CD Review: Naked Lunch.
Released early 2009
(World In Sound Records)
This is a real curio and a must for Latin Rock completists everywhere.
Comprised of a few live tracks from the little known Naked Lunch and the
remainder culled from Abel Zarate¹s follow up project called Banda de Jesus.
Naked Lunch grew out of the heaving Bay Area confluence of the late 1960¹s.
They were notably absent at the time from getting a major record label
release but this live CD soundboard recording (recently and luckily salvaged
from an almost forgotten reel-to-reel recording) is a testimony to their
strength. It is interesting to note that although Chicago had an album
release at this time, the first Santana album had not been released as yet.
The sound is clear and punchy, if a little trebly and the CD leads off with
³Love Is Everywhere,² with a robust, soulful vocal from Abel Zarate with
back up from saxophonist Robert Olivera, the band is a stylish crossover,
attempting a big band sound with their seven members. Zarate¹s vocals are
really good and one wonders why he hasn¹t exercised this area of his talent
more. The band are positioned by way of their sound somewhere between The
Rascals and Chicago and an original Santana vibe. The musical flavor is horn
driven with Jose Marrerro¹s congas driving the beat along with future Malo
member on drums, Richard Spremich. The young and precocious Abel Zarate on
guitar is both a powerhouse playing big chords and some chunky rhythm
playing. It is worth bearing in mind that Zarate and Murray, both joined in
time for Malo¹s debut recording as well as Spremich, under the behest of
producer David Rubinson.
³Changes² features some lyrical Zarate guitar followed by some funky riffing
from the guitarist. Essentially a blues song, the piece chugs along at
mid-tempo with a grinding funk base. Zarate had started playing guitar at
the age of thirteen, turning himself onto Gabor Szabo in the process. He
spent time in the Bernal Heights area of San Francisco, hanging out with
doo-wop corner vocalists. Even here at this fairly early stage in his
development, he shows a confident up-front style to his playing. Jose
Marrero, hailing from Puerto Rico, shows a down-home street conga style with
similarities in his playing method, to another Puerto Rican called Mike
Carabello, who went onto international fame with Santana. Marrerro reaches
out with a pleasing conga outing, playing a solo, drenched in ambience and
power. ³Changes² also features a mighty Hammond organ solo and fills from
Ludwig ³Fist² Stephens.
The San Francisco Bay Area at this time was host to so many guitar
prodigies; Zarate was already in the company of Carlos Santana (their paths
had crossed already, with both auditioning for The Righteous Ones, with
Zarate winning out on this occasion). Also present during this time period
or coming up were Neal Schon, Mike Suzaki, Ray Obiedo, Jorge Santana, Oscar
Estrella, Steve Busfield and other less known players like Tony Juncal and
who both played on Jose ³Chepito² Areas solo recording issued in 1974. Amid
this heady brew of musical cohorts or competitors, Zarate had a distinctive
aspect to his playing, both blues and soul-filled but with jazz-like,
lyrical facets re-occurring strongly. The young player was always on the
lookout for opportunities and Naked Lunch grew out of the ashes of The
Righteous Ones, who also sported Richard Bean on lead vocals and saxophone,
who famously went on to write Malo¹s only Billboard hit, the Latin lover¹s
³Endless Night² starts off with a more relaxed Rascals-like vibe with some
relaxed trumpet from Roy Murray. Some tasty harmony vocals augment the
song¹s summery feel.
It¹s under laid tastefully with some cool organ washes and sax trills.
³Virgin Woman² has a full on Latin cha-cha vibe with nice conga flams from
Marrero. Roy Murray adds hot trumpet here and solos over Zarate¹s chiming
rhythm and stirring solo playing. Sounding heavily influenced by Carlos
here, this could be a cut from the first Santana record. The guitar outing
is followed by a superb Hammond solo by ³Fist² Stephens. The parallels with
Santana¹s ³Evil Ways¹ are readily apparent, perhaps not surprising,
considering the esteem with which the Willie Bobo sound was held, amongst
the nascent young Latino rock fraternity.
³Your Song/Time Trip,² starts with a mighty organ swell; that shakes the
venue¹s rafters. It breaks into a heavy, attacking Abel Zarate guitar solo
followed by the horn anthem to the song, which itself evolves into swing
timing over which there is further Zarate soloing in a hot, bluesy vein. The
song halts with a heavy bass reminder of the main riff, then it¹s a drop
down into the Time Trip, which is a free form organ drone followed by some
Richard Spremich drum explorations, that rounds out this performance.
³Encore² follows and guess what? it is the encore. More heavy and churning
riffing ensues with Abel blowing more fuses in his amplifier. Real
free-form, gut-bucket stuff!!
My only real criticism of the young band would be a lack of light and shade
in the music but I¹m sure had they gone on further these aspects would be
The rest of the music here is comprised of cuts from Banda de Jesus. David
Rubinson, the hot-shot producer who imported himself into the Bay Area
scene, took an interest in this Zarate project. The sound is again fresh,
with a pop and jazz feel and Abel Zarate¹s playing has also evolved in step
with the music. ³Better Days² is not dissimilar to Naked Lunch but the songs
are more cohesive and the horn arrangements more solid and structured. The
song goes thru fairly rapid changes in tempo. ³Lovely Day² exemplifies that
titles feeling in an positive manner, with that sound, peculiar to Latin
style projects started in San Francisco at that time, upbeat and with
excellent backing and harmony vocalising.
The song heads into 6/8 territory with a cooking riff by Zarate and tricky
horn charts, with a smoking sax solo from Robert Olivera. It further locks
into a rim-shot led samba beat, backed by the funky soul brother hand
clapping, prevalent at the time.
³Living Is Funky,² allows Abel to hit some lovely guitar runs over a Latin
cha-cha beat. Zarate further hits in with some great funk licks and reminds
us all that living is indeed funky!
Another version live is included here of ³Ozone.² This is more up-tempo and
sporting the same arrangement, with excellent conga from Marrero, who enjoys
himself on two conga breaks here. The songs owes more than a little to ³I¹m
A Man,³ by both The Spencer Davis Group and Chicago.
The song features an ending that will be instantly familiar to ALL Malo
fans, Abel Zarate judiciously used it again as the explosive coda to ³Peace²
on the debut Malo recording.
The CD is further served by having a twenty-page CD booklet with detailed
and lovingly recreated liner notes from conguero Jose Sierra. It has good if
indistinct live shots of the two bands and the graphics are befitting the
time and era. The notes also let you know what the players are up to now and
Roy and Abel, close them up with a little spiritual food for those of you
that are so inclined.
All in all, a welcome addition to the San Franciscan Latin rock discography
and a hot snapshot of bands playing for the sheer hell of it, whether they
made it or not!
East Sussex. England.
CD Total playing time = 57.08
Questions for Abel and Roy?????????????
(1) Abel, tell us how the group met and was formed??
The band started off called ‘Brown Magic’, with myself, Bob Olivera, Jose
Marrero, and Rick Tiffer… Spremich was added on drums a few weeks into the
project … we were turned on to the ‘Mu House’ in the Haight by Bernardo
Quintana, who fancied himself our manager for awhile. It was there that Roy
Murray, and Ludwig Stephens joined the group and we became NAKED LUNCH. By
the way; the lead vocals on the Naked Lunch CD are done by me
(2) Roy, what are your influences, as a horn player??
Horn influences: Since I’m really a multi horn player my influences were a
long line of both saxophone and trumpet big band players plus the Coltrane
(3) Roy, say something about The Motivations?
In the Motivations (Philadelphia) was future Santana & Weather Report
bassist Alphonso Johnson, future Buddy Miles, Azteca & Loading Zone
guitarist Steve Busfield (he was the one who encouraged me to make the trip
to San Francisco, Linda Creed who co wrote over ten top ten hits, Duane
Hitchings who played with Rod Steward and also Heart (keyboard), myself and
of course several others.
(4) Abel, tell me how you experienced the Mission at that time?
My family lived in the Fillmore district, and then we lived for a time near
Mission High School, until we finally settled in the heart of the Mission by
Precita Park … I grew up with all my Latin brothers, and soaked in the
culture and music, which was close to my own Filipino heritage. Most of my
friends who were 5 – 6 years older than me all went to school with Carlos
(5) Roy, tell me about Wendy Haas and Western Addition group??
When I arrived in San Francisco (May…1969) the first band i joined was the
Western Addition with Wendy Hass (future Azteca & Santana vocalist). These
were great days!! Nobody knew what was to come or that we would all be
playing a role in music that would live on for 40 yrs. afterwards. What we
lacked in finesse we made up for well in fun and all learning to put it out
Next I replaced Chepito Areas in the Aliens at The Nite Life for almost two
After that I formed a band called Stone Creation. A part time player with
Blue Cheer that also had several future Azteca players. Then into Naked
Lunch for a good 15 months before Malo. When I actually joined Naked Lunch
the Santana LP had not yet been released and we were playing those songs.
(6) Any stuff Abel you may wish to add??
Tags: Abel Zarate
Where is Jose Marrero now??
The last time I saw Jose Marrero was in the late 90′s. He was very much
settled into his family life with wife and children, and retired from the
, Carlos Santana
, Chepito Areas
, Naked Lunch
, Robert Olivera