Rod Piazza: learning from the best 

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Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers
The Slippery Noodle Inn
Tuesday, April 19

Rod Piazza is laid-back and cool. The interview started with him asking, “How ya’ doin’, baby?” The first time I ever interviewed him, he was talking on his cell phone on the California beach near his home before he went surfing.

“Gotta stay in shape.”

He wears his sunglasses everywhere he goes. Everywhere. He backs all of this up with his powerful harmonica skills and one of the tightest blues bands in the land.

Piazza and his band The Mighty Flyers will be at the Slippery Noodle Inn on April 19.

“People say we play West Coast blues or that we have a West Coast sound. There’s Louis Jordan, there’s R&B. It’s a swinging sound with a little something else,” he said.

Piazza was born and raised in California and was part of the Great White Boy Blues Boom of the early and mid 1960s. He was a member of The Mystics, which later became the DBS, which later became The Dirty Blues Band. Piazza summed up his playing in one word: “Terrible. I was trying to be like the old guys, but I didn’t have any chops yet. There’s quite a contrast from those bands to my next band, Bacon Fat. Yeah, 1969 was pretty good. Sixty-seven and ’68 were pretty bad,” he said.

The switch, according to Piazza, came from constant performing and actually learning from the old guys (George “Harmonica” Smith and guitarist Pee Wee Crayton) instead of imitating them.

“George told me that I had to make an impact with my music. He was always bigger than life. I always wanted to achieve that. I had a lot of fun playing with Pee Wee. He taught me how to use my showmanship on stage,” he said.

Piazza is a member of the Cool Band Name Hall Of Fame. After Bacon Fat recorded two albums in 1970-’71, Piazza recorded one album under his own name in 1973. Six years later, the Chicago Flying Saucer Band arrived.

“Our manager at the time didn’t like the name. He suggested The Flyers, but I think there was an English band already called that so I thought, ‘Why not The Mighty Flyers?’” he said. The name stuck. You can hear all these funky named bands and more on a two-disc set called Modern Master: The Best of Rod Piazza 1968-2003 (Tone-Cool).

This period also brought together one of the most visible couples in the blues today. In 1973, Rod hired Miss Honey, a beautiful blonde who could boogie-woogie all over a key board. They married three years later and have been a harmonica-piano duo ever since. By the way, the harmonica-piano duo is one of the band’s show highlights. It’s a musical consummation of their marriage.

“We’re pretty much the same on stage as we are off. We’re together 24 hours a day and the best of friends,” he said.

The band now spends a third of the year on the road. There was a time when it was two-thirds. “I think it’s lucky for us to be able to do what we do. It’s tough right now for everybody to still tour and find gigs during the week. We have a lot of friends who are great players but can’t tour anymore. This is why we contribute every night we’re performing. It might be the one time this year someone sees us. We have to make sure it’s a worthwhile night,” he said. The band is now with Blind Pig Records and released Keepin’ It Real, 69 minutes of hot and cool. Even two done-to-death tunes (“Good Morning Little School Girl” and “Baby, Please Don’t Go”) get a shot of West Coast juice. The band has a live DVD on Blind Pig coming out later this year. The Piazzas also have their own production company, Delta Groove Productions. They’ve already released a series of West Coast blues (The Hollywood Blues Flames, Kirk Fletcher, Mitch Kashmar). The Mighty Flyers will release their label debut (with behind-the-scenes DVD) this summer. Kid Ramos, Phil Guy, Finis Tasby, “four chick singers and a horn section” will all make guest appearances.

“This is one of the more focused and real, hard ghetto blues records you’re ever going to hear,” Piazza said.

We’ll be waiting.

Blues notes

Tad Robinson will be performing two unique shows at The Jazz Kitchen (5377 N. College) on April 23. Both will feature a horn section. Robinson is also up for two W.C. Handy award nominations (the blues version of the Grammys): Soul/Blues Album Of The Year (Did You Ever Wonder?) and Soul/Blues Male Artist Of The Year. The awards are May 5 in Memphis. Fingers crossed.

Mark Your Calendar: I’ll be hosting my show The Blues House Party live from the Slippery Noodle on April 30 with a live performance from No Regrets. The party starts at 9 p.m. Be there.

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