The following Excerpts from the ongoing “Journey to an Alien World” (An Autobiography by Mike Coronado) answer the questions and cover the events and times in a chronological order of the pioneer Latin Rock band The Aliens. This article is dedicated to the memory of my late brother William Coronado, and his family.

Background:

……My father, Alfonso Coronado Sr., was a professor in the city of San Miguel, El Salvador. He kept a close eye on the political movement in El Salvador. He had a shortwave radio and listened to the latest news via “Radio Havana Cuba.” After Fidel Castro nationalized all banks and businesses in 1959, my father felt that a civil war in El Salvador was inevitable. He wanted to leave the country, but crippled by a vehicle accident, it became difficult for him to travel to the capital city of San Salvador and pursue permanent residency in the USA. He still kept his teaching schedule, and in the evenings he would spend hours writing letters, and listening to the radio, keeping up with the latest news coming from Cuba. El Salvador had a predilection for communism ever since the 1930s…
…..He was right; it happened. The civil war lasted over ten years and killed more than 700,000 people in a country of roughly three million people. We left El Salvador just in time. We arrived in San Francisco in February 1960 on my twelfth birthday; my father was 77 years old, and my mother Angela was only 36 years old. He had four other sons from his first wife, who had been living in the Bay Area since the 1940s. They sponsored us, and gave us a place to live. My brother William and I were separated for over a year. He went to live with our older brother Carlos in San Jose, and I stayed in the City with our other brother Alfonso Jr. A week after arrival, I had my first job delivering the San Francisco Chronicle. After attending Luther Burbank Junior High, I went to Mission High School.

For William and me, Elvis Presley, and Little Richard – via shortwave radio – were the foreign ambassadors that introduced, and inspired us to American music back in El Salvador. William knew the dial setting for the few American radio stations that played Rock ‘N Roll. Somehow, he knew that someday we would play music together.

It didn’t take long after we were reunited; we started to play music, and to understand the lyrical meaning of the familiar songs we
once had heard back in San Miguel. Music became our “Rosetta Stone” to learn the English language.

William striking an Elvis stance

William striking an Elvis stance

San Francisco in the early 1960s:

My father couldn’t find any work at all because the mandatory retirement age at the time was 65. He started making a little money doing home tutoring. We moved to Haight Street in San Francisco because it was affordable. Moving there was probably the best exposure William and I had to different life styles and music. Starting on Haight Street, and Fillmore, we would walk through the entire Golden Gate Park, all the way to The Great Highway by the beach, and then walk back on the other side of the street checking out all the action. A ten mile walk full of new wonders.

The scene in the early ‘60s was different; we would stop in front of the coffee houses and from the sidewalk, folk music and poetry filled the air. We didn’t have a grasp of the English language yet, but were in awe of the beat- generation known as the “Beat-Nicks.”

Mike and William in San Francisco

Mike and William in San Francisco

Then around 1965, we witnessed the whole transformation that went from a pure lyrical and dreamlike ambience – possibly through our rose colour innocence – to reefer smoke-permeated sidewalks; defiant youth focused on (besides getting stoned) fundamental social changes, anti-war rallies, folk-rock and psychedelic music, and “Free
Love”; the contradicting world of
peace, sex, drugs, and Rock ‘N Roll.

The “Summer of Love” in 1967 was the beginning of the end for the Haight Street area. There was a mixture of emotions and energy ranging from peaceful demonstrations to militant style protests, and heavier drug use. We were living in two entirely different universes; all within a few years of our arrival. Besides our own Latino culture, we encountered the conservative, intolerant warring America, flanking the social revolution phenomena of the counter-culture, and the arrival of the flower children; “The Hippies.”

Musically, the local rock bands also reflected the changing moods. In the mid 60s, the “San Francisco Sound” – as it would be later called – was unique. On one end were the terpsichorean concert halls where pioneer electric folk-rock bands played. Some would eventually become San Francisco’s rock royalty. These ballrooms became the place where one could hear many bands all in one scented misty evening. The latent new bohemians were about to explode.

On the other side, the “straights” (at least that was the perception) filled the plethora of nightclubs all over the Bay Area. Here, one could still dance the “Hustle” and the “Hully Gully”. For them, these smaller venues provided the right atmosphere.

1962 – THE CA5:

Oscar’s first real drum set

Oscar’s first real drum set

William and I shared a bedroom on Haight St. He had a collection of LP records, an acoustic guitar, and a small reel to reel tape recorder. He pushed me to learn and practice basic guitar chords. Our cousin Oscar Calderon, also from El Salvador, would come over on the weekends. We would grab a few pan covers from my mother’s kitchen to use as cymbals, and folded newspapers to simulate the snare drum.

We would play and record ourselves until Oscar had to go home, or we were told to stop, whichever came first. For fun we used to go to Howard Street, and window shop at the many pawn shops located there. William bought a little amplifier and a cheap electric guitar. We were
kids just messing around, and then we saw The Beatles on TV; that’s when we thought about
forming our own band.

William met two guys from Nicaragua; one could sing the other played guitar. The two guys from Nicaragua that joined the group were Francisco (Frank) Zavala, a known singer and Elvis impersonator back home. The other, Javier Alizaga, played guitar. Javier and I traded playing bass and guitar until Javier settled on the bass.

They joined our trio, and now as a five piece band we started to play private parties, and weddings; we decided to call ourselves “The CA5” (The Central American Five.) The CA5 played every weekend at Gladys Cafe on 24th Street in the heart of the Mission District. Gladys Cafe became The Chinameca restaurant in later years.

At Mission High School, I met a kid in my class who said he also could play the electric guitar; his name was Carlos Santana. We had a couple of classes together, and became friends. I was improving my guitar playing, but Carlos was “supernatural.”

I had wood-shop at school, so I asked my shop teacher if I could strip a bass guitar and paint it. He said OK, and helped me strip it down. In a few days I had painted the bass candy apple red. Carlos noticed my bass, and asked me if I could help him fill in with an after school audition he had for a school function. So after class, we went to the school’s auditorium, I plugged into his amp, and he delicately played an instrumental version of “Harlem Nocturne.” He got the gig, and I was left mesmerized.

I invited Carlos to Gladys Cafe to check out The CA5, and he came a few times. We were packing the place because we played Latin music with a blend of Rock ‘N Roll.

The Aliens:
The Aliens name was coined by a remark made by the owner of a popular San Francisco nightclub who didn’t like the band’s name change from The CA5 to “The Spanish Flies” and said we “looked more like a bunch of aliens”, inferring to illegal immigrants. William overheard the remark, and suggested the name change. The club was The Dragon A Go-Go, and the owner was a successful business man of Asian descent. He felt so proud that we converted his snide remark to naming the band The Aliens; he paid for a huge mural with the band’s name on the exterior wall of his nightclub.

Wild Love

Wild Love

In 1965, The Aliens recorded “Wild Love” and “Come Near” for Stilt Records, owned by professional basketball player and member of The Basketball Hall of Fame, Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain. The band had such a busy schedule that we had no time to promote the 45, or take the time to do more recordings. As it was, William wrote the two original songs on the record two days before we went to the studio. The irony was that the record producer wanted The Aliens to come up with English (UK) sounding songs for the recording to cash in on the popular British Invasion sound and less, or none of the ethnic Latin Rock sound we were known for. We recorded the two songs in a matter of a few hours all in one take. We were surprised that the producer left the “Guiro” (gourd) on the final mix.

By 1966, William, Oscar, and I were all already married, and parents as well. Travelling too far to play was getting harder to do. We had enough local club gigs to make a living, but that also limited any other recording opportunities.

Bimbo's

Bimbo's

Later in 1966, The Aliens were playing the lounge at Bimbo’s 365 club in the City. Orchestra leader Xavier Cugat – featuring his beautiful and talented young wife “The Coochie-Coochie Girl” Charo – were playing the main room. At closing time, William, Oscar and I were told to report backstage. We thought we were going to get fired for being under age, or playing too loud. So we were led to the Cugat’s dressing room.

Mr. Cugat told us he liked our sound, and explained that he wanted to add a fresh new sound to his orchestra. He asked us if we wanted to backup Charo, and travel with his big band. William thanked Mr. Cugat for the huge compliment. We talked it over, and began to realize that something special was happening with our band, so politely we refused Mr. Cugat’s offer.
Oscar and I were nineteen years old in 1967; not a problem when we played in places that served food. William, Frank, and Javier were of legal age to play nightclubs. Oscar and I would try to blend in the background behind the three front guys so we wouldn’t get busted. We never did, but came close a few times.

The Aliens at The Bermuda Palms

The Aliens at The Bermuda Palms

After The Dragon A Go-Go, The Aliens home base became Marin County on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge at Litchfield’s Bermuda Palms in San Rafael. It was the biggest nightclub north of San Francisco.
At The Bermuda Palms, we introduced the predominantly Anglo audience to Rocking Cumbias, Mambos, and Cha-Chas. We had already merged the Latin sound with the Rock backbeat. The crowd didn’t know many of these tunes, but they liked to dance to the rhythms, so we mixed in a few known cover songs to keep them interested, and dancing.
They had a difficult time requesting the Latin Rock songs, but we already knew what songs they liked by looking at the dance floor. The word spread, and we started attracting a mixed crowd from the nearby Hamilton Air Force Base.

One day at rehearsals, lead singer Frank Zavala introduced us to a guy he knew; they had played music together back in Nicaragua. He was a well known percussionist who had recently arrived in San Francisco. His name was Jose Areas, but went by the name “Chepito,” Spanish for Little Joe. He showed his ability to play percussion, and trumpet.

Jose (Chepito) Areas

Jose (Chepito) Areas

He wanted to play the trap drums with us, but we already had Oscar who could play solid Rock and Latin rhythms as opposed to Chepito’s Latin Jazz style.
It wasn’t long until Chepito realized that if he wanted to be in the band, he needed to invest in a set of congas, and timbales, which he did. Chepito improved the sound of the band, and fit the group with his charismatic personality.
Soon after, original bassist Javier Alizaga left the band and went back to college. Bernie Peoples replaced him.
Bernie was an accomplished Rock and Blues bassist, and had played with Wayne “The Harp” Ceballos, and “Aum”. It didn’t take Bernie long before he picked up on the Latin syncopated rhythms, and integrate his own blues/rock bass lines.

On Latin Rock:

William, Javier, Mike, Oscar & Frank Circa, 1965

William, Javier, Mike, Oscar & Frank Circa, 1965

The Aliens didn’t create Latin Rock, “The Blues” didn’t arrive from England with the British Invasion like many embryonic listeners thought at the time, and the “Hipsters” didn’t invent the electric “Folk-Rock” of the mid 1960s. Music is a dynamic life form, always evolving. The Aliens resuscitated and recharged Latin Rock; we gave our music-genre some gusto, and fed it back to a new audience. Our Central American heritage, the tropical Latin rhythms, and the Elvis style of Rock ‘N Roll helped form our own sound.

After Richie Valens laid the foundation for Latin Rock with his recording of “La Bamba” in 1959, there was a void in Latin music. In the early 1960s, there were songs by Mongo Santamaria “Watermelon Man”, Ray Barretto “El Watusy” and The Sandpipers “Guantanamera” to name a few records that played on the radio.

Other recording bands in the early ‘60s fronted by Latinos had huge hits: “? Mark & The Mysterians “96 Tears”, Los Bravos “Black Is Black”, and Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs “Woolly Bully”.

We included some of these songs in our repertoire, but we added a pinch of Cumbia, a splash of Cha-cha, or a taste of Mambo to the mixture, and when people heard them, they would rush to the dance floors. The exotic rhythms became the base ingredients for The Aliens sound. People never knew what sound would come out next, and to what song it would be applied. The
element of surprise was part of the fun.

Too Latin to be Rock, too Rock to be Latin: In the early 60s when popular music was intertwined with mixtures of Rock and Folk-Blues-R&B-Country-Surfing, together with the onslaught of the British Invasion sound, The Aliens were playing a Latin Rock mixture that first appealed to only a few.

Still, we recognized the value of our heritage and began to hone in and started developing our Latin Rock sound. Accepting who we were forced us to expose our blend of music to younger audiences and become more than just background music at local restaurants.
We developed a distinctive sound, different than any other bands in the area. We could never have predicted how popular it would become. We were a band in the fullest sense of the word. With The Aliens, it wasn’t about the lead singer, the electric guitars, the screaming Hammond organ, the vibes, or the heavy Latin rhythm section; it was about our commitment to the sound and playing the songs.

Mike, Frank and Chipito at The Night Life

Mike, Frank and Chipito at The Night Life

At an earlier time, The Aliens tried hard to sound like an Anglo rock band to get gigs, but we all had heavy Hispanic accents, and just couldn’t pass the first impression check. Lead singer Frank Zavala would learn songs phonetically as he had when he impersonated Elvis Presley back in Nicaragua. Frank could sing any style of music, from Elvis to Jose Feliciano to Wilson Picket. He had tremendous vocal range. Bottom line, we weren’t a salsa, or a rock band; we were an interesting mutation.

Even though we had a heavy rock sound, we appeared too straight for the ballroom circle, but not conventional enough for the Latin crowd. We played a few gigs at Cesar’s Club in North Beach, but we were too Rock to really fit in with their established clientele.

By the mid 1960s, the “San Francisco Sound” was getting National attention, and record producers were signing many local bands. Also very important was “the hip look”; the long hair, the Afros, or a combination of all. This was a time when just growing a moustache made a statement. We let our hair grow, but refused to “let it all hang out.”

The Nite Life:

The Aliens, circa 1966Johnny Cortade, the owner of the San Francisco nightclub “The Nite Life” came to see us and noticed the band’s large following, so he offered us an extended contract to play his club.  The Nite Life soon became our home base for years.  We played five nights a week. On the weekends, the parking lot was jammed, and people lined up outside the club waiting to come in.

Then, in 1968, came the surprising news that Chepito was recording with Carlos Santana’s new group simply named “Santana”. They were playing Latin Rock, and had a big time Rock promoter Bill Graham backing them up. We hadn’t seen Chepito for a while. Months later, he showed up at the Nite Life with a box of Santana’s first album and handed them to the band. I still have mine. Chepito had left The Aliens because he had an opportunity to record, and travel. Santana had an invitation to play Woodstock in New York. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Frank had an older brother Julio. He worked at a car dealership with Cliff Anderson selling cars. So when Chepito left The Aliens in 1968, Julio introduced us to Cliff, who auditioned, and became the band’s new Latin percussionist.

We also missed Chepito’s trumpet fills, so we hired fulltime trumpet player, Roy Murray. Later, both Cliff and Roy would play with the very successful band “Malo.”

Cliff Anderson with The Aliens

Cliff Anderson with The Aliens

After Woodstock, and after the success of Santana’s second album Abraxas, there was now a great demand for Latin Rock bands, and of course, people at the clubs were now requesting “Oye Como Va”, “Evil Ways”, etc.

To the new audience, The Aliens were just another of the many Latin Rock bands that sprouted almost overnight.

Meanwhile, William was back at work adding more vibraphones to go along with the Hammond organ to keep the sound of the band fresh. From the start, The Aliens always had their own sound. We were not a Santana-like band, and Santana didn’t copy The Aliens. Carlos liked the style of music we played, and was inspired by the raw power of The Aliens. The fact that he took Chepito with him was a tribute to our sound.

However, Chepito’s transformation after leaving The Aliens was striking. One night at The Night Life, here comes Chepito styling an Afro that was as wide as he. We tried hard to keep a straight face; with his trendy clothes and big head (literally & figuratively) we recognized that he was well on his way to stardom.

The Bristlecone Orchestra:

It became harder and harder to make a living playing music, so William went to work for Southern Pacific. Oscar worked for private industry in Santa Rosa CA. William and Oscar kept The Aliens going; they went back to the Latin roots, and changed the sound to salsa and Latin jazz. Keyboardist Rudy Luehs joined The Aliens. They opened for Eddie Palmieri, and Cal Tjader when they came to San Francisco.
In 1971, we put The Aliens on hiatus, and the three of us played together with a couple of other local bands. We joined a Latin rock/jazz band called “City” with keyboardist Rudy Luehs, drummer Eddie Anderson, and lead singer Will Staples. The band played a few gigs. After that, we joined forces with guitarist Robert Santiago, and became “Christian Black.” We opened for “Tower of Power” at The Bo-Jangles, and “The Doobie Brothers” at Homer’s Warehouse in Marin County.

Rudy Luehs, Michael Chapman, Mike Coronado, Gus Mora, Oscar Calderon,  William Coronado, Jeff (Crow) Palmer, and Will Beachum on drums.

Rudy Luehs, Michael Chapman, Mike Coronado, Gus Mora, Oscar Calderon, William Coronado, Jeff (Crow) Palmer, and Will Beachum on drums.

In 1972, the State of California Department of Parks and Recreation offered me a permanent job taking care of a Redwood forest in Sonoma County.

In 1974, I met Michael Chapman, a gifted blues guitar player and song writer. We started playing music together. Our personal and musical cause was to preserve and protect Mother Earth. We needed to add a driving rhythm to our music, so I called William, Oscar, and Rudy to join the band. They came and added the Latin flavour to our new project: The Bristlecone Orchestra named after the Bristlecone Pine, the oldest single living organism on earth. We played mostly original material, and when we added a horn section, the sound was a spacey Latin Rock; kind of Pink Floyd meets Willie Colon.

The Bristlecone Orchestra made a successful run in Northern California during the early ‘70’s. At The Reunion nightclub in San Francisco, known Cuban percussionist Armando Peraza would come and listen to us when we were in town.

The Aliens and Santana

Without Santana’s global success, few people would be interested in The Aliens; the pioneer Latin Rock band who might have influenced Carlos Santana.

Nevertheless, the ensemble of gifted musicians that played with Carlos in Santana: Chepito Areas, Gregg Rolie, Michael Carabello, Mike Shrieve, and the late David Brown, brought world attention to Latin music with their interpretation of Latin Rock.

The Aliens should be remembered as innovators who had a positive cultural impact by restoring and transforming Latin Rock for a new generation to identify and retain. People still remember the place and times where that sound started.

William & Oscar

William & Oscar

For William, for me, and for Oscar, our failure to make it big in the music industry was a blessing in disguise. The three of us enjoyed fruitful careers while still playing music on the side. We kept very close family relationships, and above all, we managed to keep our sanity. We did what we loved to do, playing music and preserving our loving family unit.

When asked? I sometimes use this palatable analogy: ……The Aliens were like the typical “hole-in-the wall” family run restaurant, serving good and affordable Latin food: we had the recipe, the spices, the ingredients, and the kitchen to put it all together; serving it hot and tasty to our solid clientele.

Santana served it gourmet. And to his credit,
Carlos is still dishing it out.

So, in its own emotional fairness, The Aliens to this day remain a mystery, as it should be. Our disappearance from the scene was as peculiar as our arrival; we rode the musical mother ship as far as she would go; out of fuel, and with heavy hearts, we dispersed.

The Aliens made an indelible impression back in a day; there are still a few folks out there who remember hearing this alien band playing an amalgamated mixture of Latin rhythms and Rock ‘N Roll. Our distinct sound was born out of necessity. Music is the universal language, and in this foreign land where we landed in 1960, music became our passport and communication vehicle while still connected to the chord of our heritage.

Epilogue:

My brother William later moved to St Louis, Missouri and retired to the Bay Area after a 30 year career with Union Pacific. He passed away peacefully in January, 2009 in the company of his family he loved so much.

William, Mike, and Oscar

William, Mike, and Oscar

Oscar is enjoying retirement in Northern California with his family. To this day, Oscar and Rudy Luehs are still performing together.

I spent 36 years taking care of some of California’s most beautiful State parks. I’m playing music for pure enjoyment, recollecting the great times we spent together, and currently writing my memoirs. Someday maybe others will know the impact our sound had in the music history of Latin Rock.


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Roy Murray

Roy Murray

How did the original horn player of Malo come from Philadelphia and wind up in the mission district and the Haight Ashbury of San Francisco in 1969? Then in 1971 help to give birth to one of the most influential groups in the history of Latin Rock only to vanish from that scene for over 35 years? But now with the advent and impact of VOLR some new dots can finally be connected.

It’s really pretty simple and starts back in Philadelphia where I went to a music school that was for the average kids, not the geniuses, Combs College of Music. But even so the Alumni included John Coltrane, Leopold Stokowski, Jan Peerce, Romeo Cascarino, Reinhardt, Casadesus, Mischa Elman and so many other giants in the field of music. Not being a “corporate” school, individual skills and quirks were readily honed. Roy Murray quickly fell in with that.

Steve Busfield had gone to Combs also. He left to go to San Francisco in 1968 to put a flower in his hair and the times were a changing – A new way of playing music had emerged. He right away was in the Loading Zone, then Azteca and later Buddy Miles for two years, plus many others.

In Philly we had played in a group together called the Motivations – a black soul review. Steve Busfield was on guitar, Alfonso Johnson on bass (Santana and Weather Report), Linda Creed on vocals (she co-wrote 10 top ten hits), Roy Murray on trumpet (Naked Lunch and Malo), Duane Hitchings on keyboard (Rod Stewart and Heart) plus several others. But it was Steve who greatly urged and influenced me and later Alfonso Johnson to come on out. “The scene” would well be worth the move.

I arrived as a multi horn player. This was going to serve me very well. My music teacher Len Pierro Jr. and Doc. Donald S. Reinhardt (from Combs & Curtis Institute of Music) all helped me to develop an embouchure that actually could switch between brass and reeds. That was rare… but it was my passion, and I was able to do it. Influenced by Coltrane, Miles, the brass men of Kenton, and many classical composers I was ready for “the scene.”

First band up I joined was the Western Addition – nope, not country music. That was the San Francisco version of a ghetto and Sly Stone territory. It was funk, R&B, soul groups. We did Sly Stone of course, but also James Brown and the just released album of Chicago, plus some originals. Future members of Elvin Bishop, Cold Blood, Boz Skaggs, Santana were all in this group and who sang lead?… Wendy Haas (Azteca, Santana etc.) What a time this was – my first San Francisco band. We performed a lot and did a lot of gigs in San Francisco and Los Angeles, but it was really a learning process.

Roy Murray

Roy Murray


Wendy was awesome!! What a vocal talent… but it was hers and our stage presence. All of us – we were all kinetic – none of us could stop strutting. With Wendy leading the way, what we did lack in originally really didn’t seem to matter. Watching us was something everybody did. Need I say anything more? We were young and wild!!!

We gigged but the profit was low – hence I took a house band gig at the Nite Life with a wild acid Central American rock group called The Aliens (El Salvador and Nicaragua). Six nights a week: 5 hours a night. I replaced Chepito. Now how many horn players can say they replaced one of the world’s greatest timbale players? Here’s what happened.

Chepito was playing some trumpet as well as percussion, drums, etc. with the Aliens for many years. The Aliens liked the idea of replacing him with a full time trumpet player. There was already a sax player in the group, so I stayed on trumpet.

The music they played, unreal. Never saw anything like it. Straight up rock to top 40 hits to a slow ballad. Then onto a 20 minute jam on just one song, next into a cumbia, but then they would go into some real pulsating driving Latin Rock. Undoubtedly some of the very first of it’s kind!! Then onto a polka, well not really – but with that group who knows. The versatility was amazing – William (Guillermo) Coronado (founder with his brother Michael) even threw in some vibraphone Cal Tjader stuff. Meanwhile Carlos from the Santana Blues Band would come in to check out this timbalero Chepito and took him away as they shortly there afterwards became Santana.

The line up of personnel for this highly influential band was: Frank Zavala-lead vocal, Bernie Peoples-bass, Oscar Calderon-drums, Cliff Anderson-congas, Charlie Elks-flute and sax, Michael Coronado-guitar, and William Coronado-keyboards and vibraphone. (Also see previous VOLR post on this site “Memories of the Aliens”).

I started out great, very strong. My beautiful trompeta sound did them well. It was my first house band gig. But I didn’t know how to “pace” myself – I died. I couldn’t even hold my arms up to blow through my horn two months later. I didn’t do drugs or drink, but i also wasn’t eating right. I lost my strength. We had to part company. But also, I wasn’t a real Latin trumpet player – Very creative and inventive – but not the real Latin deal. That would show up again in the future when I was in Malo.

But we can’t leave this until we have at least one Jose (Chepito) Areas story. The whole world wants a Chepito story!!

Roy Murray

Roy Murray


One night we’re all playing at the Nite Life and this little guy with more hair on his head than Dougie Rauch walks in, and in one of those Latino languages starts yelling at the band telling ‘em what to do. Next thing I know, he’s onstage with us playing all kinds of percussion. I’m clueless. Finally he steps down. I think he’s still trying to tell the band how to do it all. Who was it??….It was the first time anyone ever saw Chepito with an Afro!! It was a learning curve for me!!

Next came several bands at once. Stuff, Stone Creation (I was the founder) and doing gigs with several guys who would become Azteca. Some were just pick up gigs and others just 2 or 3 weeks. In the band Stuff was future Tower of Power lead vocalist Rick Stevens. But more on him and much more on Him later.

But one night, yes, one night I walked into a jam at the Children of Mu’s commune in the Haight-Ashbury – And my life would never be the same. Abel Zarate and Naked Lunch. I found Myself!! Total dedication to it. Robert (Bob) Olivera on sax. We were the hippie, trippie, psychedelic horn section. No “tight stuff” for us. But on occasion we were. But we were unreal – The whole band amazed people – Bill Graham signed us – John Walker (It’s a Beautiful Day) became our manager. We played Fillmore and every other main venue in the Bay area. After a concert on 9/16/70 we did with Boz Skaggs, Elvin Bishop, Tower of Power and Victoria, Tom Campell wrote in the S.F.Examiner that “Naked Lunch isn’t a sandwich without bread. It’s a superior rock band – music scene habitués call the group heavy “– Finally, 40 years later some of our music got released this past Jan. See the VOLR review of it from 4/5/09 on this site. It is well worth it for anyone to listen to. Naked Lunch went on for a year and a half, but Malo was up next. Me (Roy Murray), Richard Spremich, and Abel Zarate joined up with Pablo, Jorge, R. Bean & Arcelio in their newly named group Malo (formerly the Malibus). It was electric – Not too many people ever heard this eclectic seven performers along with Coke, Kermode, Pantoja, and Gasca before it’s demise. It truly was one of a kind. In my opinion, it was one of the greatest bands in the world… if it would have stayed together. Abel Zarate & Jorge Santana…there’ll never be, and hasn’t been something like that in music again! And as to the personnel that followed the original recording Malo cast…unbelievable! Raul & Leo replaced Coke & Victor Pantoja. The horn players that followed me…unreal. Tom Harrell, Forrest Buchtel, Hadley Caliman, etc. etc.

So as not to repeat info and passages from the Voices of Latin Rock book I’ll just give some very specialized insights into the horn playing which me and Luis Gasca did on that first album.

I wrote all the horn parts before Luis Gasca arrived (but also had some help from Zarate and the rest of the guys). Luis came in and added the desperately needed and so obvious… the Latin Trompeta fire parts. That would never come from me, the hippie. But what did come out of me was unique and even stands to this day as some of their most enduring horn lines. Little did I or any of us know that would be the case.

But first I have to back up when Naked Lunch had raged through San Francisco and the greather Bay area. We were definitely on the “cutting edge” of the times. A cross between early Chicago and early Santana. (Santana had not yet released its first album when we wrote that music). We were on our way to the top (as the phrase goes) then one day I get a phone call. It was our new manager John Walker – Bill Graham and the Fillmore Corporation was dropping us (because of business, not music.) That devastated us!! We couldn’t recover from it. Soon the Malibus/Malo began talking to us. Chris Wong (Malo manager) had already been talking to Abel Zarate. But I was the first official Naked Lunch member in. Then Abel, then Richard Spremich. We all jelled very quickly and worked extremely hard and well together. The ideas were flying every which way and from everybody. Luis Gasca, Richard Kermode, Coke Escovedo and Victor Pantoja all got on board in time to record the first album.

Roy Murray

Roy Murray


Now, to the horns –
Because there was never a rehearsal between me and Luis, there were no harmony horn parts. I showed Luis all the parts I wrote. I did this in the recording studio and then he added his things on top of that. It was perfect. And I mean perfect! But Dave Rubinson (the producer) said we were going to double the horn parts to fatten them up, since there was no harmony, plus over dubbing other parts, plus all the original lines and solos and fills. That’s a lot of work and time. In the doubling of the parts suddenly 2 horns become 4 – throw in a dub or two and you’ve got 6 trumpets or so. Nobody knew this – except us doing it. That’s how Luis and I get this incredible fat and very lively sound for just two horns!! It worked out great. However, as people came and went in and out of the studio it appeared I (Murray) was screwing up causing extra takes as nobody, and I mean nobody understood what was going on in the studio at those times in regards to the recording of the horns. It all appeared like I needed extra takes on everything, when that wasn’t the case at all.

Suavecito:

I am the only horn player on that song. Luis Gasca does not even play on it. And as usual I did it all in one take. To my knowledge I’m one of the very few horn players, if any others, to have a trombone solo and trumpet solo in a top 20 hit. Abel Zarate wrote the trombone solo for me in the intro. I wrote and played the trumpet solos in the background which really helped to give a very distinctive push to the song and launch the Malo identity with horns ‘round the world. I couldn’t play the true Latin fills, but man I could play. And no horn player would write horn lines the way I did. Yes, Suavecito is kinda “bubble gum” – but you listen to what each musician brought to that song and you realize what a little masterpiece it is. It was truly a group effort with outstanding individual work!! Often called the Chicano National Anthem.

One quick footnote to the recording of my trumpet part. Fred Catero was the engineer – He was also the engineer for Santana, Janis Joplin, Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, etc. – He already knew very well how to record horns – Thank God, because that really helped us. After recording my trombone solo intro line in the studio, Fred saw I wasn’t playing anything while the first verse was being recorded. So he turned my mic off. As I put the trumpet to my lips to get ready to do my part in verse two he knew my mic was off and literally dove across the room and sound board to get it on in the nick of time – thank God he got it on. I said to myself – everything is all right and proceeded to play my heart out as I followed Richard Bean’s fantastic perfect pop vocal. And the rest is history.

Nena:

I wrote all the horn lines on that too. I recorded trumpet, trombone, and flute on that song. Luis, of course, played trumpet.
All in all, I wrote about 15 parts on that first Malo album – but not enough to be a song writer of any. Such was the fate of many horn players.
On the album I play flute, trumpet, trombone and sax. Not many horn players can do that on their 1st major recording session in life. I did fantastic. But the “Malo musical-go-round” was already flying. And suddenly I’m on the outside and totally forgotten about while for 40 years everybody imitates and plays what I wrote. How did it happen??

As Chris Wong the manager said it took three horn players to replace me. A trumpet, sax and trombone. The one man or two man horn section of Malo suddenly became three because of me. They had to have all my sounds live on stage. So who were some of these horn players that took my place? The guy who literally took my place on a one to one basis was Tom Harrell. Voted by the critics of Down Beat Magazine as the greatest improvising trumpet player. Another guy quickly in was Forrest Buchtel – who has a mouthpiece named after him for hitting high notes. Hadily Caliman from Janis Joplin, and many others, on sax and various great trombone players.

Well, no wonder Arcelio and the boys never missed me. It was good riddance Murray. Those guys came in and changed the music dramatically and took the horns in a whole different direction. It was fantastic. Great stuff… but as the fame of Malo goes on for almost 40 years now, Murray’s horn lines (both the writing and playing of them) continues to be a strong contribution to that. Listen to the streamers of Pana, Suavecito and Nena – their three most popular songs – there I am over & over. I wish I could have gotten a chance to write some more horn lines for them. My radio friendly stuff and their serious jazz stuff combined… well in my opinion, it would have been one of the greatest combinations in pop music history!!

After Malo, Abel Zarate and I and Naked Lunch sax player Bob Olivera formed Banda de Jesus also with Hutch Hutchinson on bass (played with Bonne Rait for 30 years and many, many others), Roger Alves on drums (from Abel & the Prophets ..see VOLR book p.50 & 161) and Ron Freitas on Hammond B3 organ. Dave Rubinson and Fred Catero did our demo. Big time was coming up once again – But once again, it didn’t come. (See the Naked Lunch CD for a few tracks.) We didn’t gig – We never made the scene – Just continually wrote new music with a very forward sounding set up. We went in a totally different direction from Malo. Really combining pop & progressive in a new way. Though inking several deals came close, but close doesn’t count. We all splintered off into bands that were touring, regardless of what their recording potential was. I went with Andy Kandanes and the Mendocino All-Stars. I left San Francisco never knowing I was never to return.

The All-Stars gave me what I needed bad. Paying gigs for 3 ½ years. Plus fabulous on the road experiences. I loved it!! I brought Abel Zarate, Hutch Hutchison, Robert Olivera and a few others on for a couple of tours every now and then. Other members of the band were from the Sons of Champlin, Tina Turner, Patti LaBelle, The Byrds, Naked Lunch, Malo, War, B.B. King, Janis Joplin, Elvin Bishop, Lenny (Monster Mash) Capizzi – The members came from all over. Even Joe Satriani himself played in it for awhile. I really enjoyed the Redwood forest of Mendocino immensely. But after one long Candian tour Andy wanted to take a break. I went back East to visit family. And this time, I never knew I was never coming back to California.
These were the days of no cell phones or e-mail and 100% living on the road as I did, no place to even get mail. I lost 100% total contact with Naked Lunch & Malo. Plus my non-ending musical career would take me in many new directions, and it is still going very strong today (but in the form of music ministry).

Thirty-five years would go by before ever seeing anyone from that San Francisco experience. Finally, I briefly visited a VOLR (the first book launch party- Jim) in 2005 and saw everyone for a few good moments and laughs & smiles. But several of us have passed on. Time marches on. I really treasured seeing everyone one more time!!

Music is all that I do. It is the only thing I will do. I am a classically trained Rock n’ Roller who now plays in church. I don’t play in bands anymore, but I perform or teach music in some way everyday.

Coke Escovedo, Victor Pantoja, Abel Zarate, Alfonso Johnson, Malo was #1, and Rick Stevens. A few lines on each:

1. Coke & Victor – How could anybody be in a band that had both Coke & Victor in it? (Malo & Azteca) And they’re replaced in Malo by Raul & Leo. Is such a thing possible? Yes, what good fortune that brought to

Malo. I will never, ever forget watching Coke & Victor record their parts on that first album.

Coke played like he knew everything about our music, but he never heard it before!!

Victor was busy playing away – got up, left… got a drink of water, returned – never missed a beat. While the tapes were rolling. These guys were like supernatural.

2) Abel Zarate – He was fiercely independent and was ravenous about the value of melody. The creation of beauty is the responsibility of an artist. Abel’s music values are all over the album. As one of the few human beings alive to hear Abel Zarate and Jorge Santana play together (and the very first horn player to put his mark on it) it was beyond anyone’s imagination as to how great it really was. With those two and Arcelio and Pablo and the rest of us, we all knew there was no end to the style and music we were creating… but it wasn’t to be.

3) Alfonso – Back in 1968 Philadelphia the Motivations were having a rehearsal. Steve Busfield walked in with a record nobody ever even heard of and said we should learn some song off it. For the next 30 minutes we all go to a different corner of the rehearsal hall and learn our parts while someone keeps playing the record over and over. But Alfonso sits on the couch doing nothing. Finally as we all near knowing our parts, the leader says – Alfonso, will you get up and go learn your part. (we called him “string bean”) Alfonso smiles, stands up, does some kinda’ south Philly strut, walks over to his bass, picks it up, and proceeds to play his part perfect – note for note on the 1st try. We all stood there speechless. Then we all smiled and laughed with him. He was grinning ear to ear. It was great!! When Carlos Santana said in the liner notes of his “Blues for Salvador” that two of the tracks are a testimony to the spontaneity of “One take Johnson”… I understood!!

4) Malo was #1… and nobody knows it. If they do – there hasn’t been much talk about it. Well, here goes.

Malo’s first album (the one I did) hit #14 on the charts and Suavecito #18 as a single – Not bad, but both would have gone much higher if it wasn’t for a snafu by Warner Bros. Would anyone ever ‘fess up to it? Here’s what happened.

Bands like Naked Lunch & Malo and a few others that were destined for Bill Graham’s Corporation all had one thing in common. At various times they all needed a place to rehearse. So Dave Rubinson and Bill gave up office space in their complex for that purpose. That’s how serious all this was. But only one person would have a key in those bands – that was me. I was trustworthy. I over heard stuff. But the one that rings in my mind, even to this day was when I was in Rubinson’s office talking to him about something. He went out to the reception area and I heard him say the following. When the President of Warner Bros. Records flew into New York and by far his most important and immediate mission was when the plane landed, he immediately marched into Warner Bros. headquarters and bellowed and gave the command to release Malo’s album NOW. Immediately – For it already had been released two weeks earlier on the west coast and was hitting the charts.

Well, what does this all mean?

If both the East Coast and West Coast had released Malo & Suavecito at the same time, both the album and single would have been much higher up the charts.
Aside from how that would have affected things then – it even affects things now. Both the album and single would have surely hit the top 10 – putting it into all those years & decades of those top ten lists of moldy oldies etc. but, instead it’s not there in all those media things. That is a lot of pizzazz lost. In my mind if both coasts would have released simultaneously it would have hit #1!!!

5) Rick Stevens and the “what if’s” and some other Gospel stuff. Aside from all the bands previously mentioned, I still got invitations to join others or to record with them. Van Morrison, Copperhead (Quicksilver Messenger Service), Several R&B groups in San Francisco, Jerry Miller (a few years after Moby Grape) etc. etc.

After the Aliens and before forming Stone Creation I very briefly played in a band called Stuff. Guess who sang in it? Rick Stevens. (If it wasn’t Stuff, then it was one with very similar circumstances and even rehearsal location that we played in together playing pick up gigs or top 40 covers in topless bars on Broadway in S.F.) I thought he was tremendous!! I tried to do some booking for Stuff, but did not succeed. Money was pressing and the group was going splinter – Rick suggested we should form a band together. After all, a trumpet and his voice worked extremely well together (“Your still a young man”) – It wasn’t long and I joined into Naked Lunch and then later Malo. He joined into Tower of Power. I think both of us found what we were looking for. A sound and a style to totally dedicate our talents too. That’s why I didn’t want to be playing in multiple bands. I wanted one band that could say it all!! But what if I hung with him a bit. Would I have auditioned for TOP or would I have invited him into Naked Lunch? If so, how different a lot of things would have been. Even after Malo when Richard Bean asked me to record with him and his group Sapo (After all, my trumpet and his voice worked extremely well together too – “Suavecito”) Again, how I wish I could have found the time – but I was too far away being on the road with the All-Stars.

I would love to write about some of the other bands i did on the East Coast as well like “Ralph – the Rock Orchestra” produced by Don Costa and many others. But that’s out of the confines and printability of this interview.

Epilogue:

So what’s important about all of this?
Musically and socially, a lot. But there’s a bigger picture. All those years of being on the road and travel did a lot for me. It was fantastic!! But I was lost! I didn’t know that until I met these people who called themselves “Christians.” They called themselves that for following Jesus Christ. I totally reject evolution or that we are products from Outer Space. We have a creator and redeemer. Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. I never touched a Bible until I was 39 yrs old. Man did not write it. God wrote it through man and don’t let the translation problems confuse you, the message is clear…Christ crucified for us. Exceptions, none. Yes, all!!
And all even means Rick Stevens who is currently serving double life sentences, or anyone else. I don’t know if Rick would even remember me. But the life of Christ is not a game. God sent His only begotten son to earth to be one of us. God gave us free will – you know what happened. Christ was crucified. He held back legions of angels ready to attack – He said dying on the cross would be payment by Him for your sins if you accept this greatest gift of Love ever given. I’ve heard that Rick has accepted Christ. I only knew Rick but for a very brief moment, but I will now know him for all eternity when we all get there because this is the blood of God that washes away all sin. Our Reedemer lives; there is nothing more that I believe in!!

In closing I’d like to quote some lyrics from the closing song on MALO’s first album. “Peace”

There was a man who lived who said,
he said, love your brother and kiss your enemy.
He’s dead – they hung him, they hung him,
nailed Him to a cross, they hung him –
Peace all through the nations.

I hope some dots have been connected.
Roy Murray
Trumpet d’Amor
“Brass of Peace”

Appendix A

Naked Lunch:
Abel Zarate-lead guitar & lead vocals, Rick Tiffer and Charles Fletcher-bass, Ludwig (Fist) Stephens-C3 Hammond organ, Jose Marrero-congas, Richard Spremich-drums, Robert (Bob) Olivera-sax & background vocals, Roy Murray-trumpet.

Western Addition;
Ross-bass, Bill-guitar, Greg-drums, mike-trombone, John Celona-sax, Roy Murray-trumpet, Wendy Haas, vocals & organ.

The Loading Zone:
Paul Fauerso-organ,piano,vocal; Steve Busfield-guiter,vocal; Ron Taormina- alto & baritone sax; Patrick O’Hara- trombone, French.horn; Mike Eggleston-bass; George Marsh- drums & percussion.
Footnote: This too was quite a very interesting group because of its many styles. When I arrived in S.F. (1969) Steve took me with him to my very first S.F. gig – The Loading Zone. They made the 3000-mile drive worth it!! Linda Tillery (Sweet Linda Devine) had already left the group to go on her own. Later on I got to play with her for just one night. Pretty sweet!! But what’s also interesting here for those who wish to be thorough is that for the above personnel for the album “one for all” on Umbrella Records their engineer was a little known Columbia Records staff person named Brent Dangerfield who got just a matter of fact working assignment – Santana’s first album! (Wow!) Later in life when I was with the All-Stars we’d play a club called The Orphanage (a pretty happening place) – but we’d crash at Brent’s apartment as he was working with us on our sound. It was pretty extreme fun in sound engineering adventures.

Premier of Azteca:
Friday, June 16th – Kabuki Theater (S.F.) – also appearing: Gabor Szabo

Timbales- Coke Escovedo, Drums- Michael Shrieve, Congas- Victor Pantoja, Bongos- Armando Perraza, Guitars- Steve Busfield & Neal Schon, Bass- Paul Jackson, Horns- Mel Martin, Tom Harrell, Bob Ferreira, & Jules Rowell, Keyboards-George Diquattro, Flip Nunez & George Muribus, Vocals- Rico Reyes, Pete Escovedo, Wendy Haas & Errol Knowles.

A majorly big thanks to Roy Murray for answering questions on all the above, it is really good to get the experiences and views of people who did not make the VOICES book for a variety of reasons, be it time, unavailability, deadlines etc.

Thanks again Roy- your input is greatly valued amigo!
Jim McCarthy
August 2009


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As Published in the San Francisco Chronicle
Letters to Pink
Friday, February 20, 2009
Editor – I always enjoy reading articles about local Latin music (the early years) and David Rubien’s article (Azteca Rises Anew, Jan. 18) was good reading.

I just want to add that Santana got his Latin rock sound from an early San Francisco band called the Aliens at a time when Carlos Santana was playing blues and had a band called Santana Blues Band. The section on the book “Voices of Latin Rock” by Jim McCarthy with Ron Sansoe (pages 33 and 34) is correct. Santana would come frequently to the Night Life nightclub to check out the Aliens, who were the house band at the time. Jose (Chepito) Areas played percussion with the Aliens for years (1964-1968) before joining Santana. The rest is history.

The founder and leader of the Aliens, William (Guillermo) Coronado died Jan. 18. Fame eluded William and the Aliens, but many music historians and people who were there (Chepito) can testify to the fact that the Aliens originated the driving Latin rock sound that would later be popularized by others.

I don’t want to take anything away from Santana and the other talented musicians and bands that deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments and contributions to Latin music, but it is sad that William and his group never received the recognition they deserved. I was the original guitar and bass player for the Aliens and William was my brother.

Michael Coronado

Paradise (Butte County)


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