Fifteen years is a goodly while to be knocking around the Missoula music scene. If you’ve spent more than a night or two sampling the local nightlife at places like the Union Club, the Top Hat, Sean Kelly’s and the Old Post, you’ve surely noticed the graying guitarist with the barrel chest and the battered ’61 Stratocaster who occasionally uses his wireless kit to leave the stage and stroll around the room, serenading the ladies with a few bars here and a few bars there.
That’s Russ Nasset, the six-stringed soul behind many a Missoula blues/rock/honky-tonk outfit and veteran of some of the longest-lived house bands in town. He used to play in the Psyclones and Nitesnack’r, both live staples at the Top Hat in the ‘90s. These days he keeps busy most nights of the week with either his own band, the Revelators, or with the Valentinos, a honky-tonk side project that also features guitarist/singer Garth Whitson, bassist Tim Martin, and drummer Jeff “Duke” Kirschenmann.
We called Nasset up at home last week. He seemed a little crabby about not getting into the studio that day to finish work on the upcoming Revelators CD (“I’ve been working on this thing long enough,” he says. “I just want to get it over with.”). But, as anyone will tell you, he’s a nice guy and he let us spend a few minutes trying to jimmy his life story out of him. First of all, it turns out the 15-odd years he’s been in Missoula actually represent his second go at living here. His first attempt was as an English student at UM back in the free-love-rich but live-music-poor era of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
“I didn’t really have a set idea what I wanted to do,” Nasset continues, “But I wanted to write, so I took all this literature and writing classes and stuff. I never did finish. I took off with a girl out to Oregon and started playing music out there when I was in my early twenties, and I’ve been doing it since.”
Nasset says he moved back to Missoula in 1986, when his son was about 6 years old. Sam Nasset, an excellent guitarist himself, played with minor Missoula hardcores the Evaders before they broke up last year and joined the Revelators alongside Dad three years ago. What has Russ, now an elder statesman, learned from playing with 21-year-old Sam, whose former band exemplified the rough ’n’ ready, do-it-yourself spirit of a hundred other punk rock bands that have come and mostly gone in Missoula in the space of a generation?
“I don’t know how to put that, man,” he says. “He’s brought back something back, I mean, he’s all excited about stuff still. We’ll be on the road and the rest of the band will be grumpy from driving all day and he’s all excited about getting there and setting up and doing his thing. Although I guess after three years the excitement is wearing off for him a little bit.”
Now that he’s getting old and jaded, you mean?
“No, no, no,” Nasset exclaims, “We’re not old and jaded. It’s just great playing with your kid, you know? And he’s turned into a real good guitar player, too, playing stuff that I don’t play, and it’s just nice having him around. A family thing, you know?”
It might strike some people as unusual that a guitarist would have a case of butterflies about getting into the blues, honky-tonk, etc. after helping write some of the most punishing original music in the annals of Missoula hardcore. But that’s just what Sam had on the eve of his Revelators debut, says Nasset Sr.
“He was nervous, never having done it before,” he says. “He’d been in the Evaders, but when he started playing with us we had songs that he didn’t really know. We didn’t really sit down and learn everything first. I just kind of said ‘Come on, you’re gonna go play with me.’”
So what’s the secret to being a professional musician and single dad in Missoula? Easy, says Nasset.
“Play anywhere, go anywhere. We’ve got a circuit around the state and in Idaho a little bit. We just keep as busy as we can at it. If we can go three nights a week or so, good.”