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Malo: "Suavecito" to Latin Legends
by Mark Guerrero
Malo is one of the most successful and enduring Latin rock bands in the world. This year, 2003, they're celebrating their 31st anniversary. Their biggest hit, "Suavecito" reached number 18 on the Billboard charts in April of 1972. They've played all over the world and have performed on the bill with the Rolling Stones and Queen. Malo has at least ten albums to their credit and continue to tour. In 1997, along with Tierra and El Chicano, they recorded a live album called "Latin Legends Live." The three bands have toured extensively since as "Latin Legends."
To get the story of Malo, it begins with lead singer Arcelio Garcia. Arcelio was born in Puerto Rico and moved to San Francisco with his family when he was three years old. When he was a teenager, some friends of his had a singing group and asked him to sing with them because their baritone had gone into the army. Arcelio didn't know if he could sing, but said he'd give it a shot. He found that he liked it and started to learn from his more experienced friends. One day a car drove by while Arcelio was singing on the sidewalk with his group. The driver told Arcelio he liked his voice and asked him if he would join his band. Arcelio checked it out and joined the band called the Malibus, named after the sporty Chevrolet. They went on to become a very well known and popular band in the Bay area in the mid-sixties. At first they played mainly r& b, but later started to add Latin music to the mix. Three or four years into the career of the Malibus, a guitarist was brought in by the name of Jorge Santana, the brother of the already famous Carlos Santana.
In 1970 the Malibus changed their name to Malo and things started happening. By 1971, they were signed to Warner Brothers Records and recorded their first album, which was simply entitled "Malo" (BS-2584). Arcelio co-wrote four of the six songs, including their classics "Nena" and "Cafe." Released in 1972, "Malo" also included "Suavecito, " which had evolved from a song they had written and been doing in clubs called "My Love." One of the band members at the time, Richard Bean, wrote a new lyric which gave birth to a major hit record. Malo members Pablo Tellez and Abel Zarate also got credit for the composition. "Suavecito" led to world tours and laid the groundwork for their career of three decades so far. The members on the first album were: Arcelio Garcia, lead vocals; Jorge Santana, lead guitar; Abel Zarate, lead guitar, vocals; Pablo Tellez, bass; Richard Spremich, drums; Richard Kermode, keyboards; Luis Gasca, trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals; and Roy Murray, 2nd trumpet, trombone, flute and sax. Guest musicians included Coke Escovedo, timbales; Victor Pantoja, congas; and Richard Bean, timbales and lead vocal on "Suavecito." Malo has always had a "melting pot" of an ethnic mix, with Chicanos, Anglos, and people of Puerto Rican, Nicaraguan, and Philippino descent.
Later in 1972, Warner Brothers released Malo's second album, "Dos" (BS 2652), followed by "Evolution" (BS 2702) in 1973. In 1974, Arcelio was incorrectly diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. It turned out to be yellow jaundice, but he was unable to sing for a year. This was the period when Little Willie G., formerly of Thee Midniters of East L.A., came in and became lead singer for Malo. Willie did one album entitled "Ascención" (BS 2769) and toured with the band. This album was Malo's last with Warner Brothers. Back in good health, Arcelio, who owns the Malo name and logo, moved to New York and started a new Malo. This resulted in the release of Malo V in 1981. Arcelio then came back to the west coast, where he has been based ever since. In 1986, Malo had an album called "Coast To Coast" on the Blue Heron label. "Señorita" was released on GNP Crescendo Records in 1995. In 1997, two live albums were issued, "Malo Rocks the Rockies, " on an independent label, and "Latin Legends Live, " on Thump Records, featuring Malo, Tierra, and El Chicano.
It was recorded live at The Hop in Puente Hills and it has sold very well, according to Arcelio. Malo has gone through many personell changes over the years, but Arcelio is the one constant. Jorge Santana, played with Malo for three or four years in the early 70s. Since then he's had his own bands and has performed often with his brother, Carlos. He's also had albums out, including 1978's "Jorge Santana" and 1979's "It's All About Love, " both on Tomato Records. In 1994, Jorge was on an album with Carlos and their nephew, Carlos Hernandez, entitled "The Santana Brothers" on Island Records. In the last several years Jorge plays often with Malo. In fact, he just performed with Malo last weekend, on March 29, 2003 at the Star Plaza Theater in Merrillville, Indiana.
Malo's current lineup includes: Arcelio Garcia, lead vocals; Julian Molina, bass; David George, drums; Gabriel Manzo, lead guitar; Jay Rossette, 2nd lead guitar; Daniel Cervantes, keyboards; Frank Bailey, lead trumpet; Pete Rodriguez, trumpet; Steve Rocha, trombone; Gibby Ross, timbales; and Tony Menjivar, congas. Another addition to the current Malo is Arcelio's son, Octaviano, who's an excellent singer and performer in his own right. He and Arcelio work very well together. My band, Mark Guerrero & Radio Aztlán, performed twice on the bill with Malo in 2002. The first time at the Galaxy Theater in Santa Ana, California and the second at The Hop in Puente Hills, California. Believe me, the current Malo is great and can rock the house. Their music ranges from romantic ballads to high energy Latin grooves. I met Arcelio at the second concert at The Hop and spoke to him about doing this article. I'm also on an album with Malo called "The Chicano Alliance" on Our Town Records (1998), which includes my songs "On the Boulevard" and "Rosalie" and Malo's "Lady I Love."
Malo has given back to the community by doing many benefits for schools and other good causes over the years. They recently raised $35, 000 to refurbish public baseball fields for Latino teams in the bay area. Arcelio is also proud of the fact that some of Malo's music, including two songs he co-wrote, "Nena" and "Cafe, " are in college music text books. He jokingly says that was the only way he was going to get to college. In 1999, longtime Malo members Gabe Manzo and Tony Menjivar formed a faith based band. Since Malo means "bad, " they named their band, Bueno, which means "good." The bands Malo and Bueno have a close connection, but are separate entities and completely different in the mission and purpose of their music. Arcelio, who became a Christian about three years ago, occasionally sings with Bueno, but is not a regular member. Speaking of good, a few years ago, the band Sugar Ray recorded a hit song called "Every Morning, " which used the vocal hook from "Suavecito." Unlike many other artists, Malo did not have to go to court to get their share. Everything was handled properly up front. It turns out, Sugar Ray's lead singer, Mark McGrath, had seen Malo play at a car show when he was a kid. McGrath was taken to the show by his father, who was as big Malo fan and loved the song "Suavecito."
Malo has some reissue collections available. GNP Crescendo Records released "The Best of Malo" (GNPD 2205) in 1991 and Rhino Records issued a boxed set called "Celebración!, " which includes Malo's first four albums. Also, Malo's 1995 CD on GNP Crescendo Records, "Señorita, " (GNPD 2244) is still available on the net at: www.gnpcrescendo.com. As for the future, Malo will be back in the studio in two weeks to record a brand new album on Arcelio's new label, Olam, which is Malo backwards. They're also doing a dvd with VH1, which will include clips of various television appearances Malo did in the early 70s such as, Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, Dick Clark's American Bandstand, and "The Midnight Special." VH1's cameras will also follow Malo around on tour for the dvd.
This article is based on an audiotaped telephone interview by Mark Guerrero with Arcelio Garcia on March 28, 2003.