San Francisco Bay Area blues legends the Delta Wires take a victory lap after their induction into the Blues Hall of Fame with the release of their historical survey Anthology. A band founded in 1970 and led by harmonica player, composer and singer Ernie Pinata, the act grew out of a college undergraduate project where Pinata was tasked to research and perform an anthology of the great blues music form, tracing it from its Delta roots to its Chicago wired form (thus, the name “Delta Wires”). This collection of live and studio tracks culled from six prior albums and obscure concert recordings, likewise traces the blues over the decades, as delivered by Pinata and his band. However, this collection also touches on other blues variations, like New Orleans r’n’b, jump blues, and the local Bay Area funk popularized by another fabled Oakland musical force, the Tower of Power.
Like the Tower of Power, Delta Wires has had its own horn section, made up of guys who played for another popular Frisco-based act, the boogie rock outfit Cold Blood, and it adds punch and a certain panache you can’t get from small combos. But listening to some of these tracks, especially the earlier ones, there’s enough dirt under the fingernails to make this group bona fide practitioners of the blues.
Most of that grit comes courtesy of Pinata himself, whose rousing roots-minded blues harp is the constant in this varied set of recordings that features a changing but consistently good cast of backing personnel. Pinata’s harmonica is smokin’ on cuts such as “Take Off Your Pajamas,” “Tippin’ Into The Blues,” “Don’t Want No Woman” and “Take Your Hand Outta My Pocket,” where he brings down he house. Pinata also handles lead singing for nearly all the vocal songs and while he puts a lot of heart into it, he…did I mention that Pinata is a fantastic harmonica player?
There are plenty of terrific moments by other players, too, like the Santana influenced guitar lead on “Why Did You Leave Me,” by Paul Wood, a crisp, metronomic shuffle by co-founding drummer Biff Silva during “Tippin’ Into The Blues” and plenty of great solo moments from the horn players on tunes such as “Monkey Man” and the Bay Area funk instrumental “In The Middle.” The mix in the styles of blues — both originals and covers — takes listeners from the soul-jazz “Three For Dizzy” (another instrumental), the shuffling blues of ” Don’t Want No Woman,” the light second-line boogie of “Honey Bee” and the Albert Collins’ style wit found on the absolutely charming “Smack Dab In The Middle.” Long time Delta Wires fans are sure to find at least most of the concert favorites covered here.
Which, by the way, is one thing Anthology makes so clear: the Delta Wires is best on a stage in front of an audience. Not that the studio tracks are bad, but the live cuts, which make up roughly half the album, capture the band at its finest, playing tightly together but relaxed as well, and putting in their better individual performances. Taken as a whole, though, this retrospective makes a strong case for why the Delta Wires earned a spot in the Blues Hall of Fame.
It may have started as a class assignment, but Ernie Pinata and his cohorts made the grade.
Anthology went on sale January 15, by Mudslide Recordsd. Visit the Delta Wires’ website for more info.
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