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Tim: Rod Piazza Birthday

It's Your Birthday….
Blow Your Face Off!!!!

By T.E. Mattox

t's not often that I write about an upcoming event or show, but having attended this one for the past few years, I feel duty-bound to scream and shout about it. I'm referring of course, to the annual Rod Piazza Birthday Blues Party hosted by the birthday boy himself at the American Legion Post No.79 in Riverside. This year just prior to the arrival of Santa, Rod and Honey Piazza will once again invite all their blues friends out to the Inland Empire for a day-long, good old fashioned knock-down, drag-out harp blow down.

The party this year is slated for Sunday, December 16th, lights the candle at 2PM and promises another stellar line-up. James Harman returns, as does Billy Watson, the multi-talented Lynwood Slim makes his first 'party' appearance, the Mofo Party Band, Little Barry G, and as is tradition for the Holiday, some very special 'surprise' guests.

Rod and honey Piazza arriving for Rod's birthday  party at the American Legion Post No.79 in Riverside, CA
The Piazza's arrive 'in style' for the annual event.

The Piazza celebration is probably the closest most of us will ever get to experiencing some of those legendary gatherings on Chicago's Southside during the 50's and 60's. An event where friends, fans and fellow musicians all come together for a full barrage of raucous, high-energy 'blow-your-face-off' blues harp one-upmanship.

Rod told me how the tradition got its start. "I was down at a car show at the American Legion Hall at Fairmont Park and went inside and I noticed what a cool little stage they had, just like the 40's and 50's. I looked at it, it looked like a place that you would see a Muddy Waters or a Little Walter or somebody, you know? It's got a short stage and a wooden dance floor that flexes. The vibe was just so period and everything, I go, 'Man I'd love to put on a gig in here and have a little blues party.' So I decided to try it and talked with Bobby Castillo down there, my buddy, and he set it up so we could have it in there. And we tried it once, twice, three times and this will be the fourth coming up."

Rod experienced a serious case of Blues Déjà Vu as he reflected on the Legion Hall. "I didn't know that I had played there in the 60's with George Smith. Richard Innes, my drummer from the Bacon Fat Band told me, 'Don't you remember Rod; we played here, me, you and George.' I didn't even remember, man."

This event always brings out the very best in blues harp players, including one of my favorites, James Harman.

"Yea, James Harman will be there, you know everybody always loves James, he puts on a good show. I'll have Lynwood Slim for the first time. Lynwood had some health problems but he's back on his feet and doing real good. He's a great singer and harmonica player and that should be something that people really enjoy. And then I'm bringing in my friends from Fresno, the Mofo Party band. They're like a real energetic band; they've played all over the world and they're really an entertaining outfit, so that'll be their first time (at the Birthday Party) and of course we're bringing back Billy Watson and Barry G."

Johnny Dyer and Rod Piazza backstage at the American Legion on Rod's annual birthday party, 2010
Johnny Dyer and Rod Piazza backstage at the American Legion. Photo: Yachiyo Mattox

One of the regulars of this event has always been the legendary Johnny Dyer.

"I don't know if my buddy, Johnny Dyer will make it or not. He's always invited but his health is failing him a little bit, so depending on that, whether he'll show up or not. He'd love to be there, but it'll just depend on how he's feeling on that day." Then Rod adds, "But they'll be some other cats that will be unannounced."

A memorable Piazza birthday set with surprise guest Leon Blue
fronting the Red Lotus Review.

Over the years your birthday show lineup has incorporated an incredible number of new artists and young blues talent. "Yea, its shows they normally wouldn't get on." Piazza says. "With me it's not based on how many you're gonna' draw; it's based on what you play. That's why it's the people you've seen on there."

Remembering that Rod once told me when first starting out, he too was invited up to play onstage, it was at the Ash Grove in L.A. by a man who would become his life-long friend, George 'Harmonica' Smith. It seems with the blues what comes around…. comes around. "Yea, that's exactly what it is, man. You know, shoot, these guys have been coming to watch me play for so long, they're ready to get up there and do their thing."

The party atmosphere of this event is so relaxed and festival-like that friends and fans often find themselves sitting next to or shaking hands with the very performers they just saw onstage. And according to Piazza, that really should be the norm. "Well realistically, there's not a big ego thing for anybody who's really a blues player, you know? You play them all, from the tiniest little places to the big festivals and there ain't no room for an ego, so when you meet these guys, most of them are pretty easy to talk to and that's the way it should be."

Rod Piazza playing the harp at his birthday party
Rod Piazza celebrates another year like only he can. Photo: Yachiyo Mattox

One of the returning highlights of this Piazza Party is a man often referred to as 'Icepick.' Currently 'tearing up clubs' across Europe, I was able to catch up with James Harman, albeit briefly, and he says there's no way he'd miss the party. "Yeah I am certainly lookin' forward to Rod's gig again; I'm always happy about partying with them... we go way back."

You guys have been pals for quite a few years?

"I love Rod; he has been a good friend since my move to California in 1970. We've always had a ball playing together. When I'm playin' standin' next to Rod we have a hard time not laughin' the whole time... I never tire of listening to him play all that great stuff so effortlessly... sometimes we laugh so hard we can barley keep playin'. Back in the day we had George Smith up there with us challenging us to keep comin' up with more interesting stuff... and for me Rod's party is a tribute to George and those great nights we used to enjoy at the Golden Bear, Ash Grove, Troubadour and Lighthouse which are all gone now. We used to also frolic at little places like "Small's" on 53rd and Avalon... those were wonderful times."

James Hartman performing
James Harman blows the chrome off his Mississippi saxophone….

The authentic blues atmosphere that surrounds Rod's annual event provides both artist and fan with the 'look and feel' of those early days when blues harp was king. Harman agrees. "I believe any folks who really like this kind of music should make a point of gettin' themselves to these shows and enjoyin' it while we're still around, 'coz the future of real blues is a dimly lit chart at best. The world seems to be focused on digital technology, video games and quick-edit pop videos of disco/rap sounds that neither come from the heart and soul, nor give you that feelin' you can only get from 100% authentic stories of the human condition, backed by instruments that run on human breath and dexterity. I advise everybody to mark their calendars and make an appearance at Rod's birthday show on December 16th!"

How can you argue with a guy named 'Icepick?'

Billy Watson, James Harman and Rod Piazza in a round of 'Yea, but can you top this?'

Rod Piazza's Birthday Blues Party starts at 2PM at the American Legion Hall, Post No. 79, 2979 Dexter Dr. on Lake Evans in Fairmount Park, Riverside, CA. Not that you need one but an additional incentive that proves that Christmas does comes early….the show will only set you back $20.

Since it's your birthday Rod, anything you'd like to add? "Just that I appreciate so much that everybody has supported it for three years and that I know that nobody has left there disappointed with the talent that they've been able to experience and it's going to be the same good time this year."

I can't wait.

Related Articles:
Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers; Life on the Road (with Charlie Musselwhite); Frank Frost; Mark Hummel

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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?


* * * *

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.


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.


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


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

* * * *


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


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


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

Stay tuned.

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