Locked & Loaded!!!
By T.E. Mattox
nytime you see the 44's listed on a concert bill or festival poster,
you know there's going to be a party. This particular occasion just
happened to be Rod
Piazza's Annual Birthday celebration at Fairmount Park in Riverside.
The 44's along with the Mighty Mojo Prophets, the MoFo Party Band and
Piazza's own Mighty
Flyers had all come together for a day of revelry and some good-natured,
blow your face off blues harp and string-stinging guitar boogie.
After the 44's opening stage appearance and prior to
the Grand Finale that highlights everyone performing with the birthday
boy in a never-ending party encore, we were fortunate enough to get
a little face time with the band. Back in the bar all four musicians
dropped into a booth to share insight on their music, their direction
and the road they travel. Our conversation started with the blues-driven,
amplified roots rock they had just unleashed on an appreciative packed
"I want to say it's something different."
Guitarist Johnny Main says. "But at the same time we're just
trying to pay homage to these guys (the blues originators). To
show respect but do things just a little bit different." But
let there be no doubt Main reinforces, "We are a blues band!"
The 44's storyline started about seven years ago and
the line-up currently features Main on guitar, drummer Jason 'J.R.'
Lozano who Johnny refers to as "the backbone of the unit."
The band found its bottom end in bassist Mike Hightower who had previously
backed L.A. legend, Lester Butler. Then a little more than a year ago
the group picked up a 20-year old blues harp phenom by the name of Jacob
Johnny Main and J.R. Lozano talk family. Photo:
"I've been working with this guy for a long
time." J.R. Lozano said as he fell into the booth next to Main.
"We met in this little club in Chino. Chino, California. It
was actually a little festival with a bunch of bands on the bill and
I saw the way he played. And I was just like, 'Man, I love the way that
guy plays; I want to work with him.' I approached him that night and
said, 'Hey man, we should do some jamming together one of these days.'
Months later, I used to host this jam night and he came in and sat in
with us and did all kinds of cool blues tunes and after that we hooked
up and have been together ever since."
You guys were in other bands together before the 44's?
"We've had like three or four bands together." J.R.
says when Johnny cuts in, "That's a whole story, right there
me and this guy have been together for 25 years, man." J.R.
smiles and says. "Different bands, different kinds of things
we were doing with different players. Different bass players, guitar
players and harp players. Always blues rooted. We've tried different
things and this one project that we have now, has kind of stuck and
it turned into something and we're running with it."
The 44's 'run' has become a marathon. With two albums
under their belt and the third in development Main credits the success
of their debut, 'Boogie Disease' to its producer "Kid
Ramos, man! To me" Main says, "being a guitar player
he's a guitar hero." The band received so much national attention
and critical acclaim for that first release that Ramos was also tapped
to produce their second, 'Americana.'
Incorporating more original material on album number
two, Johnny says, "That album was personal for me because my
mom had just been diagnosed with cancer. And I wrote four or five songs
Main pauses to take a breath, "I don't want to get sentimental
about it." Another breath, "I had shown Kid some songs
and he helped me co-write a few songs, and 'Lady Luck' was one of them."
He shakes his head, "You gotta' be lucky somedays
The 44's pump loads of soul into their blues. Photo:
Can you talk a little about the new project? "We
are coming out with a new record that is going to kick everyone's butt."
Johnny grins. "We are going to absolutely bring something back
that has not been seen. We are going to bring the roots, bring back
the blues and bring back the heart and soul, without having to do a
shuffle every two or three songs. I'll give you a teaser
Hidalgo of Los Lobos."
Currently in talks with their record label, Rip Cat
Records about getting back into the studio, Lozano says it's all about
finding the time. "They're pushing for another record. They
want us to do another record but we have such a busy schedule in the
coming year as far as Europe and Canada and all these different places.
We're trying to figure out where and when we can sneak a record project
Knowing full well the band is just in the development
stage of its new project, J.R. also touched briefly on the subject.
"We have some really cool ideas, to stretch it out and go in
a little different direction from the norm, but I think people are going
to really feel it. It's going to be cool and I can't elaborate on it
too much because I don't know what's going to happen. But I have an
idea of what I want to happen." The guys are both smiling at
me like Cheshire cats. "We going to get a bigger budget and
get to try different things instead of going into the studio and hammering
No, can't tell you anything.
Both of you write, together and individually, can you
talk about your writing process? Johnny says the song 'Lady Luck' is
the perfect example. "I came up to his house and said, 'Hey
man, what do you think about this groove?' He heard it and it's so funny,
we were sitting on his patio and he started doing this clinking thing
with his hands and he's tapping the thing and I'm doing the groove and
he goes, 'That's cool man, I dig that. I dig that right there.'"
Looking over at J.R., Main says, "This guy has an ear for music.
I trust him. The ideology of music is in his soul... and his heart."
Lozano, reflecting on 'Lady Luck' added, "With
his idea and my input on it, the song went somewhere else. And that's
where it became what it was, you know? We usually just bounce off each
We haven't talked much about how you both got to this
point; can we go back and talk a little about musical influences? "Well
my biggest influence is my pop, you know? (J.R.'s father is Conrad
Lozano, bassist for the L.A. band, Los Lobos) "Listening to
them, they play everything. They can do anything. They're one
of the only bands that, when you go up there you don't know what you're
gonna' get, because they can do it all. It's opened up my eyes to different
things, you know?"
Dixon to Eric Clapton, Los Lobos to this day still continues to
cover the blues spectrum. J.R. agrees, "
also John Lee
Hooker, they worked with John Lee Hooker too. Bo Diddley, Taj Mahal
all those guys. Some pretty heavy hitters, you know?"
What was it like growing up in that type of environment?
"My dad is a righteous guy." J.R. tells me. "He's
like the most honest person I know. I've never ever seen my dad tell
a lie. He's a straight up guy. He was gone a lot when they (Los
Lobos) were trying to get their thing together, but my mom was always
there, but my dad was on the road a lot. When he would come home it
was a big deal." J.R. flashes this big grin. "Like,
'Dad's coming home!' We'd go out to dinner and he would take us out
to buy things."
Johnny leans in, "That's a hard deal."
J.R. continues. "He would try to make up for the time he was
gone, you know? He was always there for me, even though he was gone,
he was always there."
Main says, "Being that we have children, sons
and daughters, wives. It's the same deal. What he went through is the
same thing we all go through, every day. Coming back home from a gig,
coming back home from a tour, it kills us. It really does. I don't think
Lozano is nodding his head, "It's really hard.
It's hard on the families; it's the hardest on the family. We're constantly
on the phone. Everything we go through, the family goes through
Both men finish the sentence, "double!"
"I'm just lucky" J.R. reflects, "to
have a strong family that understands. My parents had an idea
what I was headed for, you know? What I was going to go through and
they were like 'okay, we understand.' Whereas some people don't. They're
like, 'what do you mean you're going to go play for f%$#ing $50.00 and
no one's going to be there
bla, bla, bla, that kinda' thing. They
don't realize you gotta' keep chopping, keep chopping. You've got to
make your way, you've gotta' pay your dues."
Turning back to Johnny, and you? "My influences
have always been
just straight blues guys! Just straight
up, Albert King, Albert
Stevie Ray, of course."
The 44's and a fan. Photo: Yachiyo
As the 44's bassist, Mike Hightower joins our little
gathering the conversation returns to planning for the new CD. "We
have a different lineup than the other two records. We've got a couple
of extended versions of a couple of the songs on the first two records
and then a few new songs on there, a few studio versions. The band as
it sits now, the way it is now people will know what to expect when
we come. When we book festivals, they'll know what they're getting.
We're really hopeful the new record will show that."
Speaking of how the band sits now, the 44's have just
acquired a new harp player. Mike almost yells, "Oh my goodness,
yeah." J.R. laughing chimes in, "We call him Jakey
Poo. His name is Jake, but we call him Jakey Poo 'cause he's real young."
Hightower says, "It's kind of interesting that
I met him a year ago, today. The way I met him is not unlike the way
I met Rod Piazza, except I did a record with a guy named, Shakey Jake
(Harris). Shakey Jake would come by, it's gotta' be 1980, 1979 when
I first met Rod. Rod would come by with Shakey Jake. I really didn't
know Rod, I'm sure he was a player at the time, but I didn't know him
that way. So then you fast forward to last year (2013) and here's Rod
paying me back introducing me to, I call him 'Shadey' Jake, because
there's already a Shakey Jake, so I started calling him 'Shadey.' It's
kind of neat, it got paid back."
So how has Jakey Poo/Shadey Jake changed the 44's dynamic?
According to Hightower, "Oh, it was the missing link
the time we were changing; we had a great harmonica player. Hard shoes
to fill and actually here, last year, I kinda' knew this kid played
harp and went over to him and said, 'When am I gonna' hear you?' So,
he was the missing link we were looking for."
Now sitting across the table, a fresh-faced Jacob Huffman
says, "I got to sit in with them and the rest is history."
Just from the tone of his voice you can tell he's having the time of
his life. "Playing with them, I just love it." And
you really don't have to ask about the kid's influences, because you
can almost hear them in every note he plays. But as we get to that point
in the conversation the names just spill out. "Little
Walter is my biggest influence. Little Walter and Big Walter Horton,
I love Big Walter. Rod Piazza is a big influence, he's my mentor, you
know? I love playing with him and hanging out with him. Sonny Boy Williamson
One, (John Lee Williamson) the original Sonny Boy."
Just barely into his 20's Huffman has proven he can
hold his own when it comes to the blues harp. How old were you when
you first heard the blues? "When I first heard it I was probably
two years old
younger than that, maybe. Aah man, I've loved the
blues my whole life. B.B.
King is one of my favorites." Huffman says he doesn't remember
exactly where he first heard the music that would eventually consume
him. "I think my dad said I heard them on the Disney Channel
or something crazy like that
somewhere on TV like that."
Although young, Huffman knows he's in the right place
with the right band. "Man, I love playing with them; I love
the soul behind the band, the feeling behind the band. I feel like I
fit with them because Johnny and I will get to playing and I can feel
what he's playing and I know where it comes from."
The 44's play constantly around Southern California
and continue to build a loyal following across the U.S. The party has
also gone global with the band planting their deep blue roots throughout
Europe and now north of the border into Canada. To see if they are headed
your way, check out The
44's website or their Facebook
page. That way you'll have a little time to buy some fresh laces
for your party shoes.
Piazza and the Mighty Flyers; Rod
Piazza's 5th Annual Birthday Blues Festival; Willie
Dixon: The Pen is Mightier...; "Iceman"
Albert Collins; Ode
to Little Walter; BB
King: The Blues Is Like a Family