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The 44's

The 44's…
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 house.

"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 Huffman.

guitarist Johnny Main and drummer J.R. Lozano of The 44's
Johnny Main and J.R. Lozano talk family. Photo: Yachiyo Mattox

"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 performing
The 44's pump loads of soul into their blues. Photo: Yachiyo Mattox

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… David 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 in."

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 things out."

So… 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 other's ideas."

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?"

From Willie 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… people understand."

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 Collins… Stevie Ray, of course."

the writer with The 44's
The 44's and a fan. Photo: Yachiyo Mattox

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… at 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.

Related Articles:
Rod 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


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Let Tim know what you think about his traveling adventure.

I was there at the Shrine to see Bob come in riding on a baby elephant. He says in the interview it was either '68 or 69: it was both – it was New Year's Eve (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite),

Debbie Hollier, Nevada City, CA

* * * *

Who else played with Canned Heat and Deep Purple at the Shrine in '68?

Bill, LA

I think the Shrine show on New Years in '68, where Bob Hite rode out on the elephant, also featured Poco, Lee Michaels, Black Pearl, Love Army and Sweetwater. Don't know that Deep Purple was booked on that evening.

Bill, maybe you're thinking about the International Pop Fest in San Francisco a few months earlier that featured these fine folks... Procol Harum, Iron Butterfly, Jose Feliciano, Johnny Rivers, Eric Burdon And The Animals, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grass Roots, The Chambers Brothers, Deep Purple, Fraternity of Man & Canned Heat or possibly the following year in Jan of 1970 when Deep Purple appeared with Canned Heat and Renaissance on a triple-bill in London at the Royal Albert Hall.

One final note: The current Johnny Otis piece didn't mention it, but it was Mr. Otis that took Canned Heat into the studio the very first time to record in 1966. Small world, ain't it?

Tim

* * * *

Thank u for posting it! Bob is still boogin' around!! (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite),

Stefano Di Leonardo, Fisciano (Salerno, Italy)

* * * *

Great Read! (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite) I will post it on Bob "THE BEAR" Hite Official Facebook Page,

Dave Tohill, Brandon, UK

* * * *

Hello Tim, thank you so much for letting a huge Canned Heat fan check out this
interview with the Bear. I really enjoyed it.

Best regards,

Rick Caldwell, Fairfield, Ohio

* * * *

I knew Bob Hite in the 60's. Canned Heat played at our high school prom 1966 Rexford High. The Family Dog, Chet Helms, Skip Taylor.

Max Kalik, Los Angeles, CA

Dear Tim,

I just discovered you from an email I received from Preston Smith disclosing his next event. I wanted to tap into his website Prestonsmithmusic but it would not link from your site for some reason. I have to say Preston really is a genius and I met him in Glendale at a jazz club about three years ago, after a fatal accident. By chance, I was invited to spend time hanging out with Preston and some friends after his gig. He is everything you say and I will never forget his amazing creativity and his positive influence in my life.

Janelle, Palm Springs, CA

Love the article! (on Lowell George) Lowell was my father.

Forrest George, Warren, Vermont

This Bob Hite interview is the most interesting thing I have read concerning Canned Heat. I have Fito's book, but I always was interested in learning more about Bob Hite. You did it here my friend...great interview!!!!!

Tony Musto - Pittston, PA

Hey Tim, Great article on Preston! I really enjoyed it and you did your homework. I'll probably catch PS this weekend.

Best,

Dave - Northridge, CA

* * * *

Hello, what a great article on Preston Smith! I actually met Preston one evening after an Acoustic set of my own at the Prestigeous Carlton Hotel here in Atascadero, Ca. We were loading up and he happened to be walking down the sidewalk and stop to say hello. I must say that he is a truly interesting and talented man that NEVER forgets to let me know when he is playing around the Central Coast where I live. It was so fun to read about who he truly is...(as if you don't know him the first time you meet him)! My adventures have only just begun as I recently returned from Nashville recording my self titled debut EP. I can only hope that my adventures down the road are as enlightening as Preston's and that I have the honor of a great writer such as yourself to share them with the world. Thank you for doing just that, sharing "Preston Smith" with the world.

Sincerely,

Amy Estrada - Atascadero, CA

Hi Tim,

My name is Bert, I'm from Italy and I'm a blues harmonica player...I read your article and it reminded me of the two trips I made in the Delta, in 2008 and 2009. I love Frank's music and I think it's a shame people don't really know his work. It's important that people like you write about him. Thank you! In the Delta I was only a "stupid" tourist, but it was a great, unique experience I consider one of the most important in my life: driving on the highways, Listening to the blues everywhere, jamming in places like Red's and ground Zero in Clarksdale or the Blues Bar in Greenville... are priceless things, something I will keep in my heart for the rest of my life. I met a beautiful, lovely woman there too (named Hope), but I behaved like a stupid kid and I lost her... Alas! I will never forget that days and the chance I had to find happiness...Well, I also wrote something about Frank on a website, but it's in Italian... I give you the link of the first part (the second will be published in the next weeks) anyway if you know some Italian or somebody who can understand it... Even if I'm thinking of making a translation ...www.bluessummit.com

Cheers,

Bert - Pavia, Italy

I wanna be Tim!

Brent, Seattle, WA

* * *

Those pictures give you an idea of what the Rockin' Pneumonia actually looks like and it looks BAD! But the man can still play! Enjoyed the article - give us more TRAVELING BLUES BOY!

Steve Thomas - NA, INDIANA

* * *

Good Stuff, Tim. Having been a Johnny Winter fan since the first time I heard Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo, it was great hearing his take on some his highlight moments that defined his blues career. His affiliation with Muddy Waters was particularly interesting. Kudos for bringing that out. Thanks to your dedication to covering the blues scene, this "one of a kind" music still lives for servicemen & women around the world. Keep it Up!

Brandon Williams, Moreno Valley, CA

* * *

Impressive! What a legend and how cool that you got so much time with him, Tim.

Don, Louisville, KY

Tim - Great article, enjoyed Little Feat/Lowell George story, really brought me back in time. Did not know he was a fishin' man! Wonder what surfaces out of the abyss of your memory next?

Steve Thomas, New Albany, IN

* * * *

Tim,

I really liked your travel back in time with Lowell and Little Feat. As a long time Feat fan (mostly the stuff with Lowell) it was cool to read. I learned several of their songs back in the day and they still stand up today when played live. Another singer I really liked from back then is TimBuckley. Thanks for the article.

Chet Hogoboom, Arroyo Grande, CA

Loved your last issue of TB, especially the Mayall piece. I want that guy's job!

Brent, Seattle, WA

Tim,

This is a great write up. Has it been printed in any magazines? It's better than a lot of things I read in my guitar magazines, so props for that.

Caejar, Moreno Valley, CA

Tim,

I can tell that you have this passion for jazz. I wonder if you yourself play any instrument. Or are you just a groupie like most of us?

I talked with a mid-aged flute jazz artist a few weeks ago and he lamented that despite his talents (and he is extremely talented) he says that the industry hasn't been kind to him. He said jobs are few and far between. He said the music industry is combating piracy and competition due to technology being readily available to private homes and that they are not as profitable as before. So they are replacing live talent for synthesized or digital instruments.

Do you see the same trend in your relationships with your music network?

Bob, Pasadena, CA



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