A MUSICAL MANIFESTO OF THE DOHENY BLUES 20th FESTIVE-VERSARY!
DAY 1 – May 20, 2017
Canned Heat, Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers and Rick Estrin & the Nightcats, Jason Bonham’s Zeppelin Experience, Robin Trower band, Joe Walsh
By Michael Cohan, Music Journalist
Dana Point, CA (Perfectmusictoday.com) 5/29/17 — The 20th anniversary of the Doheny Blues Festival sponsored by Omega Events took place on May 20 & 21st under picture perfect skies and a scorching sun. What was really scorchin’ were the many legendary guitarists and their bands that were just burning up the blues stages during the Saturday performances! Along for the ride were such legendary acts as Canned Heat celebrating 50 years together, a Socal vs. Norcal west coast blues off between Riverside’s Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers vs. San Francisco’s Rick Estrin & the Nightcats, Jason Bonham’s Zeppelin Experience, Robin Trower, and Joe Walsh. What a lineup for a hot rockin’ blues Day 1! Sunday showcased other blues experts such as Junior Brown, Bobby Rush, Mavis Staples, and Sunday’s headliner Melissa Etheridge. In all there were 24 acts in just a two day period. Leave it to the Doheny Foundation to put together another all-star event! Find out everything at www.Dohenybluesfestival.com.
Actually Canned Heat has been burnin’ their hippie brand of blues boogie since forming in 1965. That’s 52 years now and counting, too bad there are no original members left but they sure do have their classic lineup intact! The three surviving members from the early times still include drummer Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra, bass player Larry “The Mole” Taylor, Harvey “The Snake” Mandel who was one of the first guitarists to incorporate two-handed fretboarding, a relentless fuzztone, and an unusual syncopated phrasing technique in 1974. An all-around instrumentalist Dale Spalding played bass, harmonica, and guitar.
During this classic period from 1967 to 1974 “Classic” members Skip Taylor and John Hartman introduced the use of band member nicknames. Canned Heat took their name from the Tommy Johnson’s 1928 “Canned Heat Blues” a song about an alcoholic who turned to desperately drinking Sterno generically referred to as “canned heat.”
In 1967 their first big live concert was at the infamous Monterey Pop Festival. The second album entitled “Boogie with Canned Heat” included the remake of the 1950’s Floyd Jones original, “On the Road Again.” Canned Heat became one of the first bands to put a blues song at the top of the charts worldwide! Then with the release of their third album “Living the Blues” gave us the ultimate “Going Up the Country” would be later used as the unofficial theme song for Woodstock! Original member Alan Wilson’s reincarnation of Henry Thomas’s “Bull-doze Blues” from the late 1920’s produced one of the most played songs of all time.
Other songs sounded like the unusual Canned Heat sound always incorporating a jazzy twang, harmonica leads, and a lot of ivory ticklin’ blues! Drummer extraordinaire Adolfo seems to bang out a 6/8 swing beat drawing the crowd as if we were swaying back and forth to that great beat! “(It’s) Same All Over” showcased the classic Hammond organ sound. During their encore the band seemed to bring into blend a possible ZZ Top feel emanating from the harmonica and boogieness! “Going to Doheny, gonna boogie tonight, day ain’t over until the good times roll all night!” Canned Heat delivered the goods with such a bass and drum solo from Larry Taylor and Adolfo de la Parra making sure we will never “forget to boogie” when you visit their website at www.cannedheatmusic.com!
While Canned Heat finished up at the Doheny Stage on the PCH Stage was the Socal vs. Norcal blues battle between Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers and Rick Estrin & the Nightcats. Rick Estrin and his entourage hit the stage first forging their electric blues style with himself as harmonica virtuoso and lead vocalist, guitarist Chris “Kid” Andersen, bassist and organist Lorenzo Farrell and drummer J. Hansen. Blues Revue magazine calls the “Cats are one of modern blues” most versatile bands and Living Blues states, “Estrin’s harp work is masterful” and their music is “intelligently conceived and executed and hugely entertaining.” They formed in 2008 and the band’s new album “You Asked for It-Live!” has driven them to receive many accolades. Mr. Estrin won the 2013 Blues Music Award for Best Instrumentalist-Harmonica. In 1994 he won the Blues Music Award for Song of the Year for “My Next Ex-wife.”
Rod Piazza formed his Mighty Flyers band in 1980 after starting The Dirty Blues Band in 67, Bacon Fat in 70, and in 79 The Chicago Flying Saucer Band with his young blonde wife on piano Honey and produced 24 studio albums between 1967 and 2009. His idol and mentor George “Harmonica” Smith joined Bacon Fat and developed a “dual harp” sound cranking out two more albums before Rod went solo to create the Mighty Flyers blues quartet.
In 1980 he and his wife incorporated jump blues, west coast blues, and the Chicago blues elements into their style of music. Rod’s band has been dubbed the “Wizards of the West Coast harp” sound. On some of their slower songs you can feel the John Mayall influence. In 2005 they recorded the live concert DVD Big Blues Party at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, CA. Mr. Piazza has also appeared as a guest performer on over 21 releases since 1968. He and his wife are accomplished musicians who bring their funky blues to all corners around the world!
Their final song of the night was a rollicking encore with both bands sharing the stage exchanging leads, riffs, all the while revealing the “Power of the Blues.” Visit their respective websites at www.rickestrin.com and www.themightyflyers.com to feel a foot stompin’ good time!
Getting to enjoy the surroundings of the beach there were many women clad in jean shorts with bikini tops and some in boots even! Everyone around seemed to be making a statement. Many had on concert t-shirts ranging from Desert Storm to the King Biscuit Flower hour festival. That’s a blast from the past. In general, everyone seemed pretty mellow soaking in the sun and the blues. The vendor village definitely provided plenty of great food and cold beverages to keep the crowd happy!
Now it’s time to get back to the Doheny Stage for Jason Bonham’s Zeppelin Experience!
Growing up Jason John Bonham was taught the drums by his infamous father from Led Zeppelin. John Bonham left the rock and roll world in 1980 and transferred his legacy to his son to carry on the name and the sound. The Bonham Experience band actually came to fruition after the infamous reunion tour of the Zeppelin at London’s O2 arena in 2007. The resulting members include “Terribly Great” Tony Catania on guitar, Alex “Howling” Howland on keyboards/guitars, Dorian Heartsong singing the bass, and James Dylan with the golden vocals!
In an interview with AXS TV Jason states that this whole idea started with putting that one show together in 2007 which he knew it would never go beyond that one. Then it developed into a personal tribute to his father and his internationally acclaimed cohorts traversing the earth educating the peoples of the world. “This whole thing” became bigger than the music! Every year since their inception in 07 the Experience embarks on a tour showcasing the wild and deep sides of drummer John while highlighting his sensitivity and, of course, delivering Led Zeppelin’s music as perfect as they can!
Their set focused on the early stuff from LZ1 and LZ2 kicking off with some “Good Times, Bad Times” followed by a heartfelt thanks to his Dad and his band “Over the Hills & Faraway.” The always popular “Nobody’s Fault” became just one more awesome song after another. “Dazed & Confused” is that awesome that they even named a 1993 movie after the 1967 folk rock song written by Jake Holmes on his debut album “The Above Ground Sound.” This track has become a staple as one of Zeppelin’s best known party rockers. Also on the bill was the awesome “Ramble On” with its perennial raunchiness. “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid” exclaims she never hears a word you say, but talks all day and night, lay your $ down!
“When the Levee Breaks” was astonishing and the band finished with the one song that Jason feels is the hardest to play on drums “Rock & Roll.” He feels it’s all about capturing the groove and feel not necessarily playing the parts correctly. Bonham’s band is a tight and compact combination of talent who has perfected the art of delivering Zep’s musicality to the “T”! Find out more about the annual tour and experience them at www.jasonbonham.net!
So now it’s time to get to the PCH Stage to enjoy the vibrant sounds and blues vibes of the legendary Robin Trower band. Mr. Trower is an English rock guitarist and vocalist who achieved success with Procol Harum during the 1960’s (Conquistador), his own power trio, and collaborations with Bryan Ferry (lead singer of Roxy Music) which produced three albums, and bassist Jack Bruce from the iconic band Cream (which gave us five albums). In 1973 he retained the services of bassist/lead singer James Dewar and recruited drummer Reg Isidore (later replaced with Bill Lordan). They came out with 22 studio albums and 10 live albums.
In 1974 the band’s second album Bridge of Sighs put them on the map and garnered their most famous songs while achieving Gold. This was their first and more followed. Trowers’ early work was criticized for it’s Hendrixesque influences. In actuality these guitar gods garnered more influence from blues great Albert King. You can believe Trower has inspired many. Most notably was Robert Fripp (one of the minds who molded King Crimson) commended him for his use of bends and the quality of his sounds and reverberation excellence. Fripp even took guitar lessons from Trower!
Trower’s 1974 epic produced and introduced to the world the architect of the power trio blues sound, incorporating his signature facial blues contortions and affects (like he’s kissing his Fender), note for note blues syncopation, with his underlying blues leads that just glide from one to another! “Bridge of Sighs” (Italian: Ponte dei Sospiri) is an enclosed bridge built in 1600 in Venice, Italy that passes over the Rio di Palazzo inlet and connects the New Prison (Prigioni Nuove) to the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace. It is said the bridge’s name was the last view of beautiful Venice that the prisoners saw, thus the “Sigh.” Robin tells Guitar World that he had the first line of the song for years and then one day he saw some sport pages which listed a racehorse called Bridge of Sighs and thought that would be a great title! The rest is history.
Just ripping into the first song “A Stitch in Time” and then an extended version of a syncopated out of bounds “Day of the Eagle” this guy just creates the perfect blues ambience for his audience! A little pinging ride cymbal in the back hittin’ high on the rim and just the perennial master of sliding and guiding his customer built Fender from one masterful blues arpeggio to another! Just jaw dropping and awe inspiring!
But wait, in Procol Harum, he was playing with Les Pauls’ from Gibson Guitars when he came upon Martin Barre’s Stratocaster on a tour with Jethro Tull lying against a stack of Marshalls. During a sound check Robin arrived early and he found said guitar (Barre used for slide playing), plugged it in and with a shout exclaimed throughout the auditorium, “This is it!” Les Paul’s were gone and he became a proponent of the Fender Stratocaster! Sorry Les!
He currently uses his custom-built Strat from the Fender Custom Shop that’s equipped with a 1950’s reissue pick-up in the neck position, a 1960s reissue in the middle position, and a Texas Special at the bridge. The Strats he plays live are an exact model of his signature guitar, which is entirely unmodified and then some! When playing live it’s reported his guitar is tuned a full step down from the usual standard tuning of EADGBE to DGCFAD.
Blues fans were shoulder to shoulder just soaking this jam session in with the Robin Trower band. “It’s been a long time comin,’ Bridge of Sighs!” After almost 90 minutes, a silky intro to “Too Rolling Stoned”, “Day of the Eagle”, and a track that should’ve included Rod Stewart in the vocals “Spellbound” the fans were all exhausted and just dreamin’ the blues into the nighttime! As this reviewer was writing frantically in his notebook a little more rasp would have helped and most everyone around me agreed. People were enjoying taking selfies in front of the Robin Trower stage.
Sir Robin definitely is an architect of his unique sounds that emanate with the expert use of that notorious tremolo bar coupled with his extraordinary fretboard skills and wondrous chord progressions that are still vibrant to this day! Other staples of this style include “In This Place,” ”The Fool and Me,” and “A Little Bit of Sympathy.” ” After the set was over we were all mesmerized stuck in a deep blue’s trance! But then the crowd dispersed veering for more beer and back to the Doheny stage to get ready for headliner Joe Walsh! Go to www.Trowerpower.com to explore and support this future Rock & Roll Hall of Famer!
Joe Walsh and his entourage casually strolled onto the Doheny stage just about 8 pm proceeded to deliver 90 minutes of pure entertainment while “lighting up” the beautiful evening! The laser lights were bouncing off the few palm trees on the side. Glimmering colors of red, green, and purple danced back and forth and plenty of fans noticed this trick!
The current lineup includes all past musicians he has played with over the years. Like the use of his two older drummers, Joe Vitale and Chad Cromwell who shared duties. Joining them was guitarist Waddy Wachtel, bassist Larry Fuller, and keyboardists Jimmy Wallace and Clayton James. Rounding out the sound are his talented singers Leslie Fuller, Lois Mahalia, Windy Wagner and Rickey Washington. He explains his process in an interview with www.ultimateclassicrock.com in 2016, “these guys know my music and I’m very comfortable playing with them. I think this is best I’ve had in a long time. I didn’t feel that the “One of Hell of a Night” tour should be the end based on how we are all playing.”
Joe Fidler Walsh born November 20, 1947 in Wichita, KS basically established himself while attending Kent State University beginning 1965. He had played in a high school cover band and a successful band while in college playing in bars and coffee houses. In 1968 he miraculously joined the Cleveland-based James Gang who had already produced one of the bands’ biggest hits “Funk #49.” Then they came out with their most popular song when “Average Joe” Walsh collaborated with his bandmates delivering “Walk Away.” One night in May 1968 on the way to open for Cream at a concert in Detroit half of the Gang quit.
The James Gang hit the stage as a power trio and Joe now had to learn how on the fly to carry rhythm and lead duties simultaneously. It proved to be an epiphany and the band continued as a trio and they landed a huge record deal and in 1969 their debut album “Yer’” introduced “Funk #48.” Also lending collaborations to their success was Stephen Stills on “Bluebird” and Jeff Beck on “Lost Woman.”
Their second album “Rides Again” in 1971 with “Funk #49” and “The Bomber” contained an electric rendition of Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” transposed into the song. Unfortunately they did not obtain permission and Ravel’s estate threatened suit against them and ABC Records for its unauthorized use. However, the most recent CD reissue of Rides Again does contain the full version, go figure. There must have been a settlement somewhere or a meeting of the minds. Subsequently the album was certified Gold by the RIAA.
Thirds is the 1971 release from the band which would eventually culminate Joe’s stay with the band. “Walk Away” cemented their classic sound and reached the best placement of a James Gang single at #51 on the Billboard Hot 100. By 1972 Thirds also achieved Gold status. After the live album James Gang Live in Concert 1971 Carnegie Hall the Walsh period of the band came to a close, but what a close because the bands’ Producer Bill Szymezyk was also part of the burgeoning popularity of the Eagles. But it was still yet to be. Joe had hit a crossroads, quit the band because the trio concept wasn’t working anymore, and escaped to the Colorado Rockies searching for that “power, that feel of the music still swimming in his head.”
Ready to explode into his next band Barnstorm their second The Smoker you Drink, The Player you Get album from 1973 generated Joe’s biggest hit to date “Rocky Mountain Way.” Sadly, again with another band on the rise he experienced restlessness in his musicality. Then in Los Angeles he found a new manager in Irving Azoff and a new sense of home hanging out and jamming with the likes of Jackson Browne, Dan Fogelberg, and J.D. Souther and forming bonds with Glenn Frey and Don Henley. In 1974 his solo album entitled So What emerged and then the live You Can’t Argue With a Sick Mind made him a bona fide solo sensation. During his time with the James Gang his “fluid and intelligent playing” caught the ears of Pete Townsend who invited them to tour as the opening act for The Who that year.
By this time The Eagles extended a formal request to Joe to join their band, this had been just what he was looking for, and it all began with Hotel California in 1976 with Producer Bill Szymezyk! The Clown Prince of Rock (his other nickname) was finally able to utilize his unique vocal tonalities and qualities along with his rock edge with the harmonies he loved so much with The Eagles. The end result was like lightning in a bottle, the new lineup defined an entirely new era and genre of excellence in music! This one lonely album went on to sell over 90 million copies itself and its title track won Grammy for Record of the Year!
Now to present day festivities for this “Average Joe” (one of nicknames) who hit the Doheny Stage with a rollicking start and a question, “How ya doin’?!” Were ready for ya’ Joe, bring it! Joe and his band hit the vibe from the onset when opening with “Meadows” and then cruising into “Life of Illusion” with a bellowing bass line glazed over with Joe’s vocals that harmonized with the drum/keyboard/and guitar overlays. Joe knew that he had the ability to create these levels when he first started jamming and hanging with the Eagles.
The band kicked off with “The Meadows” as first song and then “Life of Illusion” never missing a beat. By his signature bantering and somewhat excessive slurring, whether it’s just Joe or part of his persona, Mr. Walsh is just the “Master Illusionist” knowing just when to inflect the right syncopation and voice fluctuation to create the best sound. Me thinks it was a little hot at the beach and they were just eating too many special cookies and drinking Cokes instead or did the sun get to him!? However, as these talented bunch of musicians played their classics, they’ll always create that unique musical relationship with the “Clown Prince of Rock!”
“Everyday People” was a rockin’ cover they performed from Sly & the Family Stone written in 1968 and an “Ordinary Average Guy” followed by another intro of How ya’ doin! By this time I thought the cookies were kickin’ in! Included in the set was “The Bomber” a song from the James Gang days as before mentioned including a segment Ravel’s Bolero. By this time I was beginning to discover how Joe changes the track up, controlling the energy and mimicking his vocal tones like back to back to create the layers of sounds within the track. It is really hard to describe his incredible musicianship.
More examples of his broad appeal and unique approach to performing are portrayed from his expansive and creative mind coming up with titles such as The Smoker You Drink the Player You Get an exquisite album from the James Gang. Sometimes he sounds like he’s going to break into a Jethro Tull song or go in the totally opposite direction with maybe a “little help from my friends” Beatles-influenced melody. Always stating “How ya doing?!” They took it to the limit and then drove down that life in the fast lane! Always!
“In the City” became a funky blues tune with Joe almost screamin’ out his vocals “Somewhere out there on that horizon, out beyond the neon lights” emphasizing his abilities to switch from scale to scale. “Life in the Fast Lane” was just a stunning rendition which had everyone at the beach singing along! Culminating the legendary evening, Joe performed his signature encore “Rocky Mountain Way” finishing the night with an electric feel that just resonated throughout the crowd!
Catch them again on their 2017 tour with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers celebrating 40 years together and you can always find out all things Joe at joewalsh.com.
After about five minutes a lot of people were just milling around and a Doheny worker came on stage to address the remaining crowd. “I’m here to thank you, the fans, for a great Day 1, give yourself a hand. Let’s also applaud our great artists.” He also mentioned not to forget Day 2. This reviewer appreciated his kind words. Be safe and always remember to feel the groove, the power of musical enrichment, and share your love of the “Blues at the Beach” every year in Dana Point, CA!
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