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Chris Fast

Makin' Plans…
With the Chris Fast Band

By T.E. Mattox

ecently overheard at a CFB performance in Del Mar… A smiling young lady asks Chris Fast if he's always played blues music. The ever amiable Mr. Fast replies, 'I've earned tens of dollars playing blues, so why would I do anything different?' That my friend is a blues man, granted a slightly disturbed one, but a bluesman none-the-less.

I've known Chris Fast for too many years to remember but this was my first opportunity to sit down and grill him about his road and making music. It's definitely been worth the wait, and our conversation started with the here and now. "Well, currently," Chris says. "I'm playing real Chicago Blues, that's what I'm doing now. Previously with Little Chris and the Night Crawlers band we were kind of a hybrid, we played a lot of blues but we had the R&B influence with the horns, a lot of good arrangements so it was a different kind of thing than the four-piece Chicago sound I'm currently involved in."

the Chris Fast Band
Mike Halls, Al Schneider, Chris Fast and Don Skelton turn it up. Photo: Yachiyo Mattox

Why the change? "I used to play in a band with Bob Newham and Willie Brinlee and the guys that went on to back Bill Clark and growing up in Riverside with Rod (Piazza) we were always playing Chicago blues. I played in his (Piazza's) band for a short period of time, playing guitar and saxophone with Richard Innes and Jerry Smith, Rod and Glenn Ross Campbell was playing the slide guitar. Chicago blues has always been a love of mine, but it just so happened the personnel I got with (the Nightcrawlers) Fred Rivera and Henry Barrio, Dennis Kenmore, Alfredo Ballesteros, Tommy Bray and Bud Dehl. We had horns and a pretty big sound, it was kind of eclectic, I would say. It was a fun band to play with."

You've recently begun playing a lot more with a few folks around Southern California. "I've been trying to get something going in the local area," Fast says. "And I started going down to these jam sessions in San Diego. Chet Cannon's jam and I met Al Schneider down there and Mike Halls I knew from Fallbrook and Don Skelton as a bass player I had worked with before. So we got together and it's a lot of fun for me because the emphasis is on the harmonica and I enjoy it an awful lot. I'm back doing what I started doing."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"My goal is to be out playing, that's really my goal."
– Chris Fast

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I first saw Little Chris and the Nightcrawlers about 20 years ago, out in the vineyards around Temecula. "In those days," Chris grins. "We had the Temecula area to ourselves. We played everywhere we wanted… we were playing at Pechanga all the time. We opened shows for B.B. King and the big blues shows they had out there."

the Chris Fast Band at Salvation Alley at the House of Blues, San Diego
The CFB welcomes you to Salvation Alley at the House of Blues. Photo: Yachiyo Mattox

Let's talk about the current band and the music you play. "Right now, we're playing a lot of Little Walter material just because it's challenging. And today, nobody around the San Diego area seems to be playing it. When I was younger, everybody was playing Little Walter stuff and it doesn't seem to be that way. People my age started playing music in the '60s when the blues invasion rolled through. When I was in high school we heard, I guess it was the Stones playing some blues and then we started investigating and found out about the guys that originated the music. There was a huge wave of people that were blues enthusiasts at that time. Right now that wave is a little bitty ripple and everybody's getting older, we're getting older, it's not a super popular thing, but I'm going to keep doing it as long as I can."

Social media has changed some of that… "It's all over YouTube." Chris agrees. "Back in the day when I was starting, I had to borrow records. Rod (Piazza) gave me my first Little Walter record and said, 'Hey, Listen to this!' And I listened to it and it was weird to me, because it was a whole different style of playing. Of course, Rod was totally off into it and then I started learning it."

Your road has taken multiple directions in and out of music; how did your family impact your decisions? "Yeah, I taught school, but my father gave me a harmonica when I was a young boy. I was a little kid and I'd walk around playing this silly harmonica so I was always oriented toward the harmonica. In Junior High school I think the folk music thing was going pretty good and some of my friends decided to put together a little band and I was going to play the harmonica, we had a couple of folk guitars and we played at a talent assembly and that's where it kind of started. I got into some rock bands early on, but we'd play some blues tunes as well and it just sort of evolved from there. Somewhere early on, I remember we had some jam sessions in the summertime and Rod Piazza was involved in those and there was a core group of musicians that would meet every week and I would go down there and play. I started hearing what he was doing and we developed a friendship and as I got older I was playing in blues bands around town. He would pick me up at my house and take me into L.A. where he was playing and all these other guys were playing in these black clubs. I would go with him and he would have his pizza under the front seat for his meal." (laughing) "Saving money!" (laughing) "But it was a great education for me.

Later on because I knew all the harmonica songs, he needed a guitar player and I could play some guitar, I never considered myself a very good guitar player… and I proved it every night. I could play okay, just enough to back him. The real soloist was Glenn Ross Campbell who played slide. He was in the Misunderstood and other bands and he was a virtuoso kind of player. And Richard Innes played drums and Jerry Smith played bass and Rod was blowin' harp. So I learned a lot, night after night sitting there behind Rod."

Who were some of the people you saw and played with in those early days? "We backed up Big Joe Turner and Pee Wee Crayton was playing with us at one time. We opened shows for John Lee Hooker and later on I was able to work with Percy Mayfield and Big Mama Thornton."

Talk a little about Percy Mayfield? "He was just a real sweet guy. Talk about a songwriter, he was the best. Nobody wrote a song like Percy Mayfield. I don't think anybody was better. Nobody! We were on stage one time and the lights went off and he said to me, 'Do they want me off?' Because he was kind of insecure, like a lot of musicians are and of course he had had that accident and stuff. I said, 'don't worry about it man, you're good. You are good!'" (laughing)

Al Schneider, Robin Henkel and Chris Fast
Al Schneider, Robin Henkel and Chris Fast having too much fun. Photo: Yachiyo Mattox

Growing up near and getting to know Rod Piazza was a very fortunate happenstance in your musical direction, was it not? "Yeah, I was lucky he lived in town and talk about a great model to have, you know, as an aspiring harmonica player. Rod has always welcomed guest players; if he thinks you're halfway decent he doesn't have a problem getting you up there. In fact, he welcomes it because for one thing, he can take a break. And then when you're done he can say, 'Okay, I'll show you how it's really done.'" (laughing) "It's a good little foil for him. Rod, of course has played with everybody. He played with the real guys. We're just trying to get a good sound and all that stuff, but he was really there with all the guys that were out in L.A."

And you are kind of an anomaly actually being from California… "Born in Riverside." Chris nods. "I knew Rod for a long time, we would go fishing and his dad would put together the cheese garlic bait for us. It was a neighborhood thing. It was perfect. If I'm any good at all, it's because of being around Rod and the good harmonica players."

Some may notice a few similarities in style and presentation with you and Rod… "I'm not trying to imitate Rod, but I think we are both admirers of Little Walter. If you're a harmonica player who are you gonna' want to listen to? Big Walter, George Smith, all those guys are the tip of the top."

Chris Fast, Bruce Stewart, David Mosby and John Flynn
Chris Fast, Bruce Stewart, David Mosby and John Flynn. Photo: T.E. Mattox

What is it about harp players? Not to frighten you, but most seem to have a very short life span? (laughing) "Little Walter was crazy." Chris laughs. "Rod told me Walter would seek out the worst people he could find, and that's who he would hang with. You've probably known people like that. They just can't resist and that's the people they seek, the lowest common denominator and that's what they enjoy. I don't know, there's a physical quality to the playing, it takes strength to play the harp, it takes a little energy, I think."

Outside of the Chicago sound, or blues in general what other music appeals to you? "I listen to a lot of jazz. If I'm listening to music, I'll be listening to jazz. I appreciate that, I imagine if I was a better musician or more educated in music, maybe I would be a jazz musician perhaps, I don't know. I like the sax players like Coltrane and all those guys."

It's often said and comparisons have been made with Little Walter's amplified harp sound being very similar to saxophone lines. "Right, to get the instrument to sound bigger, to sound like a saxophone, Walter was playing… of course swing music was big at that time in the early '50s, Louis Jordan was having a lot of hits as an alto player and people would learn his lines and play it in their music. It really had more of a swing to it."

Swing music seems to be on the rise in Southern California these days. "There are venues I'm learning that want to have swing dancing so this is a good opportunity."

Let's talk a little about you latest CD offering… Funky Highway. "Well Henry Barrio was with the Nightcrawlers and before that he played with Hoyt Axton for years. He's a great guitar player, and really good arranger with really good musical sense. Alfredo Ballesteros, a tenor player was with the Boxing Ghandi's on Atlantic Records, he's a great jazz/rock tenor player. And we were with the Nightcrawlers for all those years, so Henry and I just for something to do; Henry would come over and record at my house. I have a little setup and I would write a song maybe and he and I would arrange it and put our basic tracks on it and Henry can play all these different styles. Then Alfredo would come over and put a horn part on it or we would get Tommy Bray, a trumpet player to come over and do something and over time we put together a few songs."

Chris Fast and Friends 'Funky Highway' CD cover
Chris Fast and Friends CD cover

Can you talk a little about your writing style? "I would say I don't have a style." (laughing) "I wish I was better at it. But I do enjoy coming up with something original. I strive to write a song that in some way isn't full of clichés… I'm not trying to be different, but I've noticed some people have a tendency to grab a line from one song and a line from another song and you put it together and you've got something brand new. And maybe you do, because that's what we all do anyway. We steal and borrow everything that we do, whether it's the notes we play, how we play them, the lines we put in our songs… but I enjoy writing.

You cover Percy Mayfield's 'You Lied to Me.' "I was listening to my IPod and that one came up. I thought, 'Oh, man that's a good one.' So, I recorded it, in fact I played guitar on that particular song, for what it's worth. You can't miss with a Percy Mayfield song."

How long did you get to work with Percy? "I played a few gigs with him in San Bernardino, at a place called the Kola Shanah. I wasn't like great buddies with him or anything. You know all those guys were out in L.A. at the time, Joe Turner and everybody."

Any new directions, what's next for Chris Fast? "I don't have a plan. I'm taking it one week at a time. If you have a plan, that means you have a goal… and my goal is to be out playing, that's really my goal. So I'm succeeding at that although, I need more gigs with this band that I have right now. That's all I want, I just want to be out playing."

The current lineup for the Chris Fast Band is relatively new? "We've only been together about 4 months and currently Al Schneider is playing drums. Of course, he played with the Everly Brothers. He toured a long time with them. He's been at it for quite awhile. In fact, he told me the drum kit he's playing now, he bought in '58. So, I don't know what that means… he's not a youngster. But, man the guy can play, he's great. He's on it… powerful. He's a good connection for the San Diego area, he knows everybody. He's always out there. Our guitar player is Mike Halls. 'English' Mike lives in Temecula and I met him down at one of the jams in Fallbrook and he plays in a traditional style which works really well. And then Don Skelton plays upright bass. He's kind of a jazzer and he really knows what he's doing. He's really proficient. He knows his way around a bass and can read… and he's a really good guy. So everybody gets along really well."

Another project I occasionally see you play with is the Little Kings. "At Chet Cannon's jam I met John Flynn and he heard me play. He always liked to have another instrument as a soloist. So he called me up and started using me on some gigs and that's been for almost a year now. It's been a lot of fun.

Chris Fast performing with the Little Kings
Fast sits in with the Little Kings at Tio Leo's. Photo: Yachiyo Mattox

"It's been a goal of mine to establish myself as a harp player in the San Diego area. I think I'm doing okay at it, I'm having fun anyway." Chris flashes a big grin. "I do have a goal, I'm just going to play on out. I'm just going to keep playing until I can't play anymore. That's what I'm gonna' do."

Sounds like a plan to me.

Related Articles:
Ode to Little Walter; Rod Piazza Birthday Blues Fest; Robin Henkel: Been There and Gone!; San Diego's Mr. Natural... Billy Watson; BB King; The Blues Are Alive and Well in Southern California


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Let Tim know what you think about his traveling adventure.

I was there at the Shrine to see Bob come in riding on a baby elephant. He says in the interview it was either '68 or 69: it was both – it was New Year's Eve (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite),

Debbie Hollier, Nevada City, CA

* * * *

Who else played with Canned Heat and Deep Purple at the Shrine in '68?

Bill, LA

I think the Shrine show on New Years in '68, where Bob Hite rode out on the elephant, also featured Poco, Lee Michaels, Black Pearl, Love Army and Sweetwater. Don't know that Deep Purple was booked on that evening.

Bill, maybe you're thinking about the International Pop Fest in San Francisco a few months earlier that featured these fine folks... Procol Harum, Iron Butterfly, Jose Feliciano, Johnny Rivers, Eric Burdon And The Animals, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grass Roots, The Chambers Brothers, Deep Purple, Fraternity of Man & Canned Heat or possibly the following year in Jan of 1970 when Deep Purple appeared with Canned Heat and Renaissance on a triple-bill in London at the Royal Albert Hall.

One final note: The current Johnny Otis piece didn't mention it, but it was Mr. Otis that took Canned Heat into the studio the very first time to record in 1966. Small world, ain't it?

Tim

* * * *

Thank u for posting it! Bob is still boogin' around!! (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite),

Stefano Di Leonardo, Fisciano (Salerno, Italy)

* * * *

Great Read! (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite) I will post it on Bob "THE BEAR" Hite Official Facebook Page,

Dave Tohill, Brandon, UK

* * * *

Hello Tim, thank you so much for letting a huge Canned Heat fan check out this
interview with the Bear. I really enjoyed it.

Best regards,

Rick Caldwell, Fairfield, Ohio

* * * *

I knew Bob Hite in the 60's. Canned Heat played at our high school prom 1966 Rexford High. The Family Dog, Chet Helms, Skip Taylor.

Max Kalik, Los Angeles, CA

Dear Tim,

I just discovered you from an email I received from Preston Smith disclosing his next event. I wanted to tap into his website Prestonsmithmusic but it would not link from your site for some reason. I have to say Preston really is a genius and I met him in Glendale at a jazz club about three years ago, after a fatal accident. By chance, I was invited to spend time hanging out with Preston and some friends after his gig. He is everything you say and I will never forget his amazing creativity and his positive influence in my life.

Janelle, Palm Springs, CA

Love the article! (on Lowell George) Lowell was my father.

Forrest George, Warren, Vermont

This Bob Hite interview is the most interesting thing I have read concerning Canned Heat. I have Fito's book, but I always was interested in learning more about Bob Hite. You did it here my friend...great interview!!!!!

Tony Musto - Pittston, PA

Hey Tim, Great article on Preston! I really enjoyed it and you did your homework. I'll probably catch PS this weekend.

Best,

Dave - Northridge, CA

* * * *

Hello, what a great article on Preston Smith! I actually met Preston one evening after an Acoustic set of my own at the Prestigeous Carlton Hotel here in Atascadero, Ca. We were loading up and he happened to be walking down the sidewalk and stop to say hello. I must say that he is a truly interesting and talented man that NEVER forgets to let me know when he is playing around the Central Coast where I live. It was so fun to read about who he truly is...(as if you don't know him the first time you meet him)! My adventures have only just begun as I recently returned from Nashville recording my self titled debut EP. I can only hope that my adventures down the road are as enlightening as Preston's and that I have the honor of a great writer such as yourself to share them with the world. Thank you for doing just that, sharing "Preston Smith" with the world.

Sincerely,

Amy Estrada - Atascadero, CA

Hi Tim,

My name is Bert, I'm from Italy and I'm a blues harmonica player...I read your article and it reminded me of the two trips I made in the Delta, in 2008 and 2009. I love Frank's music and I think it's a shame people don't really know his work. It's important that people like you write about him. Thank you! In the Delta I was only a "stupid" tourist, but it was a great, unique experience I consider one of the most important in my life: driving on the highways, Listening to the blues everywhere, jamming in places like Red's and ground Zero in Clarksdale or the Blues Bar in Greenville... are priceless things, something I will keep in my heart for the rest of my life. I met a beautiful, lovely woman there too (named Hope), but I behaved like a stupid kid and I lost her... Alas! I will never forget that days and the chance I had to find happiness...Well, I also wrote something about Frank on a website, but it's in Italian... I give you the link of the first part (the second will be published in the next weeks) anyway if you know some Italian or somebody who can understand it... Even if I'm thinking of making a translation ...www.bluessummit.com

Cheers,

Bert - Pavia, Italy

I wanna be Tim!

Brent, Seattle, WA

* * *

Those pictures give you an idea of what the Rockin' Pneumonia actually looks like and it looks BAD! But the man can still play! Enjoyed the article - give us more TRAVELING BLUES BOY!

Steve Thomas - NA, INDIANA

* * *

Good Stuff, Tim. Having been a Johnny Winter fan since the first time I heard Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo, it was great hearing his take on some his highlight moments that defined his blues career. His affiliation with Muddy Waters was particularly interesting. Kudos for bringing that out. Thanks to your dedication to covering the blues scene, this "one of a kind" music still lives for servicemen & women around the world. Keep it Up!

Brandon Williams, Moreno Valley, CA

* * *

Impressive! What a legend and how cool that you got so much time with him, Tim.

Don, Louisville, KY

Tim - Great article, enjoyed Little Feat/Lowell George story, really brought me back in time. Did not know he was a fishin' man! Wonder what surfaces out of the abyss of your memory next?

Steve Thomas, New Albany, IN

* * * *

Tim,

I really liked your travel back in time with Lowell and Little Feat. As a long time Feat fan (mostly the stuff with Lowell) it was cool to read. I learned several of their songs back in the day and they still stand up today when played live. Another singer I really liked from back then is TimBuckley. Thanks for the article.

Chet Hogoboom, Arroyo Grande, CA

Loved your last issue of TB, especially the Mayall piece. I want that guy's job!

Brent, Seattle, WA

Tim,

This is a great write up. Has it been printed in any magazines? It's better than a lot of things I read in my guitar magazines, so props for that.

Caejar, Moreno Valley, CA

Tim,

I can tell that you have this passion for jazz. I wonder if you yourself play any instrument. Or are you just a groupie like most of us?

I talked with a mid-aged flute jazz artist a few weeks ago and he lamented that despite his talents (and he is extremely talented) he says that the industry hasn't been kind to him. He said jobs are few and far between. He said the music industry is combating piracy and competition due to technology being readily available to private homes and that they are not as profitable as before. So they are replacing live talent for synthesized or digital instruments.

Do you see the same trend in your relationships with your music network?

Bob, Pasadena, CA



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