Voices of Latin Rock Return to Bimbo’s For 8th-Annual-Autism-Awareness-Benefit

BAM: You’re a successful dentist in San Francisco, Dr. Gonzalez. What is your connection to the Bay Area Latin music scene?

Doctor Rock: I do a lecture at the College of San Mateo once a year. I tell the students that when I was 15 years old, I saw the movie Woodstock. And, when I saw the Santana band playing “Soul Sacrifice,” I no longer wanted to play baseball. It was like, whatever the heck they are doing, I wanted to do that. I started in high school in 1969, and being a young Hispanic kid in Redwood City, that was something I could call my own. Everybody else was into Led Zeppelin, and I was listening to music that was Latin-oriented. As far as I was concerned, there was nobody else other than Santana…that’s all I listened to for about four years. So I totally got into it, and then there was Malo, Azteca. And then I got into music my parents would play with some percussion, Spanish lyrics, but with a beat and a guitar.

BAM: Are you a musician yourself?

Doctor Rock: I play guitar, piano, drums, but I didn’t have time to play in a band. I tried that in my college days, but the one thing I hated was rehearsal. I just didn’t have the time, what with going to school and working, to spend my Saturdays in a garage going over the same song, over and over. I got more out of throwing on a record and trying to learn Santana parts, and then later on, it was Neal Schon parts. I got more satisfaction out of that than with actually playing with a band.

BAM: The Voices of Latin Rock is a benefit that is near and dear to your heart. Can you tell us about that?

Doctor Rock: Ron Sansoe, a buddy of mine that I worked with when I managed Malo, had just put out a book called Voices of Latin Rock, along with music historian Jim McCarthy. They came to me and asked me to produce a book release party, and they wanted it at Bimbo’s. They wanted me to get hold of a Hispanic organization to get involved, but right at that time, I found out my son had been diagnosed with autism. My son was about two years old at the time, so I asked Ron if he wouldn’t mind if I make this an Autism Awareness event. He thought that was a great idea. It was a great partnership in not only introducing the book, but helping out a friend in getting the word out about this disorder that affects children.

So we did that first event at Bimbo’s, and it was such a success, people started asking us, “When are you going to do this again?” I went to Ron and Jeff Trager, who has helped with all eight events, and the three of us came up with a second show, with the help of long-time Bay Area music maven Rita Gentry. I told Rita that people want us to do this again. So we said, “Let’s try it one more time, and we’ll probably be done.” Now, here we are, doing our eighth year.

BAM: The upcoming Voices of Latin Rock is now in its eighth year of presenting the best Latin music around. These concerts are legendary, and there’s always a buzz around town after the shows. Can you tell us some of the highlights for you over the years?

Doctor Rock: One of the main highlights for me was getting the original Santana band back together again. For years, people have offered them large sums of money to come together. For the Latin rock fan, Santana is the pinnacle of that genre. People that aren’t familiar with Latin rock, I tell them, look at that Santana performance at Woodstock. Every Latin rock band since then has tried to reach that level. That is the top of the mountain right there. So for us to get the original Santana band back together to perform was the biggest highlight. The amazing part about that was not the actual show, it was at the soundcheck! These guys had not played together or been around each other for many years. To see them get together up on a stage again — that is where the real show was. If we could have taped that soundcheck, that was where it was at.

BAM: Have you recorded these shows?

Doctor Rock: Yeah, we do have them recorded for archival purposes. PBS has showed some interest, but we haven’t moved forward on that yet. It goes without saying that the music that has been played on the stage at Bimbo’s, and the one year at the sold-out Warfield Theatre, has been totally off the charts. Artists such as Latin rock, jazz and folk staples Malo, El Chicano, Tierra, Los Lobos, Sapo, Azteca (with Pete Escovedo and Sheila E.), Los Cenzontles…along with other artists and groups from that magical era of the ’60s and ’70s Bay Area music, such as War, Booker T., Lenny Williams, Lydia Pense, Jeff Watson, Tommy Johnston, Taj Mahal, John Santos, Beau Brummels frontman Sal Valentino… to relative newcomers like the multi-talented Jackie Greene, Cathy Richardson, Salvador Santana, and Sisters Morales.

BAM: So who is on the bill for the upcoming Voices of Latin Rock gig? What kind of surprises can you tip us off to?

Doctor Rock: This year we have The Family Stone, featuring members of the original Sly & the Family Stone. Their groundbreaking funk drummer and 1969 Woodstock alum Greg Errico still lives here in the Bay Area and has played at many of our events. We also have Miles of Wil, featuring Neal Schon’s son Miles along with Will Champlin, Bill Champlin’s son. We always have an up-and-coming artist perform every year, and this year we have Blanca. We also have an outrageous all-star band put together by Booker T. guitarist Vernon Black. It includes some of the current Santana guys, Tony Lindsay and Karl Perazzo, as well as the multi-talented intrumentalist and fan favorite, Carlos Reyes. The band, loaded with great musicians from bands such as War, Tower of Power, Prince, Cold Blood, is always an audience favorite. A few years ago, we did a tribute to Richie Valens, and we asked Los Lobos if they would perform for us. Well, that was a no-brainer. They were like, “We’re there,” but we couldn’t advertise Los Lobos because of some other date they were doing in the Bay Area around the same time. For that year’s show, Jeff Trager had been trying to get Sly Stone to come to the event and play. Sly told Jeff he was coming to perform at the end of the show. We didn’t know if he was coming or not. Los Lobos is on stage playing, and they are just about ready to start their last song, when we get a phone call that says that Sly is crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, and that he is definitely on his way. I ask our MC, Chuy Varela, to tell Los Lobos to keep playing. As the band is playing the encore, in walks Sly Stone, and his buddy of the day, George Clinton. So, we get word to Los Lobos on stage that Sly Stone is there, and they break into a Sly song — I can’t remember which one — and Sly and George get on stage for about half the song, and then Sly jumps off the stage into the crowd and walks out the front door with the crowd following him like the Pied Piper. Like we say, “You never know who is going to show up.” That is why this event has been so special to me, and why the audiences keep coming back year after year. People dress up like it’s an Ali-Frazier title fight. It’s quite a scene.

Nobody over the seven past years has ever walked away feeling that they hadn’t gotten their money’s worth at this special gig. As Jeff Trager said to me about our old friend, “Bill Graham would have loved the Voices of Latin Rock concerts.” Sure enough, Bill would have been the last one off the dance floor.