Influences

Paul Oscher & Rod Piazza: All In The Same Breath

Paul Oscher & Rod Piazza: All In The Same Breath

PAUL OSCHER  

One of the best harmonica players to emerge since the mid-1960s, Paul Oscher has played and recorded with the best of the Chicago blues legends. It was his fiveyear tenure with Muddy Waters, however, that truly launched his career.

 

Born in Brooklyn, NY, Oscher took up the harmonica at age 12. After learning how to play the blues from musician Jimmy Johnson, Oscher began gigging at black clubs while still in his teens. Backstage at the Apollo Theatre, Oscher met his greatest maker, McKinley Morganfield (aka Muddy Waters). After sitting in with Waters, Oscher was hired on the spot and became the first white musician to play in an all-black blues band.

Along with Waters, Oscher cut his musical chops with such other blues greats as Otis Spann and Sammy Lawhorn. Spann taught Oscher how to play piano while Oscher learned guitar by looking over Lawhorn’s shoulder during shows. Still, it was Oscher’s expertise as a harmonica player that would lead to numerous recordings with Waters on the Chess label as well as gigs with John Lee Hooker, Son House, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Albert King.

By 1971, Oscher formed his own band under the name Brooklyn Slim and released two albums in 1976 on the Spivey label. After a semi-retirement in the 1980s, Oscher returned to recording and released Nothin’ But the Blues in 1992. Subsequent albums included 1993’s Rough Stuff, 1996’s Handy-nominated Knockin’ on the Devil’s Door, and 2004’s Alone with the Blues.

The awards keep coming, too. Oscher won two 2006 Blues Music Awards, one for Down in the Delta (Blues Fidelity), as “Acoustic Album of the Year,” and “Acoustic Artist of the Year” for Oscher himself.

ROD PIAZZA  

In the nearly 40 years Rod Piazza has been making music, the harmonica-led band has never sounded quite the same. Born in Riverside, CA, in 1947, Piazza first began playing harp seriously as a teenager. One day he happened upon a jam session where one of his idols (and soon to be mentor) George “Harmonica” Smith was playing. Smith would be a crucial influence over Piazza’s uninhibited style; and their partnership would last until Smith’s death in 1983.

In the late 1960s, Piazza became a member of the Dirty Blues Band which released two albums (Dirty Blues Band and Stone Dirty) on the ABC/Bluesway label. In 1969, the band officially changed its name to Bacon Fat and, with Smith in tow, went on to release a slew of albums well into the 1970s. Smith’s failing health, however, eventually forced Piazza to go solo.

In 1973 Piazza released his first solo album, Rod Piazza Blues Man. His second album, Chicago Flying Saucer Band, eventually followed in 1979. This was the first album to feature the musicians who would form the core of Piazza’s most recognizable group, the Mighty Flyers.

Along with future wife Honey Alexander on keyboards, Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers first arose in 1980. Over the next 25 years, the band would release over a dozen albums including 1999’s Here and Now and 2001’s Beyond the Source (both Tone-Cool) and 2004’s Keepin’ It Real (Blind Pig), featuring Rod on harmonica and vocals, and Honey’s Otis-Spann-quality keyboards.

Piazza’s latest release, the CD/DVD combo For the Chosen Who was just released on Delta Groove Records. Currently, Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers are putting their high-energy show on the road throughout the summer, hopefully coming to a club or festival near you. E

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Elmore: What are you listening to right now?

Paul Oscher: Gospel music; Clara Ward.

Rod Piazza: Gene Ammons, he’s a sax player. And of course Little Walter, still, and the Harptones.


EM
: What was the first record you ever bought?

PO: My father worked in the Fox Building in Brooklyn, where they had all the rock ‘n’ roll shows, and there was a record store on the first level, and the guy used to give my father records, ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll.

RP: I had two older brothers, 10 and 12 years older, and they brought home all these records, so I was exposed to Jimmy Reed, Earl Bostic, Big Joe Turner. I think the first record I ever bought was The Best of Little Walter.


EM
: Where do you buy your music?

PO: On the internet.

RP: I don’t really buy any music any more, I just have friends who kinda give me stuff. My roadie buys a lot of CDs online.


EM
: What’s your favorite album of all time?

PO: That’s a hard question. The Best of Muddy Waters.

RP: Little Walter’s Hate To See You Go.


EM
: What was the first instrument you played?

PO: The accordion

RP: Guitar. I played it for about five years.


EM
: What brought you to the instrument you now play?

PO: I broke the accordion. I was working in a grocery store, and my uncle had given me a Marine Band harmonica, and I was trying to play “She’ll be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” from the pamphlet that came with the harp, and a black guy working in the grocery store said, “Let me see that whistle you got, boy.” He made like he couldn’t play it, then all of a sudden he hit it, “Whammmm, wha wha wha…” and it just took me out. The sound, the tone, it was like you could touch it. I was about 12.

RP: My brother took me to see Jimmy Reed when I was 11. We got backstage and I told him I was trying to play guitar, and Jimmy said, “Well, it looks like this boy needs something to go with his guitar,” and he gave me one of his old harmonicas. I started playing right then, and when I got in my first group, in ’65, I just concentrated on the harp and vocals.


EM
: What musician influenced you most?

PO: Muddy Waters. I played in his band, lived in his house. And Otis Spann. I shared a basement with Otis Spann. People used to come by all the time: Johnny Young, Little Brother Montgomery, Willie Dixon would stop by, Floyd Jones, Little Walter.

RP: Little Walter.


EM
: Who would you like to write with that you haven’t?

PO: I don’t write with anybody.

RP: Usually it’s me and Honey working on stuff together.


EM
: What was the song or event that made you realize you wanted to be in music?

PO: I was walking in Brooklyn past this black club called the Nightcap Lounge. It was a really cool place. All the guys looked like Ike Turner and the women looked like the Supremes. There was a guy standing in the doorway, his name was Smiling Pretty Eddie, and I was playing the harmonica, and he said, “Where you workin’, kid?” and I said, “I’m not working,” and he said, “C’mon in here, you want to play?” He got me up on the bandstand, I played, sat in with the band, and when I finished, he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for a little blue-eyed soul brother.” It was so exciting; I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I got to shake hands with the stripper who worked there. I was 15.

RP: Just from hearing that music as a little boy, 7-8 years old. My brothers brought home those records. It just really did something to me. I don’t think I had any other way to go but that.


EM
: Who would you like in your rock ‘n’ roll heaven band?

PO: There are some people I’d like to see again, like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, both Sonny Boys, One and Two. I’d also like to see Noah Lewis – people that I knew when I was young. I don’t necessarily have to be playing with them. I don’t know about putting together a band. I quit my band, now I work alone, I have no problems. I don’t have to rely on nobody, no drunks, no nothing. I’m just kidding around!

RP: Fred Below on drums, Dave Meyers on bass, Louis Myers on guitar, Honey on piano. Second choice on piano after Honey: Otis Spann.


EM
: What’s your desert island CD?

PO: There is a set of records of Muddy Waters on Charly, a nine-CD set. I think they stopped making it. It was all the outtakes and stuff that was never reissued, and all Muddy’s work up to 1967.

RP: Gene Ammons’ Young Jug.

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