Written by Jim Bille

44's-1aSoCal blues rockers The 44’s finally made it back to Houston this past weekend for three shows starting off at Katie’s in Baycliff then Dan Electro’s Guitar Bar and finishing up Saturday night at Shakespeare’s Pub. So Houston blues fans had three chances to see one of the best and original blues bands to come along in a while. I made two out of three of the shows and would have gone to the third but prior commitments kept me from doing so.

In case you don’t know, The 44’s have a hybrid Chicago-West Coast sound that mixes solid and gritty lowdown blues with a West Coast jump. Strong blues harp and even stronger guitar work are the complimenting backbones of this powerhouse quartet.

Anyone familiar with long gone LA bands like Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs or The Red Devils should really appreciate the 44’s sound. Many of the songs featured by this tight outfit are rooted in the tradition of these two great bands that once prowled the LA music scene.

Guitarist / vocalist Johnny Main has fronted the 44’s since their inception and along with JR Lozano on drums, Mike Hightower on bass and renowned LA blues harp player Eric Von Herzen, the 44’s deliver a unique and original brand of high caliber blues that’s loaded up with a ton of musical firepower befitting their name.

As a side note, in addition to his contributions to The 44’s, Eric Von Herzen has performed and recorded with Social Distortion and has played with Billy Gibbons as well as fronting his own band Atomic Road Kings. All killer acts for sure.

44's-2aBass player Mike Hightower was a member of the blues rock band 13, which featured Lester Butler, former front man for The Red Devils as well as the legendary Carlos Guitarlos band among others.

The band opened the show at Dan Electros with a jumping slide guitar tune called “Slip Slidin Thang” with Main taking charge from the start with his raw powerful vocals and playing. Setting the tone for the evening, this number was just a taste of the great things to come.

With two critically acclaimed studio albums under their belts and another live CD offering The 44’s had more than enough material to stretch the show out. Many of the band’s recordings were featured including a guitar blistering version of Magic Sam’s “Easy Baby” as well as “So Low Down” a driving number with an infectious repetitive beat.

About half way through the show The 44’s were joined on stage by Houston’s own accordion king Roberto Rodriguez III. Rodriguez is a highly sought after studio and session musician who has performed with Los Lobos as well as with his main gig Nick Gaitan and the Umbrella Man.

Rodriguez’s contribution on Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” was especially interesting since he took much of the lead parts over on the squeeze box swapping back and forth with Main throughout the number.

Other songs featuring Rodriguez were “Done Deal”, an instrumental written by close friend and associate of The 44’s, Kid Ramos and “You’ll be Mine” another Dixon tune.

44's-3aI can’t say for sure that I had a favorite song from the show but “99 to Life” would have to rank pretty close to the top of my list, a fast jump blues tune that featured Johnny Main exclusively. His playing on this number was nothing short of in your face bad-ass guitar solo slammin’ great.

“Devil Woman” with its recurrent and almost hypnotic beat was the last song featured at Dan Electros as The 44’s closed out an incredible evening of music that needed to be seen and heard to believe. Just go see these guys and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

If you missed these shows you can still get a taste of The 44’s by picking up one of their CDs from their website. Speaking of CD’s, The 44’s are close to wrapping up a new one for the fans so stay tuned for more great things from one great band.