For Rod Piazza, playing the blues isn't just an ordinary pursuit. The legendary harmonica player considers it to be his life's calling.
"It wasn't a choice for me. I heard the blues, and it chose me," he says. "I never looked back."
During his 47-year career in the genre, Piazza, 66, has won or been nominated for almost every blues award out there. He has played thousands of gigs around the world and released more than a dozen well-known albums.
Piazza, who performs a few times a year at the Rhythm Room (including an appearance last weekend), got his first taste of the blues at age 7 by way of his siblings, and it helped launch him on a 60-year journey.
"My older brothers got me started on the blues in the '50s when they brought home rhythm and blues and blues records," Piazza said.
And those platters included the likes of such greats as Joe Turner, Earl Bostic, and Jimmy Reed. At 11, one of Piazza's older brothers took him to see the latter blues legend in concert.
Suffice it to say, Piazza was hooked on the blues. He later started taking his guitar and playing around his neighborhood in Riverside, California, after that. It eventually led to a gig with the band Bacon Fat along with harmonica great George "Harmonica" Smith from 1968 to 1984. (He's also played with Big Mama Thornton and other blues greats.) In 1967, Piazza had his first recording with the Dirty Blues Band.
"I've seen a lot of great blues artists pass on, but there are new artists worth seeing," he says. "I miss a lot of my old friends."
Since 1973, he's also performed alongside his wife, boogie pianist Honey Piazza, which Rod says has been a big plus.
"It's been a great experience because when we're playing on stage she knows what I'm going to do," he says. "It's like two people who have played basketball together for a long time: You know the other's next move."
In 1979, the couple were the founding members of the Chicago Flying Saucer Band, which later transformed into The Mighty Flyers. The core of the band has been together for more than three decades and its current roster includes Norm Gonzales on bass, Henry Carvajal on guitar and vocals, and Dave Kida on drums. Meanwhile, Rod Piazza on harmonica and vocals, performing his signature stylings of jump blues mixed with West Coast and Chicago variations of the genre.
Piazza's music continues to grow stronger as continues his blues odyssey with no signs of stopping anytime soon. He recently signed a deal with Blind Pig Records, one of the larger record companies for blues musicians, and expects to produce a CD with them later this year. In the meantime, his current tour schedule includes stops in Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Canada, and Belgium.
Sooner or later, however, Piazza and the rest of the Mighty Flyers will find their way back to the Rhythm Room, which is his favorite music venue in the Valley and also has special place in his heart because its owned by local blues guru and fellow harmonica player Bob Corritore.
"I've played there for years because the venue is immersed in the blues culture. The people there care about the music. They're really into it," he says. "I've known Bob since he came out here with my guitar player Buddy Reed."
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