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Tim: Rod Piazza 7th Annual Birthday Festival

It's Your Birthday
...Let's Blow Some Tin

By T.E. Mattox

smell cake! If it's December you know it's time for Rod Piazza to light that candle and everyone is cordially invited. The birthday boy hosts his 7th Annual Birthday Blues Festival at the American Legion Post 79, Fairmount Park in Riverside. As is the tradition just prior to the arrival of Santa, Rod and Honey Piazza and the Mighty Flyers hit the stage with some of Southern California's most talented musicians for a day long, old school, swing dance, blues harp-blow down.

The party this year is slated for a 2PM start time and promises another stellar line-up. The Mighty Mojo Prophets are back, as is San Diego's electric Billy Watson. Bill Stuve, the multi-talented San Pedro Slim and Jacob Walters round out the December playbill. And like every Piazza Birthday celebration fans will be treated to and delighted by a number of very special 'surprise' guests.

poster for Rod Piazza's birthday blues fest

Over the years the Piazza show lineup has incorporated an incredible number of new artists and fresh blues talent. "Yea, its shows they normally wouldn't get on." Rod 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." Turns out welcoming the next generation to come up and play is a long-standing blues tradition that Piazza knows only too well. Rod said when he was coming up in the '60s; he too was invited onstage to play at the Ash Grove in L.A. The harp player extending that invitation would become Rod's 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 annual Piazza fest is 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 an electrifying and raucous display of high-energy 'blow-your-face-off' blues harp one-upmanship.

The party atmosphere of this event often finds friends and fans sitting next to or hanging out with the very performers they just saw onstage. And according to Piazza, that's the way he likes it. "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 and Santa Claus
Rod Piazza and a 'special guest'

One of the returning highlights to this year's party is a harp monster from San Diego named Billy Watson. Watson, a long time friend and surfing buddy talked about getting to know Rod Piazza. "I have been to about four of Rod's Birthday parties. The first one I attended with Surfboard shaper/Entrepreneur Bill Stewart. Bill and I met at Iva Lee's in San Clemente and he told me Rod surfed. It was a huge honor to meet and go surfing with Rod at Old Man's in San Onofre. He invited Marty Dodson and I to meet him there and that's kinda' how I got to know both of those guys. We would surf and then sit around telling stories well after the sun went down."

This is year seven of Rod's Birthday event, what gives it the longevity? "The best part of Rod's parties is all the people are super loyal fanatics." Billy says. "And they love to be there. The gig takes place in an American Legion hall with a stage and wings and hidden stage entries. It's a real show. The special guests are usually a who's who of blues from the Southern California region. Sadly, Johnny Dyer passed away and this year he will be greatly missed."

As a multi-year returnee, any memorable moments come to mind? "My best memories are when Rod announces me to the audience. He always turns it into a roast. Then when I am up there playing, it is huge to see him standing over by the wall laughing at my jokes and encouraging my performance… pushing it to an all time high. It's a great show because you see so many harmonica players and blues lovers all just digging the scene with not one shred of negativity! Ya gotta go!"

Rod and Honey Piazza
Rod and Honey getting the party started

The Piazza Birthday Blues Fest lights it up 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.

And to give the birthday boy the last word…"I appreciate so much that everybody has supported it for all these years," Piazza says. "And it's going to be the same good time this year."

Related Articles:
Rod Piazza Lights the Candle; Rod Piazza Birthday Blues Party; Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers; Life on the Road (with Charlie Musselwhite); Billy Watson; 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

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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?


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

Stefano Di Leonardo, Fisciano (Salerno, Italy)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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