Norteños, rancheros, gruperos, and tejanos keep telling me that they’ll continue making music “for as long as our fans want it,” and that everything they do is “for them.” And I keep telling them the same thing: Screw the fans, and make some great music instead.
Nothing wrong with crowd-pleasing garbage, but give me a break: Unless you’ve heard lots of Colombian shit, or you’re a superb songwriter, or you know how to choose a great song to cover, stay away from cumbia, please.
Thank God for Los Fabulocos, who play Casbeers on Saturday, exactly a year after their first local show. The superband (made up of former members of the Blazers and the Fabulous Thunderbirds), don’t have a single cumbia on their self-titled debut album, an unusual move for any self-proclaimed “party band.”
“I like cumbias too, but it’s kinda too typical, it’s what people expect you to play,” says singer and accordionist Jesús “Jesse” Cuevas. Along with drummer Mike Molina, Cuevas is a former member of East LA’s the Blazers (the other band members are ace guitarist Kid Ramos and bassist James Barrios). “We do cumbias, but mostly at private parties. We don’t play too much of the commercial stuff. We play happy music, and people dance to it, but … there’s just too many bands playing cumbias, and not too many of them do it right.”
Instead, the Fabulocos concentrate on what they do best: A stirring mix of Tex-Mex, norteñas, rancheras, blues, country, and plain ol’ rock ’n’ roll. Their 13-track eponymous 2008 debut album featured three originals, including Cuevas’s own “If You Know,” which made me think Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo was a guest on the album.
“Thanks, man,” says Cuevas. “He’s a big influence on me. I’m a big Los Lobos fan, and a big David Hidalgo fan.”
Cuevas is also a big conjunto and norteña fan (his norteño stuff coming by way of Los Alegres de Terán and Los Relámpagos), and the band’s cover of Cornelio Reyna’s “Como un perro,” in my humble opinion, improves on the original.
“It’s a beautiful song,” Cuevas says. “When we ran it at the studio it started sounding more like a Sunny `Ozuna` and the Sunliners kind of thing.”
Los Fabulocos’ PR line is that they’re a “Cali-Mex” band, but Cuevas candidly admits it’s all a business gimmick.
“We’re just a roots, Americana band from California who plays Tex-Mex,” he says. “The record company came up with that ‘Cali-Mex’ thing, but es lo mismo, pretty much the same, only that we’re from California.”
They’re Tex-Mex, all right, but when you have Kid Ramos (Fabulous Thunderbirds, Mannish Boys) playing guitar, you are also a dynamite rock ’n’ roll and blues band.
“Oh, man. Some of the stuff `Ramos` pulls out is amazing to hear, and he keeps me on my toes, makes me play different, which it’s also good,” Cuevas says. “Interacting with him is magical. I don’t think either one of us thinks about it. We cover each other’s back, and we need to stay out of each other’s way so that it opens it up for the other. Playing against each other seemed to work right off the bat.”
Los Fabulocos was recorded in two days, with an extra day for mixing, on very short notice.
“The label didn’t want to spend too much money on it,” he laughs. “We first met at my garage, looked at each other and said, ‘Man, we gotta learn these songs fast!’ At the same time, it gave the album an unique freshness.”
The band has songs ready for a second album and is waiting for the label to give them the go-ahead. In the meantime, the band looks forward to playing in San Antonio.
“We all love conjunto, but I’m really into it,” Cuevas says. “I’m not as good as the guys over there, but I do like to take chances.”
When I ask him if he wants to add anything else, Cuevas suggests I mention the label, which I don’t usually do, but this time I’ll make an exception.
Dear Delta Groove dudes,
When it’s time for Los Fabulocos’ second album, give them more notice and more time to record. I don’t care how much the debut sold, but I know what it sounds like, and believe me: The band has earned a few extra sessions. •