There is a long tradition of ‘cultural transmission’ in Blues music, where a young player learns tunes and techniques from an established artist, so that many brilliant young stars are almost literally ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’: Robert ‘Jr.’ Lockwood learned from his ‘stepfather’ Robert Johnson, just as Robert had learned some slide-guitar tricks from Son House. Rod Piazza was lucky enough to fall in with an ‘old master’ of the Blues harp when he met George ‘Harmonica’ Smith, who had been one of the first men to amplify his harp in the early 40s when he adapted an old 16mm film projector. This eccentric pioneer of the ‘Mississippi Sax’ joined Rod’s band for a while, and Rod has taken the lessons George gave him, and added his own talents, to give us a continuous stream of music that has lasted for nearly five decades.
Rod Piazza was born and raised in Southern California. In the early 60s, the teenager had listened to enough of his brother’s records to have a taste for the Blues, and he started ‘messing around’ with a guitar. His brother took him to see Jimmy Reed
play at a local club and, backstage, the great man gave the kid one of his harps, and after listening to a lot of Little Walter
and Shakey Horton
tracks, Rod started playing harp with his school band, The Mystics. His next project was The House of DBS (Dirty Blues Sounds), which got shortened to The Dirty Blues Band when they got a record deal, and ABC/Bluesway released two albums by the band before a couple of the guys were drafted into the Vietnam War. Shortly after Rod and guitarist Richard Innes had formed their band Bacon Fat, they both sat in one night at a club with the extrovert Chicago harp player George ‘Harmonica’ Smith. When Bacon Fat got a gig opening for Howlin’ Wolf
a few weeks later, George was in Wolf’s band and he insisted on ‘returning the favour’ by sitting in with them! As a result, George joined Bacon Fat and they established a reputation on the West-coast club scene for a terrific ‘twin-harp’ show, with the pupil trying to out-do the master.
The Mighty Flyers are ‘Moving in a West-Coast Way’;
With Rod’s prodidgious output, there’s plenty to chose from, but this one is hard to beat. Mixing Chicago classics with his own compositions, Rod and The Mighty Flyers are tight and pumped up!
KEEPIN’ IT REAL
released two fine albums by Bacon Fat in 1970/71, and Rod began to pick up session and touring work with top Blues acts like Pee-Wee Crayton
and Big Joe Turner
, and artists as diverse as rocker Tommy Conwell and folkie Michelle Shocked. He also had some solo projects going, including his ‘Bluesman’ album of 1973, and when a hot young pianist called Honey Alexander joined him, it turned into something more when the couple married. George began another double-act with harp player William Clarke
, and Rod set up The Chicago Flying Saucer Band, which changed to The Mighty Flyers after their first album. The Mighty Flyers have released 18 studio albums and numerous compilations, live sets and DVDs in the intervening years, becoming one of the best-loved live bands around. Honey took the Pinetop Perkins
Piano Player trophy at the Blues Music Awards in 2008, and The Flyers are still gigging relentlessly on the club and Festival circuit, to great acclaim.