Rock of Ages
Chicano All Stars is the most recent chapter in a long music story.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
“I live music 24 hours a day,” Sam Martinez says. “I’m addicted to it.”
Dressed in a black Bob Marley shirt and black pants, the singer and bandleader of the Chicano All Stars is not kidding. On some days, Martinez works an eight-hour shift selling guitars at Salinas’ Gadsby’s Music Company and then heads down to Chualar to his recording studio, Sam’s Lab, to record local groups from 7:30pm to midnight. Then there are the numerous gigs that Martinez plays with The Beat, a ‘60s and ‘70s style rock band, and the Chicano All Stars, who are easily one of the busiest bands gigging in Monterey County.
In Chualar, Sam’s Lab sits on Grant Street in the small, dusty town, a stone’s throw from bustling Highway 101. The labyrinth-like studio used to be a meat locker, which accounts for a foot-thick metal door that separates the vocal booth and Marshall booth from the main control room. As air conditioning blasts into the comfortable control room, Martinez shows me all of the local groups—FSU, Cali Nation, The Cornells, etc.—who have written their bandnames in black ink or attached stickers to the huge door after recording their music in the studio.
Then, Martinez pulls out a framed picture of a punky guitarist whose face is painted white, starting on a journey through his musical past. The new-waver in the photo is none other than Martinez in his first real band, Red Sun. “It was like end-of-the-world punk rock music,” Martinez says of Red Sun’s music.
Following an estimated four years in the band—Martinez admits that he has no grasp of time—his life changed when he caught a showing of the Jimmy Cliff film The Harder They Come at the now defunct 812 Cinema in Monterey. The movie’s soundtrack, which features a great collection of ‘70s reggae and ska tunes, caused Martinez to move in a new musical direction.
Martinez turns his attention to a framed picture of four guys with longish hair and a distinct ‘80s look—one individual even wears a vest. This group was Kachabeat, a band Martinez formed in 1984 as a marriage of his old flame rock ‘n’ roll with his newfound love, reggae.
In the mid ‘80s, Martinez moved Kachabeat from Monterey County to San Diego, where the band brushed shoulders with another artist trying to make it, one Eddie Vedder. Martinez says that there was one real reason he packed up the amps and headed south.
“I really wanted to see if the originals were any good,” he says.
Apparently, Kachabeat’s originals were quite good. They were so good that one of the band’s songs, “Jah Beat the Devil,” was played on local radio stations and featured on a CD compilation of Southern California artists titled The Care.
Eventually, Martinez had a son, which caused him to move back to Salinas. Upon returning, the new father kept Kachabeat going until about six years ago, when Martinez changed musical directions once again.
Martinez was asked to put together a Latin rock band for a gig. He responded by enlisting some players from Kachabeat—lead guitarist Joe Novacido, keyboardist Jesse Centeno and bassist Albert Cervantes—and recruiting some of the best players in the area for a group that he dubbed the Chicano All Stars.
Currently, the rhythm-heavy seven piece—four of the members play some percussion—performs hits like Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy” alongside traditional Mexican cumbias like “Cumbia del Sol.”
For Martinez, performing almost all other-people’s songs is a new experience. “This is my first real cover band,” he says.
While the air conditioner in his studio battles against the warm South County air, it is easy to determine that Martinez is aching to return to playing his original material. Recently, the Chicano All Stars have been sneaking a couple originals into their sets. Also, the band is getting ready to start work on their first full-length album, which will feature a mix of originals, traditional numbers and tunes by ‘70s Native American rock band Redbone.
Martinez even hopes to add songs from his former group into the Chicano All Stars’ setlist. “Kachabeat will make its way back through this entity,” he says.
THE CHICANO ALL STARS PLAY SLY MCFLY’S, LOCATED AT 700 CANNERY ROW IN MONTEREY, THIS FRIDAY AT 9PM. 649-8050.