(1) Where and when were you born and when did you start to play the congas/Drums or any other instruments?

I was born in 1954 in Managua, Nicaragua. I played guitar as a kid but opted for running the streets of the Mission district better. I began dabbling on congas in 1968 at 14.

(2) What was your first musical break or recording?? My most hypnotic moment was performing with the band “Soul Sauce” which included Leo Rosales and played originals.
We played 3 tunes at a Cesar Chavez concert in San Jose at SJ State. The other bands at this benefit for the farm workers were Steve Miller Band, Doobie Brothers, and Joan Baez. We were in great company and the crowd responded really loud to us. At that moment I knew I would have a life in music. I was fortunate at 17 to be asked to record on Malo Dos with Francisco Aguabella. He was one of the 3 juggernauts that inspired all of us.

(3) Tell us about your growing up, any funny or interesting anecdotes
My older brother Ron was one of the 1st Tropical DJ’s in the bay area and promoted the Latin music scene that eventually became the SF salsa scene. One time in the 60’s I was 9 and sleeping in the coatroom at one of the dances that Coke and Pete Escovedo were performing at for my brother. Pete and Coke were in my life always, because my brother my brother Ron was a DJ. I heard screams and yells of delight and witnesses this Yoda looking little black dude going off. It was the legendary percussion icon Armando Peraza. He is one of my dearest friends to their day.

(4) What were your music influences then, what turned you on to music and excited you??
I loved Elvis, Dusty Springfield and the Beatles. My Mother was not professional singer but sang Tropical love tunes daily. Those songs are dear to me to this day.

(5) How did you develop as a musician, what teachers etc or were you self-taught?
My brother Ron took one conga lesson with Mongo Santamaria. He taught a pattern called Tumbao. I taught it to Raul Rekow and we were happy to know an authentic rhythm.

(6) Tell us about your involvement with earlier groups in SF etc, how did you get to join, what were the other bands you were involved in that San Francisco Scene?
The first band was a cover band called JJMad that did Santana covers. Soul Sauce, Mega and Cisum were other bands that I played in back in the early 70s.

(7) What are your memories of early Latino rock, Malo, Santana, etc, what did you feel about these days and times?
I was hypnotized by the 1st Santana band I watched at The Fillmore West. To this day I write bass lines that mimic David Brown, Santana’s first bassist.
The other thing was my family knew Chepito Areas from Nicaragua. He coached me in my conga infancy. Pete Escovedo was a great influence on me and remains dear to me to this day.

(8) What do you remember about playing with Malo (Dos record) plus any other recordings from then?
The conga Baptism that Francisco Aguabella gave me on “Oye Mama” was unforgettable. Richard Kermode really opened my eyes musically.

(10) When did you join Malo, what were your next projects then? Tell us about the recordings you have made with them?
I never was a member of Malo. I was invited to participate on Malo Dos and that was it. I got to play on Malo Dos because of Leo Rosales.

(11) How did the massive drugs/party scene back then affect you personally/if at all?
I was not interested in clouding my skills. My father was an alcoholic and I knew it was not good.

(12) Tell us about Latin rock scene; what makes it different to you, about your style? About other drummers in the Latin Rock SF scene and beyond that you admire?? Then and now?
Lets talk about musicians. I was completely turned on about the music scene we had here in the late 60’s and 70’s. My song writing today is impacted by all of the influences; Saint Bill Graham brought us here in SF. Bill Graham invented the rock concert.

(14) Tell us about you latest recording and the group you have now?
My latest albums are “Canciones De El Pinolero” and the “Sarita Collection” by Bermudez Triangle on iTunes. The first CD mentioned includes a smooth Jazz version of “Suavecito” with 3 great lady vocalists on it. I don’t have a group. Done babysitting musicians. I write and record tunes for submission to TV and film. I collaborate with musicians writing and use musicians on a have to basis. They play great, get paid and fed and that’s it. Gracias

(15) Plans for the future?
My songs are heard on “Cable TV’s “Dexter” show on the Showtime network. I’ve had songs on many TV shows and would love to have more in movies. I work hard at song writing and you can hear many of the tunes atwww.bermudeztriangle.com <http://www.bermudeztriangle.com <http://www.bermudeztriangle.com>  also at YouTube and iTunes.

(16) Some thoughts on being a musician today
It’s hard for young musicians coming up because DJ’s and technology has taken lots of the live work away.
Ultimately the love keeps you in the music. My life is as a songwriter-Producer these days. I am not putting a band together anytime soon. 57 years old and I don’t like babysitting musicians any more.

All my CD’s are on iTunes.
My bio is on www.bermudeztriangle.com <http://www.bermudeztriangle.com>
You can get recording credits there if you choose.
My creative world is in LA but I choose to live in Northern California.


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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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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.naked-lunch-cd-copy

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
anthem, ³Suavecito.²

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
resolved.

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!

Jim McCarthy.
East Sussex. England.
March 2009.

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
and Miles

(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
Santana.

(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
there.
Next I replaced Chepito Areas in the Aliens at The Nite Life for almost two
months.
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??
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
music scene.


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CD Review:
Michael Shrieve’s Spellbinder- Live at ToST.

Music ripples from one musician to another, like jungle drums, the architecture of music is disseminated against the current and the music passed on but not over. The true musician is a servant of all he has been and heard and seeks to develop his craft within these walls and also to break down these walls.
Within a drummer like Michael Shrieve, lies a host of influences, the personalities and names are revelatory, Elvin Jones, Jack DeJohnette, Chico Hamilton, Papa Jo Jones, Buddy Rich, on the funkier tip, see Mike Clark, Bernard Purdie, David Garibaldi, Dennis Chambers, Stubblefield, Jabo Starks and others who have played in James Brown‘s bands and for Latino there is Mike Carabello, Chepito Areas, Armando Peraza, the list is endless, a veritable who’s-who of American and world drummers, that all serve to become a melting pot, upon which Shrieve has modelled and built his craft.

For pointers to “Spellbinder” and musical cross-referencing, seek out the mystical “Sangam” by saxophonist Charles Lloyd (released on ECM in 2006 and meaning flowing union or confluence). It is a live dedication to the late drummer Billy Higgins. It features the tasteful hand percussion and drumming of Zakir Hussein and Eric Harland and on some of the tom-tom work, both Harland and Shrieve could be calling to each other across different recordings. Drummers as “sound seekers” as Charles Lloyd would put it. Dreaming dreams that are far more uplifting than the world’s problems.

Michael Shrieve has been a totemic presence in modern American music for nearly four decades. From his early groundbreaking work with the Santana band, with whom he worked up until the Borboletta recording in 1974, to further projects encapsulating the commercial (Automatic Man, Novo Combo, Mick Jagger solo, Abraxas Pool) to more below-the-radar work both live and in the studio.

Since then his work has been plentiful, both mainstream and the more difficult to find. Perhaps, of all the original Santana members he has dedicated himself to a more esoteric search for musical meaning and exploration. His latest release is culled from a live recording made in February 2008, during his group Spellbinder’s, Monday night residency at ToST in Seattle, Washington, nearby to where Michael resides currently. Spellbinder is the second combo Shrieve has formed since his residence in Seattle. Tangletown was the other group, which had (although unreleased) great potential, if the recordings “African Woman, “Baila Mi Cha Cha,” “Natasha,” and “One” are anything to go by. Tangletown were the nearest thing to a Santana world band style, Shrieve has attempted outside of Abraxas Pool.

The Spellbinder CD itself is missing the “title” track, which gives the group its name and inspiration, simply called “Spellbinder.” From the same-titled recording by Gabor Szabo, who was based in San Francisco’s Bay Area at the time and released in 1966 on the Verve label, it featured the Hungarian Szabo’s brilliant guitar flurries, over the percussion team of Willie Bobo and Victor Pantoja on drums/timbales and congas respectively.
This recording also featured “Gypsy Queen,” which was an integral part of Santana’s Abraxas first side suite, as a coda to “Black Magic Woman.” This live cut has been up on You Tube from Shrieve’s band but doesn’t appear on the live recording.

Shrieve tells of Gabor’s influence on the young Santana, “We all loved those great Gabor Szabo records. Carlos was very influenced by Gabor, and I was very influenced by Chico Hamilton on those recordings as well. A lot of the cymbal work I did on the Santana records was derived from Chico’s playing on Gabor’s records like “Spellbinder.” Michael Carabello was very influenced by Victor Pantoja, who played congas on that record. Well, obviously, I named my new group Spellbinder and we play that song too!”

Shrieve comments, “If there is Santana material that I had something to do with that neither Carlos and Gregg are doing in their bands, and I liked the song and the way I played on it, then I will consider doing it in Spellbinder. I want to get back to playing drums the way I played on those songs. More like the jazz side of Santana, if you will. We’ve changed the arrangement of “Every Step of the Way”… right now we are doing it pretty much without the whole first section.”

The CD is served by a rich and ambient sound. It is I feel, a piece that works best listened to and not accompanied by the live video shots that have appeared on You Tube. It is an atmospheric collection of seven tracks, which starts with Shrieve looking to his Santana back catalogue for the opening cut, “Every Step Of The Way”. Every Step features the sweeping Hammond B3 organ vamps from Joe Doria that Gregg Rolie previously added to the first version on Caravanserai but also features strong, delirious and keening playing by the guitarist Danny Godinez who follows some of Carlos’ earlier licks but also introduces new and fresh playing of his own. Shrieve plays ride cymbal with the deftness and fluency, he is renowned for but here his playing is softer and with less attack than his “Two Doors” or “Octave Of The Holy Innocents” with Jonas Hellborg recordings of fifteen years ago. “Every Step Of the Way” is extremely atmospheric with superb playing and organ washes from Doria. Shrieve starts the piece with brushes and moves to sticks during the intro section before the main theme. The band take their time to hit the theme with Doria supplying a pumping solo and taking the music further into the ozone is trumpeter John Fricke. All this music is underpinned by the group’s bassist who hails from Uzbekistan, yet another Seattle resident, Farko Dosumov. Spellbinder completists, please note this is a different take to the postings on You Tube.

The CD recording is rich, warm and fans of Shrieve’s drums will not be disappointed at the depth of sound on the kit and the clarity of the cymbal work.

The tune “Flamingo” composed by Danny Godinez appears next and opens with tasty melodic runs from Godinez, before breaking into a funky vamp from the guitarist. The tune is notable for a powerful main theme, which is very catchy, punchy and rousing, really hitting home.
Mike Shrieve plays in a Latinesque vibe, starting out with a crisp hi-hat rhythm before breaking into a rolling cymbal and snare beat. It also features some creamy cliff-hanging Shrieve double stroke rolls on the snare, which are a Shrieve trademark! Doria’s Hammond organ stabs and waves of sound ably punctuate Godinez’s excellent guitar solo. This piece also features out-there trumpet by Fricke who here, brings his solo down into a heavily swinging, muted wah-wah excursion.

Shrieve shows off his deftness as a drum roll player at the beginning of the next piece before leading with a crisp drum roll into the main body of “Moon Over You,” taken from Shrieve’s excellent Stiletto recording, originally released on Novus Records in 1989. Shrieve’s clattering, assured and confident drum poly-pattern with the snares off is a hypnotic and enticing romp through a spacey, Miles Davis-like refrain with a retro Wild Western feel. The piece explodes into a double time part with a manic guitar solo from Godinez, in which he almost goes off the highest register on his instrument. Here the music is a call to Shrieve’s Santana past. Shrieve amplifies this connection by indulging in some razor sharp snare and tom fills that slice through the music and threaten to pull everything apart until Shrieve resolves the time by coming back on the one.

Of further interest here to Santana fans, is a new version of “Jungle Strut,” the Gene Ammons penned vehicle that Shrieve brought to the Santana 3 sessions. It follows the Third album version fairly closely,
both in tempo, arrangement and feel. Shrieve also played this live a few years back with old band mate Jose “Chepito” Areas at a New Monsoon gig at Martyrs, Chicago. Godinez blazes here both adopting both the Neal Schon wah-wah and Carlos guitar parts. Added trumpet flourishes make this a live pressure cooker.

Opening with Shrieve drumming in thunderous tom-tom cascades, with a fugue-like organ from Doria, “Gole Sangem” is a sombre, meditative piece of this set that feels close to the aforementioned “Sangam” by Charles Lloyd. Shrieve started to develop this style of cascading tom-tom fills as far back as Welcome and Borboletta, where tracks like “Life Is Anew” ended with Shrieve using this technique to full dramatic effect, before segueing into the 6/8 funk of “Give And Take” on the Borboletta recording. “Gole Sangem” is a stately walk through lyrical trumpet and guitar flourishes over a deep, penetrating almost funereal rhythm.

“Inside Four Walls’ follows, again featuring a dramatic intro
and chanted vocals or voicing with no lyrics, before moving into “They Love Me from Fifteen Feet Away.” A beautiful fretless bass intro ensues from Farko Dosumov, this is further taken up by Fricke’s trumpet and Godinez’s benevolent, tasteful, bluesy, soaring guitar. This is a superb, electrifying solo from Danny Godinez.
One is waiting for Shrieve to pile on the pressure on the drum kit but he pulls back with his open use of space, creating further tension by keeping the rhythm open and allowing a large soundscape to emerge by not bringing in further backbeat. As drummer with Santana etc, Shrieve always let the music breathe and other soloists or percussionists always had plenty of room to manoeuvre with Shrieve at the drum helm. An impressive Spanish style number to round out this live recording that enjoys clarity of both sound and group dynamics.
From Go, through to Automatic Man, Tangletown, Novo Combo, Abraxas Pool and the Stiletto, Two Doors, Fascination recordings, Shrieve always seems to have the ability to pursue a completely original take on new bands. He also changed or adapted his drum styles accordingly and this CD is no exception.

Total CD Time = 54.80

To round out this review, I asked Michael Shrieve some further Spellbinder related questions……..

(1) At your ToST residency, do you play the same set every week, or is their lots of other material??
Basically we play the same set, but are adding new tunes now. We play “Knives Out” by Radiohead and this works extremely well in our band context. Rhythmically it’s right up my alley and the melody adapts beautifully on the trumpet. We are also working up a few tunes from some of my other solo CD’s as well, right now one each from Two Doors, Fascination, and Stiletto as well.

(2) Why no Spellbinder cut on the CD??
We recorded “Spellbinder” several times but it was always too fast, which is of course my fault! If it’s too fast it sounds hokey and corny musically. The rhythm sounds good fast, but not the music.

(3) It’s a fairly “short” recording, with say 20 minutes left of CD space – why not more music??
It is what it is. I also happen to believe that just because there’s more time available on the CD format, it doesn’t mean you have to fill it. Keep in mind that most of the classic records were around 44:00 minutes. The reason for this is that while cutting vinyl, the most time that you could have on each side of the record was about 22:00 minutes because after that the sound quality suffered. The actual grooves that were cut in the vinyl became not as deep after that amount of time and the sound became thinner.

(4) What is the track “Gole Sangem” about??
Who did it originally??
Gole Sangem or Sangam, there is some question as to the right spelling, is a traditional Persian song that I first encountered while producing a group called The Brothers Baladi. On that recording we used a soprano saxophone for the melody and presented in a way that sounded like Ennio Morricone. I always loved the melody and wanted to do it if the right situation presented itself. With Spellbinder I really wanted to present beautiful melodies as well as “spellbinding” grooves. Ironically, and you can imagine my surprise, when I found out just before the CD was released, Gole Sangem translates to “The Stone Flower” or “the flower that can only bloom from the stone”, because I wrote lyrics to Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Stone Flower” and we recorded that song on Santana’s “Caravanserai” 35 years earlier!

(5) “Inside 4 Walls,” who is doing the wailing singing??
Again- why this choice??
“Inside Four Walls” was written by the jazz bass player Marc Johnson and was included on his CD called “Right Brain Patrol”. Again, I’ve always enjoyed this song and the vocal is done in a similar fashion on Marc’s recording and I believe the percussionist on the recording, Arto Tunçboyaciyan, sang that section. The song that comes after it, “They Love Me Fifteen Feet Away” was also on that same recording and was written by Arto as well. I just always liked them and wanted to play them. I’m a big believer in just playing music that you just really like, no matter where it comes from.

(6) They Love me” why this choice by Marc Johnson??
Who is he???
See above.

(7) What would you like to achieve with Spellbinder and what are the future plans??
I want to take Spellbinder on the road and play for as many people as possible, and continue making records with the group. That’s the plan.

You are directed here to an excellent and extensive article by Michael Shrieve himself on the Moonflower Café website, which is both in-depth and entertaining.

http://www.moonflowercafe.com/mcshrieve.html


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