MODESTO — People often want to know where John Clifton gets the energy to jump up and dance around on stage like he does. It comes from knowing he's a lucky man. He could be doing something else like digging ditches.
"Playing harmonica and singing? That's a dream," says Clifton, who founded the blues-rocking MoFo Party Band with his brother Bill Clifton in 1989.
"I play like someone is going to take it away from me."
That's not likely to happen these days.
The Fresno-based band has played regularly at venues and festivals in the local region and returns this weekend to the Boogie Woogie Rock N Rockabilly Dance Party on J Street in downtown Modesto. The outdoor concert event, which also features blues favorites Rod Piazza, Tony T & His Rockin' Cats, The 44s and Tommy & the Edsels, is part of June's ongoing Graffiti Summer celebration.
The group which includes Brian Bischel on drums and John Clifton's son Grant Clifton on bass has longevity. Members are celebrating the band's 24th anniversary
MoFo Party Band also has reached a level of success. It has opened for the likes of BB King, Bo Diddley, Robert Cray, Charlie Musselwhite and Los Lobos, and just signed to Rip Cat Records (home of The Blasters). An album should be out in mid-fall.
Next year, the band will do a month-long tour in New Zealand.
Traveling isn't new for the band. Everyone already has passports and they're road-ready. In fact, the band has been overseas a dozen times since the mid-2000s to play some of Europe's largest blues festivals, including the Belgian R&B festival in Peer, Belgium; the Kwadendamme Blues Fest in the Netherlands; the Luxemburg Jazz & Blues Rally; and the Blues Express Festival in Poland.
This wasn't part of some master plan, Clifton says. The band started out playing jam nights at Zapp's Park, a tiny hole-in-the-wall bar near downtown Fresno. Clifton booked the gig before anyone had even agreed to play with him. For years, the band couldn't even get its name printed in the paper.
But they just kept playing.
"We do what we can and see what happens, " he says.
Even now, Clifton is nonchalant about the success.
"If it takes you to a dead-end road, at least you traveled to that dead-end road."
There have been lineup changes over the years. The tempos have changed, depending on who was in the band, and the style changes some with the brothers' tastes.
For the most part though, MoFo Party Band is the same as it's always been, Clifton says.
"We play the music we like, " he says, meaning 1950s and '60s blues and R&B, which make up the majority of the 3,000 records in his collection.
"We've done our homework, " he says. "There is certain amount of respect you have to pay to the genre."
That goes double for the show itself.
So the guys comb their hair and put on their best clothes. They come out and play hard because they know that's what the audience expects, Clifton says.
"We like to put on a good show."
WHAT: Boogie Woogie Rock N Rockabilly Dance Party
WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: J Street between 11th and 13th streets, Modesto
CALL: (209) 581-1695