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Tim: Rod Piazza 5th Annual Birthday Festival

Rod Piazza Lights the Candle
By T.E. Mattox

Rod Piazza plays 'Pin the Partiers to the Back Wall!!!!'
Piazza plays 'Pin the Partiers to the Back Wall!!!!'

s we close out yet another year, and you're in the process of filling up your dance card for the Holidays, here's a solid party favor. Flip over your calendar and draw some big red lips around Sunday, December 15th that way you won't blow the opportunity to attend Rod Piazza's 5th Annual Birthday Blues Festival. This yearly Riverside, California celebration will once again light up Lake Evans at the American Legion Hall in picturesque Fairmount Park. The first family of West Coast Blues, Rod and Honey Piazza are inviting all their blues friends and fans out to the Inland Empire for what is guaranteed to be a monumental day of partying and non-stop music.

The festivities begin at 2PM and will feature old friends Lynwood Slim, Billy Watson, Little Barry G and of course, the Mighty Flyers. Never willing to rest on their laurels, the Piazza's have added two outstanding musical twists to this year's merriment. They've laced the bill with a 'live-wire' L.A. blues band called the 44's and for the very first time have plugged in an International component from Brazil's best, The Igor Prada Band. And as is tradition, it just wouldn't be the Piazza birthday blues celebration without an unannounced 'surprise' guest or two.

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"It's a reward in itself to expose other people to new acts and it's a reward
for me to hear them as well."

— Rod Piazza   
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Rod's annual event is truly the closest most of us will ever get to experiencing some of those early, legendary blues gatherings during Chicago's heyday. Rod says he thought the same thing when he first spotted the American Legion Hall. "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.'

The Mighty Flyers performing with 'the Icepick' James Harman in 2010
The Mighty Flyers with 'the Icepick' James Harman back in 2010. Photo: Yachiyo Mattox

With preparations underway for Party # 5, Rod talked about this year's lineup. "Billy Watson you know, he's a good friend and he plays real great, so I can't do it without him. And Barry is not only a great player, but the MC on the show." And about Lynwood Slim… "Lynwood… I've been knocking around with him since the 60's and we just did this thing in Brazil together with Igor Prado's band backing us up."

Lynwood and Prado also have a history. Slim collaborated with Prado and his band back in 2010 on the Delta Groove recording 'Brazilian Kicks,' so it seems the International connection was destined to be. "I decided to get the Prado Band over here," Rod said, "because they did such a good job in Brazil and I thought everybody would enjoy hearing them, so it worked out."

You've gone global? "Yeah, I'm telling you, man. On a small little show, it's nice to bring in somebody that nobody around here has ever seen."

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Local surfer and one of Southern California's most respected harp players, Billy Watson said he loves this party. "This will be my third year at Rod's Birthday O'Rama. It has been a real twilight zone feeling being asked to hang out with all these harp heavies. When I first heard Rod, he had already been into it (the blues) like 30 years. I was floored by his attack on the instrument… and his voice was mysterious."

How did you guys run into each other? "I met Rod through Mark Hummel's former drummer Marty Dodson." Billy said. "We all went surfing together at Old Man's in San Onofre and it was like meeting a mafia don and becoming connected. Being a harp player, who surfs and has the same sense of humor (sarcastic and dry) and appreciation of old movies, we hit it off right away."

And about this annual Birthday celebration, Billy adds, "Yes! It is like a Chicago blow down thing. When we perform together I feel like Don Rickles, and Rod is Johnny Carson. I will always be grateful to Rod and James Harman for their friendships and encouragement. They are like great uncles when we get to hang out. It's very special and hard to put into words."

Watson, Harman and Piazza blowin'
up in 2011….


The 44's

the Forty-Fours
The Forty-Fours. Photo courtesy of the 44's

New on the musical playlist this year is a Southern California band called the 44's. "They're a local (LA) group and they've made some real headway in the last few years." Rod said. "They've been at my shows and then they've been on shows with me up in Modesto this year and the Irvine Blues Festival a couple of years ago, so I'm no stranger to hearing them. A good harmonica player and a good little tight band and I think they'll bring their own crowd in as well."

Johnny Main, guitarist and vocalist for the 44's said he remembers all too well where he was when he met Piazza and exactly what it meant to him. "I first met Rod at a Blues Festival we were billed on together... We had to go on just before Rod and the Flyer's. I recall being a little nervous before we went up, so we went up and just played our set with some serious energy. After our set we were walking off stage and that's when Rod and I first met, he said in a cool but yet jokingly manner.... 'Y'all gonna' have to make us work on this set.' I laughed and he laughed and we went backstage and had a beer. I proceeded to tell him how much I appreciated what he has done for the West Coast scene and what an honor it was to open for them." Johnny added, "Rod is an icon for a lot of upcoming harp player's and is a class act. Rod is the REAL DEAL!!! And after all these year's is a good friend."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It's rumored that the Mighty Flyers will be onstage a little bit longer than in past years; they're going to make you WORK… on your birthday!!??? "Yeah, that's right, I haven't been playing enough and we're definitely going to get the band and make 'em work, and Honey and myself… and it should be pretty dang good, I think."

Other than it being your birthday, what makes this show special for you? "I like it because I get to hear music that I like, you know? I don't put anybody on it just because they can draw people. I just want to put people on who are talented and play the same kind of stuff that I like and have been playing for years. It's a reward in itself to expose other people to new acts and it's a reward for me to hear them as well."

Remembering that Rod once told me, he too was invited up onstage, at the Ash Grove in L.A. by a man who would become his mentor and 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."

This is year five; you think you've still got a few more Birthday shows in you? "Oh, I don't know, I'll probably do another… 5 or 10!" (laughing)

poster for Rod Piazza's 5th Annual Birthday Blues Festival

So we don't have to worry about you retiring? "No, not talking about retirement, yet?

You think music may keep you young? "That's the truth, you know? When you're playing you don't feel any older than when you started. The only time you know you're old is when you get on them airplanes."

Jump Start your Holidays – Sunday December 15th with Rod and Honey Piazza, the Mighty Flyers and some of the hottest blues talent on two continents. Come out for a full day of party fun and great music at Rod Piazza's 5th Annual Birthday Blues Festival.

The show starts at 2PM inside the American Legion Hall, Post No. 79, 2979 Dexter Dr. on Lake Evans in Fairmount Park, Riverside, CA. It will definitely set the tone for your entire December. Not that you need additional incentive but Christmas does come early since the event still only runs you $20. Just goes to show, Santa can't hold a candle to Blues and Birthday Cake!

Lake Evans in Fairmount Park, Riverside, CA
Lake Evans – Fairmount Park in Riverside

Related Articles:
Rod Piazza Birthday Blues Party; 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

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