Thursday, August 12, 2010

My life through salsa

Summer at the Autry means it's salsa time and the music is in full eswing (swing in Spanglish)! It's been a fun season although the cool weather may have dampened a few of nights as the sun went down. Regardless, the bands were playing their hearts out and the dancers were in excellent form. It should have been another fun and easy promotion job for me and it was until we were faced with the passing of Francisco Aguabella. Yes, we knew he was sick but didn't want to face the possibility of him not making it to his gig date on August 5. I was really pulling for him until Joey (my musician husband) gave me the news that we were seeing his last days. The passing of a legend cast a cloud of melancholy over the circle of salsa musicians. You think everyone is going to last forever and then they're gone. That is when you begin sharing stories of your personal experience with that person.

I heard a few great ones about Francisco. His driving skills came up a few times. I'm sure musicians and those closest to him heard many more. One personal tidbit that I heard was that Francisco was at my wedding. I turned my head,"say what?" "Where was Francisco at our wedding," I said to Joey, rapidly thinking of where my wedding photos were and going through them in my head, page by page (because brides know them by heart). There was no picture of Francisco at my wedding. No way. No how. I would have remembered that! He had just attended the Church ceremony because like every good musician he had a gig that night (except for the ones playing at my wedding or standing as groomsmen. Francisco was probably the only gig in town). We asked Freddie Crespo to fill Francisco's shoes at the Autry and he did so marvelously. Another great giant of the Latin salsa scene. I didn't know about Freddie or his brother Johnny when we planned our wedding, but I left the dance band selection in Joey's hand. He just had to have Costazul. The problem was that they stopped playing a few years back. So Joey worked his magic and Freddie agreed to reunite the band for us. Freddie, Johnny, and Joey's dad went way back to NYC days. Freddie told me how he remembered Joey in diapers. So I thought, great, this guy means something to Joey's family, let's do this. Needless to say, it was a memorable wedding reception and seeing Costazul last week at Sizzling Summer Nights reminded me that we were in the presence of salsa greatness and he's our friend. Wow.

Susie Hansen (the first band up at the Autry this year) graciously offered to organize our reception and I am forever grateful. She also is the one who gave Joey (and many musicians looking to LA for their next big break) his first shot at the LA salsa scene. Without the break, it would have been harder to gain entry into this tight-knit community of musicians. In fact, it was at her gig--- at what was then the Whittier Radisson ---on a hot September evening that Joey got up on stage and in front of everyone, wished Susie a very happy birthday and then proposed to me. All I remember was walking up to the stage, trying not to fall into the pool wearing my 3-inch brown combat boots, and then confetti and a lost ring on the floor. It's all a big random sequence of events with flashes of Rene Camacho smiling and Victor Baez's dad, Mario coming to give me a hug. I don't even think I had a chance to say yes!

I was taken way back to the beginning of our relationship today as Son Mayor started their sound check. I said hello to Eddie, Julian, Alfred, and Georgie Ortiz and reminded them of the first time we met. I was in awe of myself at how crazy I was to trust Joey a week after meeting and going on a trip to Tucson with Son Mayor who he was playing with at the time. It was a small tropical club with tiny tables and lots of happy people. One lady was chatting us up and finally asked "so how long have you two been married?" I didn't want to let her down or surprise her so we said "a year". One week! Kids, don't try this at home. I was 24 years old. I hope my parents don't read this. lol After we got back to LA, we all headed for the best Cuban food around, Versailles, and met up with the band's family members. For someone who had no one in LA, it was very warm and welcoming to be included and accepted (as a person and not another chicken-head groupie). I went to many of Son Mayor's gigs at the Conga Room when it was still located on Wilshire followed by late-night Denny's meals with Kerry Loeschen who played trombone.

A few months later, I packed up my awesome bachelorette pad in downtown LA, overlooking the Grand Central Market and the Million Dollar Theater (yes, I still miss it. That place was da bomb!) and moved to Long Beach with Joey.  We were surrounded by other musicians who lived within walking distance like Angel Rodriguez of Lucky 7 fame. It was a cozy place and Long Beach was nice but my heart missed LA and my cultural scene so a few years later we moved back up.  I landed my job at the Autry and guess what? There's salsa in the summer! Sweet! It's sometimes the only time I get to run into these guys that are part of important times in my life. Angel, Victor, Rene, and other salsa musicians were in our wedding party and have been there for us throughout the years. I love talking to them about their experiences, the people they've played with, and the hilarious events that happen on the road and on gigs, or who sucks, is a jerk in person, or has a diva personality.

Recently, Joey has been playing with Poncho Sanchez and I've gotten to go on just a few out-of-town gigs with them. One memorable trip was taking the Playboy Jazz Cruise with them from Puerto Rico into the Bahamas and back to Miami. We swam in the ocean, ate some good food, drank some beer, and danced the lawnmower (sprinkler, shopping cart, and washing machine) half-drunk on a swaying ship.  There is absolutely no way we would have ever been able to enjoy that if it weren't for the music industry and music lovers that pay to hear them play. Franciso (Torres), Georgie, Ron, Poncho, Tony, the rest of the guys and their wives and girlfriends are a tight group that have a serious bond that comes with being in sync with each other on stage. It translates off the stage and makes for some really wonderful times.

As I write this, I wonder what is my purpose of this post. The only thing that I can think of is that I love experiences, mine or yours or anyone's. I love talking to people and hearing their stories. I feel lucky to have lived these great times with salsa musicians and want to tell people what it's been like off the stage, from my eyes. What amazing access for a historian-at-heart like myself. One day, when I'm old and gray (or artificially brunette), I want to look back on this blog or the video camera (I've yet to buy) and leave these small glimpses into my life in safe hands for my daughter and future generations to enjoy. Good times, good times.