There’s never really been a period of time when the music from Oakland, California, was given a world-recognized name a la “the San Francisco sound.” And even with a history that includes such notable artists as Tower of Power, The Pointer Sisters, Michael Franti and Fantastic Negrito, Oakland remains overshadowed by what has emerged from the bigger city across the bay.
That second-fiddle status is not lost on lead singer and harmonica player Ernie Pinata of the longtime Oakland-based blues band Delta Wires.
“You try harder, that’s for sure,” Pinata says. “If you’re in New Jersey, all of your life, you hear about New York. And if you’re in Oakland, it’s the same thing with San Francisco.”
Attitude and how you carry yourself are what Pinata believes are characteristics of Oakland’s people.
“Oakland is a tough place and was always a melting pot,” Pinata adds. “It’s basically a working-class town. It’s changed, and I think that’s reflected in this album.”
He’s referring to the appropriately titled Born in Oakland, the seventh Delta Wires album, released in June on Mud Slide Records. It showcases the group’s signature big-band blues sound that Pinata gravitated to decades ago while working on a blues history project when he was a student at the California College of the Arts.
“You want to give people something to be interested in a little bit more than guitar solo after guitar solo,” explains Pinata. “You want to have a horn solo — or a horn section. Throw in something that’s just flat-out street funky, and mix that all in.”
Pinata likes the idea “of making something come out of this — where you are,” and that’s the case with the Born in Oakland song “Vacation.” Its inspiration came to Pinata one day while he was driving in the Oakland area and wondered who else on the road at that time felt they needed a break from their regular routine.
With lyrics in hand (lines include “Sick of the traffic, livin’ on the freeway/Get rid of this nonsense, do something my way”), Pinata presented them to his bandmates and discussed how the music should be.
“I kept thinking [it should be] something up, a really up shuffle or a boogie,” Pinata says, “so when somebody’s in their car, and this thing comes on, right away, it’s gonna get ’em.’ ”
— By Chris M. Junior
Delta Wires on tour (schedule subject to change):
• July 1: Armando’s — Martinez, California
• Aug. 4: Oakland Museum of California — Oakland, California
• Aug. 11: Point Richmond Music Series — Richmond, California
• Aug. 20: Chouinard Vineyard and Winery — Castro Valley, California
• Aug. 23: Esplanade Park — Capitola, California
• Aug. 26: Vinnie’s — Concord, California
Photo by Dana Davis