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A welcome new sound for Napa wine events

As our readers know, we here at DdV attend more than a few wine events in our native Northern California. As we mentioned in our review of the Joseph Phelps Insignia Release Party, we have been driven nuts by the constant bombardment of smooth jazz at wine events in Napa and Sonoma. At the Phelps event, to our total surprise, was the anti-smooth jazz:  a fantastic blues band named The Hummingbirdz. We saw them again at the Howell Mountain Benefit and just this past weekend at the Mount Veeder Appellation tasting event. Once again, they were terrific and really impressed the patrons of the event. As the event was winding down, we sat down and spoke with them over a glass of Mount Veeder Cabernet.

The Hummingbirdz are Don Haag (Vocals / Harmonica), Jim Ashburn (Guitar/Vocals), Bob White (Lead Guitar), Frank Inzerillo (Bass), and Tom Zendarski (Drums). All except for Bob (Marin) hail from the Livermore/Pleasanton area.

DdV: Your music is fantastic. This is the third time we’ve seen you this year but not before. Have you played up here before and we’ve missed you?

Bob: Only once a few years ago at Robert Craig. Mostly we’ve been playing in Livermore either at wineries, festivals, or wine events.

Don: The ball got rolling here in Napa for us when we played the Joseph Phelps gig. Their members really liked us and the people at Joseph Phelps were great. When you do well at a prestigious winery like Joseph Phelps, word travels fast.

Bob: Plus we have you guys to thank for the great review. That and the Howell Mountain review really helped us get the word out. We’ve had a lot of interest since then including the pleasure of playing here today on Mount Veeder. We’re all huge wine geeks so playing these events is great.  Better yet for the wineries, we’ll gladly play for wine. Folks in the wine business love to barter and we love wine so it works out quite well.

DdV: Since you’ve read our blog, you must know we hate smooth jazz in general and Kenny G in particular. That said, we hadn’t thought much about a blues band playing wineries until we saw you guys. The patrons really love your music and more than a few have commented their surprise to how well it works at these events..

Bob: On the surface, I suppose it may seem odd. We compose our set to start off slow and quiet and then as the event moves along, kick in some serious energy. That way people can talk and focus on the wine and then dance and enjoy the music as things move on. These events are a celebration of great wine so we feel the music should go along with that.

DdV: How long has the band been together and how did it come about?

Jim: It started with just me and Donny. We were doing some acoustic blues and a little bit of country when we got the idea to do a real Chicago blues band. We got Tommy and then Frank and started playing backyard BBQs for friends.

Tom: Yeah we did that for about a year but realized we needed a true lead guitar player not only to round out our sound but to give Don a break. Blowing full length harp solos on every song is brutal.

Don: Very Brutal!

Frank: Jimmy plays a bit of lead but his thing is really singing and rhythm so I got a hold of Bob. We played together in a rock band called The Victims in college.

Bob: Frank called me and said we need a lead player so get over here! I hadn’t really been playing much for 10 years or so but I brushed up a bit and jammed at a BBQ gig with them.  We meshed really well immediately and here we are.

DdV: As blues fans, we recognize quite a few of the classic songs you play but you play each one very differently from the records.

Don: That’s blues. Sonny Boy Williamson played Willie Dixon tunes but he played them like Sonny. John Lee Hooker played Muddy Waters tunes but he played them like John Lee. That’s the beauty of blues. It allows you to play a familiar song in a completely different style. Your own style.

DdV: You label yourselves as “High Octane Blues”. What does that mean?

Bob: It means high energy, up tempo, soulful and passionate. So many people who are unfamiliar with the blues think that all blues tunes are slow dreary ballads. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Back in its heyday in the 30’s and 40’s, gin joints were jumping with blues music. Music you can dance to and go nuts. All modern dance music can be traced back to blues forms.

DdV: Thanks so much for taking a few minutes guys. Any upcoming gigs you want to plug?

Don: Nothing booked right now but just keep up with us on the web. We’ll be playing soon.

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