Rob Rio, who plays at Cozy's on Saturday, started out as a normal kid.
He was born in New York City and grew up in the Bronx, in the shadow of Yankee Stadium. He was, naturally, a baseball fan and enjoyed the rock music of the day: the Doors, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix.
But after hearing the song "Don't Try to Lay No Boogie Woogie on the King of Rock and Roll," by British rocker Long John Baldry, his musical future changed course forever.
"Regarding my musical tastes, I went up to about 1973 and then went backward," Rio says.
He landed in the 1920s and '30s, hooked on the music of boogie-woogie masters like Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Meade "Lux" Lewis and Jimmy Yancey. He studied their music and eventually made it his own.
Boogie woogie is dance music in which the pianist's left hand usually pounds out a bass line while the right hand plays chords or melody. That means a pianist can play with a group or go it alone. The style peaked in popularity in the 1930s, in part because times were tough and dollars were scarce. Dance halls could hire one boogie-woogie pianist instead of a full band--at least that's what my music appreciation teacher at Van Nuys High told me years ago.
Rio, who bills himself as "Boss of the Boogie," has forged his career over the last 20 years playing boogie woogie, jump blues and other related styles. He has performed with many blues greats, including Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon, recorded with Mick Jagger, William Clarke and Coco Montoya, toured throughout the United States and Europe, and produced seven albums.
His latest CD, "Swingtrain," slated to be released this month, features eight original tunes plus four in boogie woogie. Besides his well-developed piano skills, Rio sings with a soulful baritone.
Sometimes Rio plays solo and other times with his band, the Revolvers, so named because of its revolving cast, whatever musicians are available on a certain date. Does he change his playing style when he performs with an ensemble?
"I still do the boogie woogie with the left hand," he says. "Sometimes the bass player and I clash, but not often."
Rio most likes to work as part of a five-piece combo, but "we all make even less money then."
Money, never the musician's friend, is also the reason why Rio has become part owner of a mail drop shop in Woodland Hills, near where he lives. Rio mans the counter most weekday mornings.
"I bought into it so that I could have a modicum of regularity in my life," he says. "There's a lot to be said for regularity."
* Rob Rio and the Revolvers play Saturday at Cozy's Bar & Grill, 14058 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. $5 cover. Call (818) 986-6000.
Short Takes: Jackie Lomax will perform Friday at Smokin' Johnnie's in place of William Clarke, who died Nov. 3 in Fresno. Lomax was the first artist signed by the Beatles to their Apple Records label in 1968. Today, Lomax lives in Ojai and still performs regularly, mostly in Ventura County. . . . John Lee Hooker was honored last week with a Blues Foundation lifetime achievement award in a ceremony at B. B. King's in Universal City. A concert following the awards ceremony featured Little Milton, Charlie Musselwhite and Ry Cooder.