Born and raised in east San Jose. Influenced by the great concerts in the Bay Area and all the music within my own family. The a.m. radio at the time brought us Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, BB King and Donny Hathaway in the same half hour. My family brought me homegrown pure folklorico music from Mexico. Dancing and playing and singing. Mix it all together and you get bands like War, Santana and Tower of Power – which are all heavy influences into how I think of rhythms and music.
I started out on the accordion. A great big one. Bigger than me. I had to pull it around in my red wagon and have someone put it on me once I sat down. That’s how big. Soon my brother Dennis was turning my head with the guitar and blues a la Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, Muddy Waters and the Rolling Stones. I graduated to rhythm guitar so my brother could practice his leads. Jimmy Reed all day for me. Then I saw an old cat play harmonica in the greyhound bus stations. Went out and mowed lawns all day one Saturday till I had $2.75 to get a marine band ‘c’ harmonica from Langone’s music store on Alum Rock Ave. next to Chuck’s Hobby Shop and across the street from Peter’s Bakery. I played it to everything. Everything on the radio. Everything I heard. I played along. In key or not. I played. I got a rack and played guitar and harp and was the neighborhood jukebox getting called onto friends porches and lawns to play a song.
We worked. I worked all the time. We played on my street. In garages. At jams at the bodega in Campbell, San Jose. At parties. All over… Playing blues was without question already my direction. I loved rock and still do and more where it came from. I studied records and liner notes and went to meet and hang out.
I carried guitars and shined shoes and snuck wine in to hang out. I just wanted to hang. And I did. Like so many of my friends and cats before me did. We just loved the old dudes and the blues dudes and women and had as much fun as we could.
In San Diego during my stint in the navy I met William Clarke and Smokey Wilson. The Paladins had a rehearsal built in my garage. We all ran together and i saw some great shows and played some. OK a lot. I had met Charlie Musselwhite when I was a kid hanging out at the bodega. He was with John Lee Hooker. I only wanted to play what they were playing. Lowdown. Smokey was unreal. And he and Bill Clarke were tight as family and thru them I met everyone down there and we played in Watts. Ricky and Laura’s. Pure pleasure lounge. Smokey’s Pioneer 88 on Vermont and 88th. JD Nicholsons’ after hours on Avalon. Harmonica Fat’s upstairs on 88 and Broadway. The Safari Room with Cardell. It was lowdown. William Clarke was family and will always be and a giant influence on everything to me. Hollywood Fats was a friend and just so much fun to watch play. The great James Harmon ruled the California coast and is as big an influence as anyone. Larry Taylor along with Junior Watson and Harmon and Bill and Fats were so great to have around and watch and play with. I learned so much from all of em.
After the navy and Southern Cal I went to Texas. Started in dallas and met a ton of great musicians out there and played with Freddie Pharoah, Hash Brown, Felix Reyes and Dallas cats. Met Sam Myers and Anson Funderburgh and would live with Sam Later and play once in a while with Anson. And me and Sam would do gigs. Sam on drums. Unreal.
From there Kim Wilson and Clifford Antone brought me down to Austin to play at Antones. I met every blues cat I ever wanted to there. They all played there and hung out there. During anniversary week just one year for example, I played with Buddy, Luther Tucker, Jimmy Rogers, Bob Strogher, Willie Big Eyes Smith, Pinetop, Bonnie Rait, Denny Freeman, George Rains, Mel Brown, Hubert Sumlin, Mike Buck, Rodney Craig… See what I mean? It was blues heaven and I was rolling in it. Drunk. It was the most musical unreal time.
Me and Alex Napier (Texas legend) leave for our first tour and we still didn’t have a van. We borrowed from the Continental and a tire shop and three friends with jobs and bought a dodge ramvan for 800 bucks on Lamar. Built a loft for a bed on top in the back and gear underneath. Welded some of the holes shut in the floor. Although the exhaust leak in the back would knock you out without fail. We didnt even have a whole tour booked but would show up places and play for food and gas. And we did. Sometimes we had actual shows. We opened up for all our friends. Roomful of blues and Albert Collins and all kinds. And the blues is a small world. One week on the road could bring jams with Uncle John Turner and Ronnie Earl and Denny Freeman.
I played in Texas till I got sober, with the help of some great friends. Some who are gone now. I went back out to California and got signed to Warner Chappell and William Morris then ICM. I played with the Greg Allman Band and met Warren Haynes and Woody Allen playing in that group when we toured. I love Warren and we all loved Woody. I met Matt Abts later and watched Gov’t Mule go thru all the stages from birth of that great band. Over the years I have done various appearances with Gov’t Mule and will do so till the end I imagine. At the end of the Allman tour I played with the Allman Brothers Band off and on for a few years and I would do shows here and there. I met Richie Sambora in the early 90s and i played harp for him for many years on his solo projects. A more generous helpful giant hearted rock star would be hard to find. A regular Jersey cat who loves blues. I am thankful for all the help he laid on me and exposure.
After it ALL blew up at the same time, I left. Went to Spain for two weeks and stayed. Began touring Europe and playing with a whole new set of cats. The most rewarding part of my Spanish trip, with the “spanishes” (as Smokey Wilson says) was and will alway be the flamenco. I met and was brought into the Amador family. The Fernandez family. Heavy weight flamenco blood line. Cathy Claret belongs to that family and I have recorded and played with Cathy and have played concerts with Raimundo Amador. I wrote a song in tribute to that first meeting.
Flamenco Soul is on my new record and I have moved back to the states. Billy Gibbons, Matt Abts and Jorgen Carlsson are the rhythm section for that song. After touring with the Alvin Younblood
Hart Muscle Theory playing bass for Alvin, I went back to Spain and closed up shop. I recorded this latest record No Matter What I Do on Blue NDN Records. A label I started with Shannon Green of California. We hope to develop a few friends and artists if we can get this record moving. The direction of it all is blues power and help for blues artist. We hope.
More recently I played with Warren Haynes as a duo for his set at Levon Helm’s Ramble. Since then I have been back and will continue to do so. The environment and vibe that Levon has created with his enormous soul and incredible music has been an honor for me to partake in.
For the future I hope to finalize a project with my cousin Russell Rodriguez, nephew Lico Zuniga and Taj Mahal. That is my dream project and goal for now. Taj Mahal has been a great help to me and more than an influence. I have shared the stage with Taj and it’s incredible. To say the least.
The second project I have on my list is Corey Harris, Pura Fe and Alvin Youngblood Hart, my cousins and me. These are goals I am working towards and hope to see all of you on the journey.