s what Blair has accomplished here with “The Duel,” and with other songs like “Snowshoe Thompson,” namesake of the Norwegian cross-country skier who delivered the mail across the Sierra on a route that killed men before him.

At 61, Blair has lived in Truckee for 27 years, playing music the whole time. Some might remember him as the bass player in the popular band, 1888. Acoustic compositions are his forte, and he says his early inspiration were artists like the late Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan.

The lyrics on “From The Streets of Truckee” were the result of collaboration with Karen Terrey of Tangled Roots Writing in Truckee. The CD is dedicated to Mary Lou Cooper, Blair’s fiddler friend who inspired the collection.

The songs have to be heard to be fully appreciated, and folks will get a chance to do that at a free performance at Cottonwood on Sunday, Oct. 13, narrated by former Nevada County Supervisor Ted Owens. In three-minute skits, complete with actors in period dress, Blair intends to act out the history of the songs.

“You can’t really do a gunfight in Cottonwood,” Blair says. But shy of that, the skits promise to be as close to living history as it gets.

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March 14, 2019