Wednesday, (September 7th 10. 22:00) on BBC Radio 2
Craig Charles presents the story of one of the world’s greatest guitarists, Mexican-born Carlos Santana, who burst on to the San Francisco music scene in the late 1960s, playing a unique blend of Latin rock with his band Santana. A truly original “world music” ambassador, he has sold more than 90 million records, including Evil Ways, Oye Como Va, Black Magic Woman and, more recently, the multi-Grammy award winning album, Supernatural, which attracted a younger generation of Santana fans.
Santana’s story is told through the words of Carlos himself; and some of the musicians he has worked with including drummer Michael Shrieve, jazz guitarist and spiritual soul mate John McLaughlin, Scottish singer Alex Ligertwood; record company legend Clive Davis, who signed Santana to Columbia back in 1969; former roadie and soundman Herbie Herbert, who witnessed the original recording band at their peak from the side of the stage; and we hear from the next generation of the Santana musical dynasty, Santana’s piano playing son Salvador.
In the first programme, Clive Davis remembers the excitement of signing the Santana band, and early hits like Evil Ways, Jingo, Oye Como Va, and Black Magic Woman. The marriage worked well and Davis, along with rock promoter Bill Graham, steered the band to major success.
One of their biggest breaks was playing at Woodstock as an unknown band. Drummer Michael Shrieve remembers looking out at an “ocean of faces” and “just playing for themselves rather than being entertainers”. He also recalls the ambition and focus of the young Carlos Santana. When Shrieve asked if Carlos wanted to go the cinema, the reply was: “Why would I want to go the movies? I wanna be in the movies. I wanna be the movie”.
We hear how their hard work and constant rehearsing paid off and how the introduction of the Latin rhythms gave Santana a totally unique sound on hits like Samba Pa Ti, on their second album Abraxas. But with success, came excess, and former roadie Herbie Herbert remembers the spiralling effect. Despite making a terrific third album, Santana III, the band was self-destructing.
Shrieve and Carlos describe the natural progression into jazz and experimental music which coincided with a more spiritual path and the influence of Indian spiritual teacher Sri Chimnoy. John McLaughlin, a fellow Sri Chimnoy follower, recalls their spiritual and musical collaboration on the 1973 album Love Devotion Surrender.
Amidst the experimentation, Carlos was under heavy pressure to return to a more commercial rock sound. No longer a band, but Carlos Santana with backing musicians, he struggled to regain the fire and popularity of that original band. By the end of the century, Santana records were not hitting the charts anymore, but a comeback was just round the corner with the 15 times platinum album Supernatural.
Tags: Carlos Santana, Jim McCarthy, Michael Shrieve, Voices of Latin Rock
We were there in 2009 with cameras rolling. McCarthy had his interview face on. We sat in Jerry Garcia’s favorite dressing room downstairs at the Warfield. And some other places too. And then the bands started playing. But we were hearing the music all day.
Voices of Latin Rock 2009 from Avalon Media Group
Tags: Azteca, Jim McCarthy, Karl Perazzo, Pete Escovedo, Sheila E, The Warfield Theater, Voices of Latin Rock, Women of Latin Rock
From Publishers Weekly
“For us, music was … sounding like a street mutt, like a dog that’s bred with everything,” notes Carlos Santana in his foreword, neatly encapsulating the feel of McCarthy’s photo-rich book. Consisting primarily of artists’ reminiscences, and at times difficult to follow, the chatty volume traces the origins and early successes of Latin Rock, from the street gangs of San Francisco’s Mission District to the chart-topping albums and singles. Not surprisingly, much of McCarthy’s narrative concerns the band Santana, which began as the Santana Blues Band and rose to fame by combining the wail of blues guitar with Latin rhythms while playing songs from Mary Poppins. McCarthy also traces Malo’s early career in detail and recounts the group’s making of their Coast to Coast album. Even more interesting are his accounts of San Francisco’s Mission District in the 1960s and the confluence of styles that fueled the burgeoning Latin Rock scene. Numerous asides mention lesser-known acts, such as Mandrill and Azteca, and give brief coverage of newer Latin rock bands, like Los Mocosos. Unfortunately, the book lacks an index, but its “Cast of Characters,” glossary and limited discography are useful substitutes. With over 800 black-and-white and color photographs, McCarthy’s book looks and reads like a photo album. One disappointment is the large gap in the Santana story, which skips the late 1970s and the ’80s. However, among the sordid tales of touring, recording, partying and snorting cocaine are gems of information about the electrifying music and its creators. McCarthy’s focus is purely on Latin Rock in the U.S. Readers looking for a broader view of the scene should check out Rockin’ las Américas: the global politics of rock in Latin/o America.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Directly from the Mission District in San Francisco, the explosive fusion of Latin, salsa and rock is chronicled from a writer who has followed the music and the musicians for over 30 years. The book covers the stories of prominent Latin rock bands including Santana and Malo, examining in detail the pioneering records and the ways in which both reflect a wide spectrum of Latin influences. It highlights the cast of characters and emerging period in the US during the late ’60s, with all the cultural background events including the Summer of Love, Woodstock, political activism, and the record label expansion. Legendary figures such as Bill Graham, Clive Davis and the Escovedos family play crucial roles in the development of this sound. As Latin music continues to become more mainstream, the interest in its musical roots grows. This book sheds light on these musical pioneers, and is gorgeously illustrated with over 800 B&W photos by Jim Marshall, Rudy Rodgriguez, Joan Chase and others, plus artwork of dozens of rare album covers. Include color photo section and foreword by Carlos Santana.
Tags: Carlos Santana, Jim McCarthy, Mission District, Voices of Latin Rock
Here is information about the 6th Annual Voices of Latin Rock Autism Awareness Benefit for The Alex Speaks Foundation. The Alex Speaks Foundation’s goal is to help support children struggling with an autism disorder by contributing to autistic programs at local schools. The Alex Speaks Foundation was formed to partner with the Voices of Latin Rock event to raise funds for those programs. We are pleased to announce that this year’s recipients will include The MIND Institute and the San Carlos Special Ed Program.
This year we are thrilled to announce not one but two shows, bringing the event back to its roots at Bimbo’s 365 Club on Thursday January 21st and Friday January 22nd. Look for a second email with the lineup for the other date and get more details at: http://www.rbpevent.com/volr/
Could you please make sure to list these upcoming benefits in the calendar section of your publication and possibly do a pick or run a photo?
You can download hi-res photos for the artists at the links to the left, or read more at their downloadable bio.
Composer, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and actor Taj Mahal is one of the most prominent and influential figures in late 20th century blues and roots music. Though his career began more than four decades ago with American blues, he has broadened his artistic scope over the years to include music representing virtually every corner of the world – west Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, the Hawaiian islands and so much more. He was also a remarkable figure in the movie “Sounder”, performing alongside Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield. What ties it all together is his insatiable interest in musical discovery. Over the years, his passion and curiosity have led him around the world, and the resulting global perspective is reflected in his music. www.Tajblues.com
of Tower of Power
Former lead singer for Tower of Power, California native Lenny Williams possesses one of most distinctive voices in contemporary music. Lenny is rightfully regarded as of one R’B's most recognizable vocalists and began his musical career making records that have subsequently become R’B and Pop Classics, such as “Cause I Love You” from the movie “Kings of Comedy” which has been sampled by artists such as Kanye West and Twista, garnering Lenny Hip Hop Songwriter of the Year in 2007. Lenny also had hits like “Don’t Change Horses”, “What is Hip?”, and “So Very Hard to Go” as the lead vocalist for Tower of Power in the 70′s. As an icon of the past and the present, Lenny Williams continues to tour nationally and has recently added acting to his entertaining skills. www.LennyWilliams.com
of the Chambers Brothers
Lester Chambers is a Singer, Harmonica and percussion player extraordinaire, pioneering the rock, soul and psychedelic music of the 60′s that inspired so many people. Lester is an American musical Icon performing and recording nearly every musical genre America holds true. The soulful funk of his band drives the audience to get up out of their seats and groove. Lester Chambers is the ideal performer to bring a diverse, cross-generational audience to any venue. Lester Chambers appeals to every lover of contemporary music. Lester knows rock and roll. He Is Rock and Roll! lester-chambers.com
Members of The Doobie Brothers with Tommy Johnston and Marc Russo along with Lara Johnston
As one of the most popular Californian pop/rock bands of the ’70s, the Doobie Brothers evolved from a mellow, post-hippie boogie band to a slick, soul-inflected pop band by the end of the decade. Along the way, the group racked up a string of gold and platinum albums in the U.S., along with a number of radio hits like “Listen to the Music,” “Black Water,” and “China Grove.” Guitarist/vocalist Tom Johnston and Saxophonist Marc Russo will bring the sounds of the Dobbie Brothers to life for this special night at Bimbo’s. www.doobiebros.com
Carlos Reyes &
his Electrick Symphony
Carlos Reyes recording artist, producer, engineer, harpist and violinist– has been breaking musical barriers since his first public performance at the age of five. He made his debut on harp with the Oakland Symphony and his debut on the violin with the Oakland Youth Symphony at just fourteen years of age and then played all over the SF bay area with the Jazz-Rock group Merlin. Along with an international musical reputation, Mr. Reyes has amassed a large enthusiastic Bay Area following, always wondering what new surprise or style of music he’ll bring to the stage. His charismatic personality and outstanding musical talents are a potent combination with which he performs an extensive and entertaining repertoire. www.Carlosreyesmusic.com
Voices of Latin
Rock Experience – Led by legendary percussionist Karl Perazzo with members of Santana, Malo, El Chicano, War, Etta James Band, and Avance
Every musician has an idol, a performer or group that embodies what they wish to become. From his childhood in San Francisco, Karl Perazzo wanted to play with Santana. “I used to play with the band when I was younger,” he jokes, “but then the needle broke.” However, young Perazzo did have considerable talent, and had played with Cal Tjader, Malo, Ray Obiedo, Prince and Andy Narell by the time he was 12. His life-long dream was realized in 1991 when he joined Santana to play timbales. Perazzo has also performed and recorded with Mariah Carey, Dizzy Gillespie, Phish, The United Nations Orchestra and John Lee Hooker. www.myspace.com/karlperazzo
Dubbed “Petite Pavarotti” by Oprah Winfrey, Holly Stell is a 17 year old beauty with an exceptional gift for singing opera. At age 11 she recorded a duet with Andrea Bocelli and has twice been a soloist at the White House Christmas Tree Lighting. This vocal prodigy has since garnered worldwide acclaim for her angelic stage presence and heartfelt emotional delivery. Just as comfortable performing with a live orchestra in a concert hall as she is playing with her friends in her neighborhood, one thing is certain-Holly Stell will leave a lasting impression. www.hollystell.com
Tickets and Info
Table Reservations Only
Tables for 10: $1,750-$1000 Packages
Tables for 6: $600-$900 Packages
Tables for 4: $600 Packages
More Info at: http://www.rbpevent.com/volr
Table & Raffle Tickets at: http://www.rbpevent.com/volr/paypal
CLICK HERE FOR PURCHASE ORDER/DONATION FORM
Bimbo’s 365 Club
1025 Columbus Avenue (at Chestnut Street)
San Francisco, CA 94133
Tags: Benefit for Autism Awareness, Bimbo's 365 Club, Voices of Latin Rock
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.
……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.
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.”
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
Johnny 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tags: Aliens, Bimbo's 365 Club, Chepito Areas, Voices of Latin Rock
Here is an excerpt from an article by Corry342 at Rock Archeology. Head over there for the rest of the story.
Of course, 4742 Mission Street was a building, and a building with a Use Permit for musical performances, so it is no surprise to find out that the club simply changed its name. However, since it changed to a Soul music club, and from there to a Latin (or Latin Soul) club, it dropped off rock historian radar. At the same time, many “ethnic” establishments did not advertise in the mainstream newspapers, so the newspaper research performed by rock historians like me turns up no trace of the club. In fact, however, it turns out that for at least several more years, 4742 Mission Street was The Ghetto Club, and it played an important part in San Francisco music.
I had seen peripheral references before to The Ghetto Club, and gathered that it was a Soul music club. However, I was reading a book called Voices Of Latin Rock, by Jim McCarthy with Ron Santos, about the history of Santana, Malo and Latin Rock music in San Francisco in the 1960s and 70s, and The Ghetto Club plays an important role. I was quite surprised to see an ad for the club in the book, (reproduced above), only to discover that the address was 4742 Mission Street.
Voices Of Latin Rock (published by Hal Leonard 2004) features remarkable research, with hundreds of unique interviews with musicians and friends who are rarely or never participants in typical rock narratives. The book offers an alternative universe to San Francisco music history, with only intermittent appearances from the usual suspects. The book is focused on personal narratives and musical reminiscence, and it is not focused on a careful timeline of people, venues and events (more’s the pity for me). However, it turns out that by 1969 The Ghetto Club was a multi-racial stew of Latin, Soul and Rock, with an apparently diverse crowd, very similar to the Excelsior neighborhood it was located in. A musician named Jose Simon recalls
The Rock Garden was a hard club, real party hardliners. The bouncers were two Samoan guys. They kicked the hell out of anybody trying to kick off in there. The Rock Garden was competition to the Nite Life [another club], and was probably the first rock club in the Mission area [the Excelsior is just South of the Mission District]. They had Big Brother, Janis Joplin, Mongo Santamaria (p.49).
The author ads “Later, the club changed hands and became The Ghetto.” Another musician, Richard Bean, chimes in
The Ghetto was originally a black club. Then the Latin thing started there. Abel And The Prophets were like the house band. Crackin was another band from around that time (p49)
Abel And The Prophets were a Latin-Rock-Soul fusion group, probably playing a lot of cover versions, but in their own style. Abel Sanchez was a young guitarist, who would go on to work with Naked Lunch in 1970 and then Malo in 1971, where he was an integral part of that band’s sound. In 1969, the other happening club was The Nite Life, apparently at 101 Olmstead Street (near San Bruno Avenue), on the other side of McLaren Park, where a band called The Aliens held court with an amazing mixture of funk, Latin and jamming. The Santana Blues Band evolved into Santana, not least by absorbing Chepito Areas from The Aliens.
Tags: Abel And The Prophets, Mission District, Mission Street, Richard Bean, The Ghetto Club, Voices of Latin Rock
Glenn Symmonds on the 70’s Bay Area, playing drums and touring with Coke Escovedo
© Jim McCarthy August 2009
Glenn Symmonds was originally a native of and went to High School in Spokane Washington, his mother originated from the city of Liverpool (home of The Beatles) and he toured in later years in the UK with a band called The Untouchables, (a second wave ska band) supporting well-known chart toppers, the Birmingham based band UB40.
One early influence was to have a direct and overwhelming influence on Symmonds’ life, “Tower of Power used to travel through the border of Washington and Idaho, on the state line. There was a place where you get in to the bars there, so we’d all go to catch the groups coming through. Tower, Elvin Bishop, Cold Blood, lots of the Bay Area bands. I was drawn to the Bay Area from listening to David Garibaldi’s playing with Tower of Power. We became friends and he invited me over to listen to him practice in his hotel room and go over the stuff he was studying with his teacher Chuck Brown. I knew then that the minute I graduated, I wanted to take lessons with Chuck Brown. That was my goal!”
He was true to his word, Symmonds graduated and leaving Spokane at seventeen years old….. “ I knocked on Chuck Brown’s door, I had a U-haul trailer filled with my stuff out on the street and I’m knocking on his door. He opened the door and introduced myself, I said I’ve driven 1300 miles to take lessons from him and he says, my teaching schedule Is pretty full for the next year (laughs!) I didn’t even have place to live, all my stuff is in the van outside and the motor’s running. I said to him, I came here to study with you and I shamed Chuck Brown into giving me drum lessons.”
Chuck Brown as well as mentoring hundreds of drummers also taught significantly Michael Shrieve as well as Terry Bozzio (who played with Azteca) and of course Garibaldi.
Symmonds plugged into the Bay Area scene fairly quickly, he attended his first audition and remembers, “ My first audition was going down to a club in Berkeley and Linda Tillery and The Loading Zone were playing and I was friendly with Bill Meeker. He was drummer with Elvin Bishop. Coincidentally I had met him before at the state line when Elvin had come thru, so I asked him
If I could sit in, as drummers do! They were a very cool soul and R&B type band with great vocals, Vince Denim on saxophone, (who went onto play with Elvis) they had a great groove, they also had Dougie Rauch on bass with them. Bill was a phenomenal drummer, they turned round and said “ Do you know What Is Hip”. I had worn out the grooves on my vinyl record, learning that song. I wore that vinyl white, I just knew it inside and out. I had to put a coin on top of the needle to get it to stay down while playing the record, I’d played it so much. I used to slow the tracks down to 16 rpm, it was like W-O-O-O-AAAHHHHHH, very low sounding and demonic (laughs). That’s how I learned those Tower tunes. They didn’t know that I knew that song like the back of my wife’s ass!
So I had practiced them also with my friend Dave Garibaldi, studied ’em further with Chuck Brown and David had written out those parts too. First nite in Oakland and they call off What Is Hip and I nailed it. They turned around and grinned at me – just look at that kid play! It was a great entrée into that world. In the audience were some people that offered me a job with Frank Byner and The Night Shift who wrote songs for Tower Of Power. A bass player that came up to me also that night was David Margen. He was also playing with Frank. So I was playing with them now as well.”
His expansive personality and expressive drum chops, made his entry into the Bay Area more established, “I also was playing with a guy called Gideon and in his band he had a guy called Melvin Seals. He was the leader of The Jerry Garcia Band. Melvin was groomed in the church and could make the Hammond B3 sing man! They had a high-energy gospel-rock vibe. All those bands played the same kinda’ clubs, The Keystone Korner, LaValles, The Long Branch, they were three of the top ones. Also during that intern, I met Eddie Money and played with him. He knocked on my door, saying ‘ I hear you’re a drummer, my drummer didn’t show, so I want you to play with me tonight, I did one song and he says, “That’s it, I want you in the band. He said, “My name’s Eddie Money and I want to be a rock and roll star by 25, I don’t have a lotta’ time!“ Just like that! So I was gigging with everybody.”
Gigs for the young Symmonds were plentiful, “I was in a fourth band too, called Grayson Street. They had a phenomenal harmonica player called Ricky Kellog, who ended up in Canned Heat. Grayson Street was mostly original R&B style East Bay grease and very funky – James Brown orientated1”
The East Bay, particularly Oakland was a breeding ground for the funk and Symmonds went on to discuss one of Tower of Power’s greatest vocalists, the redoubtable but also controversial Rick Stevens. “Rick had a cover band, they were doing Tower songs and he was the best of all the Tower singers in my opinion. I saw Tower with Lenny Williams mostly at the time I saw them.”
His connection with Coke Escovedo was fairly straightforward, “ I was on a bill with Coke, There was Grayson Street and Coke was checking me out from the side of the stage. I knew something was up and he came over and asked me to join his band! He already had very talented musicians, he had a guy on drums apart from Harvey Mason on his first album and I came in after that. I knew of him from the Third Santana album, with the dedication to him on there. We started rehearsing and every Monday night in Oakland we would play at a club called King Richards. That was in Jack London Square, we would hold court there and a lot of great jazz and other musicians would show up unexpectedly, you never knew who – it could be Malo’s singer, it could be brother Pete or Sheila would sit in and play congas. Abel Zarate was in the band too, another guy there was Ray Obiedo, he was very popular.”
The line up didn’t have a regular conga player, Coke simply invited his family down. “ Frank was on keyboards, (later on it would be Herman Eberitsch ) Erroll Knowles was singing and also another girl was Lynn Mabry, who later became a Bride Of Funkenstein (an off-shoot of Parliament) and later became a back up singer in George Michael’s show. Everybody in the East Bay could play- everybody was really good. My parents were very supportive and I got well schooled- I could play mallets, for zylophone, vibraphone, marimba and Coke let me used that talent on the Comin’ At Ya’ album- he let me play vibes on there on the Jose Feliciano song, “Stay With Me.”
“Playing with Coke was my first recorded album and he let me play and recorded three of my songs as well. He took all the credit for the first one- a guaganco groove and he had everybody singing “Coke Escovedo play the guaguanco, Coke Escovedo play the guaguanco” and he put his name on that (laughs). I don’t even remember what I was getting paid. He had a three-album contract with Mercury Records- and considering he was sideman and not a singer- it’s great he got a record deal!
Coke certainly had hit a home run in the recording stakes for awhile, and apparently was an outgoing individual; Glenn describes Coke thus. “ He had a gentle heart, a lovely guy, with a lot of talent, he loved to be the centre of attention. He was great to me, showed me how to play drums with him, he kept his distance too, with the employees, he had a dark side to him that I was to become aware of. His eyes would get really glassy at times. He would get very wasted and spaced out on cocaine, I know sometimes he would get so high, he didn’t want to be standing up there with his timbales. So, he would come to the back of the stage and kick me off the drums and get me to play timbales.
He told me to go play ‘em, he would play drums- he was a terrible drummer (laughs).
I asked Glenn about the slew of outstanding timbale players in the Bay Area at that time. “Well – Jose “Chepito”Areas absolutely, Chepito was so strong he didn’t play with those thin little dowelling timbale sticks, and they’d cut them in half. Chepito played with brutal hardness, using thick drumsticks and was intensely talented. They’re as no rivalry at all in Coke. I remember we played Madison Square Garden and Tito Puente came down. Backstage Tito treated Coke like a long lost son, he was very gracious and invited us to his nightclub after we were done. We got there and a table was set, he wined us and dined us, we came into this Latin club, there’s a ten- piece band playing and Tito really took care of us. He was very grateful that Coke had brought “Para Los Rumberos” to the Third Santana album sessions and got that song Tito wrote included on the Third album.
Symmonds’ path crossed most of the Bay Area percussion luminaries. “Mingo was a hugely talented and strong and powerful conga player- a triple Sagittarius, like I said. He was very intense, very crazy and wild! He was involved in the Chick Corea Electric band when they had Steve Gadd- the very first incarnation of that, before Al Di Meola and Lenny White. Mingo would sit in at King Richards club. He asked me also to play with him, and he also had an album deal with CBS and was putting together a batch of his songs. He had hand picked musicians , we would rehearse seven days a week and I had gigs at night too, playing with all these other bands, so I could not give Mingo the commitment he wanted. I took from him all the lessons he showed me, he showed me the conga, timbale techniques, applied to the drum set, when there isn’t a conga player or a timbale player, what do you do?? How do you simulate those sounds and rhythms, he’d also showed Steve Gadd the same type of stuff. Gadd and Mingo were very tight. At that time he was not maybe been even twenty-one year old – nor was I for that matter.
Glenn’s time with Coke was curtailed by the encroaching drug related aspects of those day in the music business and later on in the USA as coke and heroin spread thru out US society rapidly. “ Coke’s band was a great band playing locally, so musicians who didn’t play on a Monday night, it was a great place to hang but with the hang came the drugs too. When we were on the road we were opening for Parliament and Funkadelic. We were opening for The Johnson Brothers. There were some characters hanging around – they were in the van with us. In the hotels with us, on the stage with us! I didn’t know who they were but I got to know why they were there. To some degree they kept me isolated, I was a nineteen-year-old kid at that time. Erroll Knowles and Coke were much older and I was a younger guy and I was mostly friends with Abel Zarate in the band, A very sweet guitar player. But I started to find out, one night Coke told us to get onstage and I had to go back to the dressing room, I’d forgotten my drumsticks and the bag. I rushed offstage and get to the dressing room and there’s Coke, with a needle in his arm. He yelled, “Get the fuck outta’ here!”
One character in particular was to hasten Glenn’s departure from the group, “Big Ronnie was one of those guys hanging around, he came out from the side of the stage and he poked me in the ribs one night, during the first song, told me to “Shut the fuck up, that I was playing too loud”. I turned around and bashed him on the head and on the shoulders with my sticks- told him to get the fuck away from me.
He crawled off the stage with his purple pimp hat (with a big feather in it) his purple pimp jacket and his platform shoes. (laughs) He was total pimp man; it was the seventies. When we walked offstage, you can imagine the audience is roaring out a standing ovation – and everybody is patting themselves down with towels, congratulating each other and Big Ronnie is grabbing me with two hands round my neck and I am down in the curtains. I am down man. He is choking me, “I’m gonna’ kill you motherfucker”, he’s going for broke and the band realise and pulled him off me. I swore that was it, I did one more show and then the tour was over. I never played again with Coke Escovedo. I totally lost touch.
He described the adverse effect cocaine had on his drumming abilities, “I only did cocaine a couple of times but I experienced the same feeling, my back was very tensed up and it also made me very gun-shy. It inhibited my playing a lot. I think maybe the first hit can be great. But if you’re in concert and you’re revved and do you do a line of coke, you’re only going to feel that for five minutes and then you’re going to crash while your playing. Then you feel terrible, you are thinking those people are looking at me.
My hands hurt and you start to feel achy and you can’t wait to get off stage and get another hit. It was always counterproductive for me – I wasn’t addicted but I think Coke was, he wasn’t as sharp; he became less focused than he was.”
Glenn went on to along and varied drumming career with among others, Automatic Man, John Klemmer, Dave Mason, Elvin Bishop, Etta James and a long association with Eddie Money.
Look out for further revealing stories and tales from the rock and roll merry-go-round;
is part of a upcoming VOICES interviews feature on Automatic Man – The Greatest Group You Never Heard!!
© Jim McCarthy July 2009
Tags: Abel Zarate, Automatic Man, Azteca, Carlos Santana, cocaine, Coke Escovedo, Cold Blood, Dougie Rauch, Eddie Money, Glenn Symmonds, Jerry Garcia, Jose (Chepito) Areas, Linda Tillery, Mingo Lewis, Pete Escovedo, Santana Third album, Sheila E, The Loading Zone, Tower Of Power, Voices of Latin Rock
This is the show which taped in LA last November.
Check your local PBS schedule:
“Latin Music Legends,” a musical variety show hosted by and starring Palm Springs resident Trini Lopez, will air as a national public television pledge break special in August, its locally-based produced have announced.
It will debut Aug. 14 on KVCR, broadcast to 5.5 million households in Southern California, and then air on PBS stations across the nation.
The show, taped at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles, is produced by local executive producers Dan Bohlmann, Robert Alexander of the Motion Picture Hall of Fame group and Mitchell Sussman of Raven Productions.
Besides Lopez, it will feature Julio Iglesias, original Santana lead singer Gregg Rolie, El Chicano, Tierra, Thee Midniters with Little Willie G, and Palm Springs resident Mark Guerrero, who performs a tribute to his late father, Lalo Guerrero.
Alexander said “Latin Music Legends” will air nationally on for 11 months and then “be taken to retail outlets and syndicated internationally.”
The show will air at 9 p.m.
Tags: El Chicano. East Los Angeles, Gregg Rolie, Julio Iglesias, Lalo Guerrero, Latin Music Legends, Latin Rock, Mark Guerrero, PBS, Santana, Thee Midniters, Tierra, Trini Lopez, Voices of Latin Rock, Willie G