By Rich Freedman/Times-Herald staff writer
Posted: 06/22/2009 12:59:01 AM PDT
Malo” is Spanish for “bad.” And that’s often the bottom line when record companies distributed profits to its artists. Or didn’t. Fact is, said Ron Sansoe, entertainers are often neglected when it comes time to paying up. It happened to the Latin rock band, “Malo,” said Sansoe, and that’s why he fought off lawyers and eventually recouped thousands of dollars for the band known mostly for its 1972 hit, “Suavecito.”
Sansoe, who relocated in April from San Francisco to Vallejo, remains actively responsible for the publishing rights for “Malo,” and heavily involved in the annual “Voices of Latin Rock” benefit in San Francisco that’s featured Carlos Santana, Pete Escovedo, Lenny Williams, Sheila E., Lydia Pense, Linda Tillery, Neal Schon, Jackie Greene, WAR and, of course, Malo.
Sitting at Napoli’s pizza with Green Valley promoter and long-time pal Jeff Trager, the animated Sansoe shared some eye-opening rock ‘n’ roll stories, many included in “Voices of Latin Rock,” a 300-page paperback he co-authored with Jim McCarthy. Santana wrote the foreword.
The book was going to be a Malo media guide celebrating the group’s 30 years, Sansoe said. But after a handful of interviews, the writers knew they were on to something bigger.
“We realized this was a piece of musical history, but American history tied to the Black Panthers, the United Farm Workers and other vital organizations of their time and we saw it as something special,” Sansoe said. More than 120 interviews were conducted for the book, released in 2004 and still selling well, Sansoe said. “It was a 61/2 year project,” he said. “Needless to say, you don’t make a lot of money in the book business.”
Sansoe and McCarthy’s devoted interest in Latin Rock “was the heartbeat of this whole project,” said Sansoe..
The book is now used in more than 40 colleges and universities as part of ethnic studies programs, Sanose said.
Little did the born-and-raised San Franciscan know he would ever have any part in a book. Though his brothers teach high school, Sansoe said his grades were never great.
“I wasn’t much in the education field,” he said.
Sansoe was in the bar business for about 12 years when, in 1985, he helped promote a concert. In 1990, he was asked to help resurrect some royalties for “Malo,” handling administration. Sansoe laughed that while “Sauvecito was a good song, I hated it.” Still, he joined the “Malo” team, helping promote a show with the group, Escovedo and Tower of Power at Fort Mason in The City. Though promoter Bill Graham was approached, he declined to do the show, Sansoe said. The show sold out. “Graham shows up and the security guy — an off-duty SFPD officer — didn’t recognize him and Graham couldn’t get back stage,” grinned Sansoe. “We made a chunk of dough that night.”
Sansoe said he only met the legendary Graham a few times before Graham died in a helicopter crash in 1991 near Vallejo. “I had nothing but respect for him,” Sansoe said. “I didn’t want to become a concert promoter. Nobody did with Bill around. If there was a show and it wasn’t his and he didn’t want it to happen, he would make it not happen. At the height of his career, he could stop anything from happening in Northern California.”
Sansoe got into the publishing end of the business as CDs emerged in the late 1980s.
“One smart thing Malo did was to keep their publishing rights,” Sansoe said. “That’s where the money is for the artist. And now, with the Internet, the artists are getting a better share than he ever got.”
Sansoe got into the ring battling lawyers in 1999 when “the heart” of “Suavecito” was used by another band. When Sansoe eventually got a nice check on behalf of the band, he doled out the money at a Christmas party.
“None of the guys knew this was happening,” Sansoe said, still gratified that “I beat an attorney. I told him, ‘I’m not getting off the Ferris wheel until we get our checks.”
Sansoe wasn’t done.
“I started seeing that artists were being taken advantage of,” Sansoe said, sifting through paperwork and realizing “where the bones are buried.”
Most entertainers are more creative musically than astute businessmen, said Sansoe.
“You get kids who are passionate about something and they’re thinking about the songs,” Sansoe said. “Then they get screwed and that’s when they lose their passion.”
Sansoe shakes his head.
“In what other business is the person who creates the product and the ability to create money the last one to get paid and never gets a fair share,” Sansoe said, blasting record companies. “That’s why the Internet is the best thing that ever happened. For an artist to make the same money selling 10,000 units independently, he’d have to sell 700,000 records by the record company. So you get your name out there and play.”
Because of Sansoe, Malo continues to accrue royalty payments.
“It’s like an old horse,” Sansoe said. “You keep riding it. It doesn’t always win, but it comes in place and show a lot.”
“The Voices of Latin Rock” benefit concerts were originally a book release party at Bimbo’s in San Francisco. It was so successful, Sansoe and the other promoters kept it going. Last year’s event included a letter from Mayor Gavin Newsom, praising Sansoe and McCarthy for “The Voices of Latin Rock” as “a dazzling document of modern American history.”
The shows, said Sansoe, “are never about the money. It’s about the feel of the ’70s. That’s a hard thing to recreate in today’s atmosphere. There’s something special here you don’t get in other cities.”
The same artists who initially feel they’re doing Sansoe a favor by doing the show, “are the ones who thank you at the end of the night,” he said.
The sixth annual concert, produced by Sansoe, Trager and Dr. Bernie Gonzalez, is set for January.
Tags: Bernardo Gonzalez, Jeff Trager, Malo, Ronnie Sansoe, The Warfield Theater, Voices of Latin Rock