With a decade of rock-n-roll behind him and a woman who would become his wife in front of him, Chuck Dunn was confronted with the choice many struggling artists face at some point in their lives — should he hang with his life on the road in hopes of making it big? Or get a real job with a paycheck every two weeks and settle down?

“I was gonna be a rock star,” he said over a crab cake Benedict at Jax one morning. “I was, like, 21 years old, and we were on the road, and I was gonna be a rock star, no doubt about it.”

Not really a “living,” it was more of a lifestyle, albeit one that did not pay the bills. At 30, Dunn hung up the guitar and picked up a drywall knife. Within a few years, he found himself with two kids and his own company, Drywall Magic of Kings Beach.

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But what Dunn came to realize is that music was not a mere pastime for him; it was a passion. Whether he made money at it or not, it was his vocation in the truest sense of the word.

The word “vocation” derives from the Latin verb, vocare, which literally means “to call.” Chuck Dunn was called to music; it was and is his passion, and he could not put it down.

In the North Shore construction trades, he started running into guys who played instruments or sang. One of them was Larry Yates, a harmonica player who invited Dunn to jam with him back in the mid-1980s.

“So I got my guitar out,” he said. “My mind knew the chords, but it was almost like starting over again.”

Yates ended up booking some gigs at Northstar “for a band he didn’t have,” and with the shows lined up, he needed to find a few guys to make the shows happen. That was 21 years ago, and it was the birth of the Blues Monsters, one of the most popular bands to come out of Tahoe/Truckee. When Yates left for Los Angeles a few years ago, Dunn took over on lead vocals, and the show rolled on.

“I love to play; love the guys I’m playing with,” he said.

The band sparked Dunn’s passion for the blues, and a chance meeting with 101.5 FM’s then-Manager Hartley Lesser led to the station’s popular “Blues Hour,” which Dunn now deejays on weekend afternoons.

“I went in to buy some air time, and Hartley was saying he wanted to do a jazz hour, and I said ‘You should do a blues hour.’ He pretty much pushed me into it,” Dunn said. With 487 shows under his belt, Dunn has earned a reputation for eclectic tastes in blues. It’s not all Etta James and B.B. King; it’s guys like Ansley Lister, an English blues/rock guitarist, and the Southern blues rocker Tinsley Ellis — guys who don’t typically get much air time.

“They don’t tell me what to play, and that is very cool,” Dunn said. “There’s so much good music out there that people have never heard of. I’ve kind of coined the phrase, ‘This ain’t your daddy’s blues.’”

Rock-n-roll can levy a toll on a marriage, but Dunn has been married to the same woman for 32 years. She gives him the respect of allowing him free rein to pursue his passion, he said, “And I return that respect by coming home when I am done. It’s not a situation where I’m going out to party; I’m going out to play.”

FROM COUNTRY TO THE BLUES
Growing up in Sacramento, Dunn never plugged into the Delta blues scene; his was a family of cowboys, and so it was that at the age of 7 he not only knew the lyrics to many classic country tunes, he knew how to yodel. His dad was a bronco rider, and his mother, a country Western singer. She entered him into a contest once, and he laughed as he remembered the image of himself on stage in cowboy boots and a ten-gallon hat, the microphone taller than he was, yodeling.

With his hoop earrings and a shock of blond hair reminiscent of Sting, Dunn is no cowboy. At 61, he still looks the part of a rock star, the dream he could not shelve, the calling that refused to be silenced.

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