Delta Wires Band Photo

Published 12:00 am PST Friday, November 10, 2006
Big band puts the rhythm in blues

By Jim Carnes – Bee Staff Writer

The Delta Wires is a big, high-energy harmonica and horns blues band headquartered in the Bay Area.
/Bill Frates


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The Delta Wires is one of those solid, hardworking bands that labor, if not in obscurity, then in a less-brilliant spotlight than they might deserve. Founded in 1970 by Bay Area art school student Ernie Pinata, the seven-member blues band rocks long and hard.

The band has performed at the Monterey Blues Festival seven times, recorded four CDs and was voted best live band by readers of the East Bay Express in 2002. Although it performs at events such as the 2005 Redding Blues by the River festival, the Delta Wires is best known as a Bay Area club band. It will make a rare Sacramento appearance, performing three sets per night tonight and Saturday at Aces Supper Club in the Holiday Inn.

The band is an outgrowth of a college project. Pinata was a student at Oakland’s California College of Arts and Crafts (which was renamed the California College of Arts in 2003). He has a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts and a teaching credential, although “It’s music I love,” he said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Alameda.

“What attracted me in the beginning was the study of the blues,” he said.

And what began as the collection of an anthology of blues music evolved into a band that played it. The name Delta Wires is particularly apt, as the band plays an electrified brand of Mississippi Delta-style blues.

“My idol is Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland,” Pinata said. Bland, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, was an R&B performer most popular in the 1950s and ’60s, whose horn-driven arrangements were a bridge between the big bands of the 1940s and the soul reviews of the 1960s.

“I love the big horns,” Pinata said. “Our music now is more of a city big-band sound. Before, it was a little more James-y, like when Elmore James first put horns on his music.”

Pinata, who plays harmonica, sings and composes original material for the group, has long been a student of the blues. “The art form, that’s the thing,” he said.

“When I was a kid — maybe 21, 22 — I went to this bar where Freddie King was playing. This was before I started the band, but I played harmonica, and I went up to Freddie King and asked if I could sit in with his band. We started talking about the blues, and I just talked my way into it. That was something!”

Since then, Pinata, with or without the band, has played with such musicians as John Lee Hooker, Charlie Musselwhite, Elvin Bishop, John Mayal and Van Morrison.

“I got to play with Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, too,” he said. “Although I think Junior liked my girlfriend better than he liked me. Still, I was just this skinny Italian guy who was playing with ‘legends.’ ”

Pinata is the only constant in the band (although bass guitarist Tom Gerrits has been a member since 1971). There are other long-term members, including trumpeter Larry Jonutz, an original member of Cold Blood, who has been in the Delta Wires for 13 years; and guitarist Richard Healy, who teaches in San Mateo and has been in the band about 10 years.

Saxophonist Danny Sandoval, whose day job is at the Capitol, “is the young kid,” Pinata said. “He’s only been with us about four years.”

Pinata credits the relative stability of the band’s makeup to “the music. I really like the group concept. Of course, I’m the front guy; I’m the vocalist. But when we do anything — recording, planning set lists — it’s a group thing.

“We just love to play. We love the music, and I love being with the guys. That’s what it is: the love of playing, the art of the music and the camaraderie of the band.”

Delta Wires

WHEN: 9:30 tonight and Saturday
WHERE: Aces Supper Club, at the Holiday Inn, 5321 Date Ave.
INFORMATION: (916) 338-5800, ext. 200

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The DELTA WIRES 1549 East Shore Drive Alameda, CA 94501 All rights reserved ©1971-2023 Band Office: 510-882-8742