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First Take: One chance to get it right

By Nick McCabe
Published: Last Updated on
First Take featuring Rick Metz performs at the Fat Cat Bar & Grill on Feb. 16, 2021.

Rick Metz started playing saxophone at 7 years old. The public school system tests had determined that he did have musical aptitude—for the accordion. That was not going to fly.

Metz’s first choice of instrument was the trumpet, but his friends were already playing trumpet so his mother suggested he choose something else. He chose drums.

Absolutely not, was his father’s sentiment.

His parents then suggested the saxophone to Rick, who wasn’t sure about that idea, so his parents played him some sax albums by John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. Rick was sold. His parents rented saxes for him until he proved he was serious. The first sax he owned was a 1972 Selmer Mk VI Alto Sax, that his parents purchased for him and which he still has.

Can you imagine First Take featuring Rick Metz as a Polka Band? I don’t think it would have been as successful, but who knows.

At the ripe young age of 13, having moved from Long Island, New York, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, Rick found himself playing rock ‘n’ roll and Top 40 songs in many clubs around town. Years later during his college days he realized that the sax was the icing on the cake, so to speak. A sax in the band made that band stand out.

First Take featuring Rick Metz performs at the Fat Cat Bar & Grill on Feb. 16, 2021.
First Take featuring Rick Metz performs at the Fat Cat Bar & Grill on Feb. 16, 2021. Image: Nick McCabe / This Is Reno

He dropped out of college and hit the road at 20 years old. Eventually he joined a seven-piece band with a real horn section which led to his first casino gigs.

After a job in Wendover, Nevada, in 1985 their bus broke down and they were stranded for four days. They limped back to the casino they had been playing at and the entertainment director comped them rooms, drinks and meals to save their asses.

That’s where he first discovered the Reno music scene. He played each night with Reno musicians like Laura St. Romain and Gary Wade. In 1991 he auditioned for the Zella Lehr Show in Reno, got the gig and has been here ever since. After that gig ended in 1999 Rick formed his own band and resurrected the name of his band from Albuquerque, First Take.

First Take featuring Rick Metz is a staple in the Reno music scene. The name, First Take, is derived from the concept that in this frequently morphing band you only have one chance to get it right. There is no second take.

On Fat Tuesday I checked them out playing at the Fat Cat Bar and Grill in Midtown Reno. True to the morphing element, he had a different lineup than I had seen playing with him previously. Drummer Bill Heise had the night off, so Mickey Penick was sitting in playing congas and bongos and percussion. Rick’s keyboardist and singer extraordinaire, Jimmy Vermilion, had been under the weather, so filling in on guitar and vocals was Gary Douglas. Both these guys did a splendid job.

The patrons in the bar were enjoying the show, and dropping tips in the bucket.

During the past year it has been difficult for performing musicians to get gigs. Opportunities have become scarce with businesses limited by myriad COVID-19-related restrictions. Business owners are working off of limited budgets for entertainment.

I asked Rick about his experiences as a performer during the COVID-19 crisis.

“You have to adapt or die. Many bands have not taken it upon themselves to make themselves marketable and adapt to the current situation,” he said, noting that full bands are not affordable for venue owners right now.

In closing, he added, “Trust the science. Be caring and considerate of our fellow human beings. This has impacted everyone.”

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