With the Chris Fast Band
By T.E. Mattox
ecently overheard at a CFB performance in Del Mar
A smiling young
lady asks Chris Fast if he's always played blues music. The ever amiable
Mr. Fast replies, 'I've earned tens of dollars playing blues, so
why would I do anything different?' That my friend is a blues man,
granted a slightly disturbed one, but a bluesman none-the-less.
I've known Chris Fast for too many years to remember
but this was my first opportunity to sit down and grill him about his
road and making music. It's definitely been worth the wait, and our
conversation started with the here and now. "Well, currently,"
Chris says. "I'm playing real Chicago Blues, that's what I'm
doing now. Previously with Little Chris and the Night Crawlers band
we were kind of a hybrid, we played a lot of blues but we had the R&B
influence with the horns, a lot of good arrangements so it was a different
kind of thing than the four-piece Chicago sound I'm currently involved
Mike Halls, Al Schneider, Chris Fast and Don Skelton
turn it up. Photo: Yachiyo Mattox
Why the change? "I used to play in a band with
Bob Newham and Willie Brinlee and the guys that went on to back Bill
Clark and growing up in Riverside with Rod
we were always playing Chicago blues. I played in his (Piazza's)
band for a short period of time, playing guitar and saxophone with Richard
Innes and Jerry Smith, Rod and Glenn Ross Campbell was playing the slide
guitar. Chicago blues has always been a love of mine, but it just so
happened the personnel I got with (the Nightcrawlers) Fred Rivera
and Henry Barrio, Dennis Kenmore, Alfredo Ballesteros, Tommy Bray and
Bud Dehl. We had horns and a pretty big sound, it was kind of eclectic,
I would say. It was a fun band to play with."
You've recently begun playing a lot more with a few
folks around Southern California. "I've been trying to get something
going in the local area," Fast says. "And I started
going down to these jam sessions in San Diego. Chet Cannon's jam and
I met Al Schneider down there and Mike Halls I knew from Fallbrook and
Don Skelton as a bass player I had worked with before. So we got together
and it's a lot of fun for me because the emphasis is on the harmonica
and I enjoy it an awful lot. I'm back doing what I started doing."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"My goal is to be out playing,
that's really my goal."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I first saw Little Chris and the Nightcrawlers about
20 years ago, out in the vineyards around Temecula.
"In those days," Chris grins. "We had the Temecula
area to ourselves. We played everywhere we wanted
we were playing
at Pechanga all the time. We opened shows for B.B.
King and the big blues shows they had out there."
The CFB welcomes you to Salvation Alley at the House
of Blues. Photo: Yachiyo Mattox
Let's talk about the current band and the music you
play. "Right now, we're playing a lot of Little
Walter material just because it's challenging. And today, nobody
around the San Diego area seems to be playing it. When I was younger,
everybody was playing Little Walter stuff and it doesn't seem to be
that way. People my age started playing music in the '60s when the blues
invasion rolled through. When I was in high school we heard, I guess
it was the Stones playing some blues and then we started investigating
and found out about the guys that originated the music. There was a
huge wave of people that were blues enthusiasts at that time. Right
now that wave is a little bitty ripple and everybody's getting older,
we're getting older, it's not a super popular thing, but I'm going to
keep doing it as long as I can."
Social media has changed some of that
all over YouTube." Chris agrees. "Back in the day when
I was starting, I had to borrow records. Rod (Piazza) gave me
my first Little Walter record and said, 'Hey, Listen to this!' And I
listened to it and it was weird to me, because it was a whole different
style of playing. Of course, Rod was totally off into it and then I
started learning it."
Your road has taken multiple directions in and out of
music; how did your family impact your decisions? "Yeah, I taught
school, but my father gave me a harmonica when I was a young boy. I
was a little kid and I'd walk around playing this silly harmonica so
I was always oriented toward the harmonica. In Junior High school I
think the folk music thing was going pretty good and some of my friends
decided to put together a little band and I was going to play the harmonica,
we had a couple of folk guitars and we played at a talent assembly and
that's where it kind of started. I got into some rock bands early on,
but we'd play some blues tunes as well and it just sort of evolved from
there. Somewhere early on, I remember we had some jam sessions in the
summertime and Rod Piazza was involved in those and there was a core
group of musicians that would meet every week and I would go down there
and play. I started hearing what he was doing and we developed a friendship
and as I got older I was playing in blues bands around town. He would
pick me up at my house and take me into L.A. where he was playing and
all these other guys were playing in these black clubs. I would go with
him and he would have his pizza under the front seat for his meal."
(laughing) "Saving money!" (laughing) "But
it was a great education for me.
Later on because I knew all the harmonica songs,
he needed a guitar player and I could play some guitar, I never considered
myself a very good guitar player
and I proved it every night.
I could play okay, just enough to back him. The real soloist was Glenn
Ross Campbell who played slide. He was in the Misunderstood and other
bands and he was a virtuoso kind of player. And Richard Innes played
drums and Jerry Smith played bass and Rod was blowin' harp. So I learned
a lot, night after night sitting there behind Rod."
Who were some of the people you saw and played with
in those early days? "We backed up Big Joe Turner and Pee Wee
Crayton was playing with us at one time. We opened shows for John Lee
Hooker and later on I was able to work with Percy Mayfield and Big Mama
Talk a little about Percy Mayfield? "He was
just a real sweet guy. Talk about a songwriter, he was the best. Nobody
wrote a song like Percy Mayfield. I don't think anybody was better.
Nobody! We were on stage one time and the lights went off and he said
to me, 'Do they want me off?' Because he was kind of insecure, like
a lot of musicians are and of course he had had that accident and stuff.
I said, 'don't worry about it man, you're good. You are good!'"
Al Schneider, Robin Henkel and Chris Fast having
too much fun. Photo: Yachiyo Mattox
Growing up near and getting to know Rod Piazza was a
very fortunate happenstance in your musical direction, was it not? "Yeah,
I was lucky he lived in town and talk about a great model to have, you
know, as an aspiring harmonica player. Rod has always welcomed guest
players; if he thinks you're halfway decent he doesn't have a problem
getting you up there. In fact, he welcomes it because for one thing,
he can take a break. And then when you're done he can say, 'Okay, I'll
show you how it's really done.'" (laughing) "It's a
good little foil for him. Rod, of course has played with everybody.
He played with the real guys. We're just trying to get a good
sound and all that stuff, but he was really there with all the guys
that were out in L.A."
And you are kind of an anomaly actually being from California
"Born in Riverside." Chris nods. "I knew Rod
for a long time, we would go fishing and his dad would put together
the cheese garlic bait for us. It was a neighborhood thing. It was perfect.
If I'm any good at all, it's because of being around Rod and the good
Some may notice a few similarities in style and presentation
with you and Rod
"I'm not trying to imitate Rod, but I
think we are both admirers of Little Walter. If you're a harmonica player
who are you gonna' want to listen to? Big Walter, George Smith, all
those guys are the tip of the top."
Chris Fast, Bruce Stewart, David Mosby and John
Flynn. Photo: T.E. Mattox
What is it about harp players? Not to frighten you,
but most seem to have a very short life span? (laughing) "Little
Walter was crazy." Chris laughs. "Rod told me Walter
would seek out the worst people he could find, and that's who he would
hang with. You've probably known people like that. They just can't resist
and that's the people they seek, the lowest common denominator and that's
what they enjoy. I don't know, there's a physical quality to the playing,
it takes strength to play the harp, it takes a little energy, I think."
Outside of the Chicago sound, or blues in general what
other music appeals to you? "I listen to a lot of jazz. If I'm
listening to music, I'll be listening to jazz. I appreciate that, I
imagine if I was a better musician or more educated in music, maybe
I would be a jazz musician perhaps, I don't know. I like the sax players
like Coltrane and all those guys."
It's often said and comparisons have been made with
Little Walter's amplified harp sound being very similar to saxophone
lines. "Right, to get the instrument to sound bigger, to sound
like a saxophone, Walter was playing
of course swing music was
big at that time in the early '50s, Louis Jordan was having a lot of
hits as an alto player and people would learn his lines and play it
in their music. It really had more of a swing to it."
Swing music seems to be on the rise in Southern California
these days. "There are venues I'm learning that want to have
swing dancing so this is a good opportunity."
Let's talk a little about you latest CD offering
Funky Highway. "Well Henry Barrio was with the Nightcrawlers
and before that he played with Hoyt Axton for years. He's a great guitar
player, and really good arranger with really good musical sense. Alfredo
Ballesteros, a tenor player was with the Boxing Ghandi's on Atlantic
Records, he's a great jazz/rock tenor player. And we were with the Nightcrawlers
for all those years, so Henry and I just for something to do; Henry
would come over and record at my house. I have a little setup and I
would write a song maybe and he and I would arrange it and put our basic
tracks on it and Henry can play all these different styles. Then Alfredo
would come over and put a horn part on it or we would get Tommy Bray,
a trumpet player to come over and do something and over time we put
together a few songs."
Chris Fast and Friends CD cover
Can you talk a little about your writing style? "I
would say I don't have a style." (laughing) "I wish
I was better at it. But I do enjoy coming up with something original.
I strive to write a song that in some way isn't full of clichés
I'm not trying to be different, but I've noticed some people have a
tendency to grab a line from one song and a line from another song and
you put it together and you've got something brand new. And maybe you
do, because that's what we all do anyway. We steal and borrow everything
that we do, whether it's the notes we play, how we play them, the lines
we put in our songs
but I enjoy writing.
You cover Percy Mayfield's 'You Lied to Me.' "I
was listening to my IPod and that one came up. I thought, 'Oh, man that's
a good one.' So, I recorded it, in fact I played guitar on that particular
song, for what it's worth. You can't miss with a Percy Mayfield song."
How long did you get to work with Percy? "I
played a few gigs with him in San Bernardino, at a place called the
Kola Shanah. I wasn't like great buddies with him or anything. You know
all those guys were out in L.A. at the time, Joe Turner and everybody."
Any new directions, what's next for Chris Fast? "I
don't have a plan. I'm taking it one week at a time. If you have a plan,
that means you have a goal
and my goal is to be out playing, that's
really my goal. So I'm succeeding at that although, I need more gigs
with this band that I have right now. That's all I want, I just want
to be out playing."
The current lineup for the Chris Fast Band is relatively
new? "We've only been together about 4 months and currently
Al Schneider is playing drums. Of course, he played with the Everly
Brothers. He toured a long time with them. He's been at it for quite
awhile. In fact, he told me the drum kit he's playing now, he bought
in '58. So, I don't know what that means
he's not a youngster.
But, man the guy can play, he's great. He's on it
a good connection for the San Diego area, he knows everybody. He's always
out there. Our guitar player is Mike Halls. 'English' Mike lives in
Temecula and I met him down at one of the jams in Fallbrook and he plays
in a traditional style which works really well. And then Don Skelton
plays upright bass. He's kind of a jazzer and he really knows what he's
doing. He's really proficient. He knows his way around a bass and can
and he's a really good guy. So everybody gets along really
Another project I occasionally see you play with is
the Little Kings. "At Chet Cannon's jam I met John Flynn and
he heard me play. He always liked to have another instrument as a soloist.
So he called me up and started using me on some gigs and that's been
for almost a year now. It's been a lot of fun.
Fast sits in with the Little Kings at Tio Leo's.
Photo: Yachiyo Mattox
"It's been a goal of mine to establish myself
as a harp player in the San Diego area. I think I'm doing okay at it,
I'm having fun anyway." Chris flashes a big grin. "I
do have a goal, I'm just going to play on out. I'm just going to keep
playing until I can't play anymore. That's what I'm gonna' do."
Sounds like a plan to me.
to Little Walter; Rod
Piazza Birthday Blues Fest; Robin
Henkel: Been There and Gone!; San
Diego's Mr. Natural... Billy Watson; BB
Blues Are Alive and Well in Southern California