Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers play Seaside’s Laguna Grande.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
It’s easy to see why Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers’ latest CD, For the Chosen Who, helped secure the longtime blues outfit an award for Band of the Year at the 2006 Blues Music Awards (formerly known as the W.C. Handy Awards). The release begins with an impressive take on Jimmy Reed’s “I’m a Love You,” featuring a trio of female background singers and a nice harmonica solo. On the next number, a cover of Ted Jarrett’s “You Can Make It If You Try,” Piazza and his band dramatically switch gears and detour into an oldies rock and R&B sound. Later in the CD, the Piazza original “Description of a Fool” unlocks a bluesy beehive of activity featuring tinkling piano, buzzing horns and blasts of harmonica.
Piazza says there was a lot of great energy in the studio while recording For the Chosen Who, due in part to the presence of 11 guest musicians, including Phil Guy (brother of the blues legend Buddy Guy) and Kid Ramos, a respected blues guitarist who has been a member of Roomful of Blues and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. “The musicians are all rocking in the same boat,” Piazza says of the crew that produced the 12 songs. “Most of them was just one take.”
Songs like “Description of a Fool” and “Honey’s Blues,” which are basically springboards for the players to unleash impressive solos, attest to the tightness of a band that has been together for more than 20 years.
Piazza says he recorded the cover tunes on the CD—which also include Ike Turner’s “She Made My Blood Run Cold” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Ground Hog Blues”—at the urgings of Randy Chortkoff, a harmonica player who co-produced the album.
“We tightened them up and put a spin of my own on them,” Piazza says.
Before forming the Mighty Flyers in the mid ‘80s, Piazza had played with a group called The Dirty Blues Band in 1967. “That was a bunch of young kids from California trying to knock out some blues,” Piazza says. Despite releasing a couple of albums on ABC/Bluesway Records, his first group had some limitations that Piazza admits to: “Our originals wasn’t any good,” he says.
That might what have spurred the talented harmonica player and singer to quit The Dirty Blues Band and take off on tour with one of his idols, George “Harmonica” Smith, in 1968. The move led to a gig working as the backing band for Big Mama Thornton, the R&B singer who first popularized “Hound Dog “ (later a hit for a white boy named Elvis Presley).
After later forming a band with Smith called Bacon Fat, and releasing a couple solo albums, Piazza started to gain the attention of the blues world when he put together the Mighty Flyers in 1980. The backbone of his new group was Honey Alexander, a piano player who later became his wife.
Piazza met Alexander through a mutual friend at a show where he was performing with bluesmen Pee Wee Crayton and George Smith. He recalls being impressed with Alexander’s musical abilities right off the bat. “She really knew her way around the piano,” he recalls.
Since Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers released their debut album, 1981’s Radioactive Material, the group has been garnering an avalanche of accolades in the blues world. This year, Piazza and his band took home their fourth Band of the Year Award from The Blues Foundation. In addition, Piazza has taken home the prize for Best Harmonica Player from the organization.
Now Piazza is starting to contemplate recording the follow-up to 2005’s For the Chosen Who. Though he says the CD is just in its idea stage, the bandleader is sure of one thing: that he will stick to playing the blues. “You can’t get too far away from what you’re gonna do,” he says. “I’m not going to play rock or Mozart or some shit.”
Opening the show will be Johnny Cool Breeze and the Low Down Horns, a band that made their debut at Sly McFly’s last November. Led by Steve Vasquez, a keyboard player whose previous bands include the Volcano Brothers and Groove Masters, Johnny Cool Breeze covers classic soul artists like Al Green and Marvin Gaye between original R&B tunes including “Stranger Things Can Happen.”
ROD PIAZZA & THE MIGHTY FLYERS AND JOHNNY COOL BREEZE AND THE LOW DOWN HORNS play Laguna Grande Park, located across from Seaside City Hall off of Canyon del Rey in Seaside, this Sunday from 1pm to 4:30pm. Free. 899-6805.