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Narrative including Bands &
Personnel and Musical Influences
I wanted to play drums when I was in Jr. High but they stuck me on the bass drum in the El Segundo Junior High School Symphony Orchestra (it was too boring/simple). I really wanted to play a snare, but no luck, so I quit. I still sometimes regret that I did continue formal music training.
2000/01/18: While watching the videos "Routes of Rhythm" again, it occurred to me that my earliest (1940s and early 1950s) Latin music influences might have included Don Azpasio(?), and probably included Desi Arnaz, a George Raft movie, Carmen Miranda movies, the tunes "Little Darlin' ", "Hand Jive", and "Bo Diddley", and possibly a Sam Cooke cha cha chá, and Dean Martin and Bing Crosby "mambos".. I don't currently recall Louis Armstrong doing "Latin" or Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo but it is a definite possibility that I had heard "Night in Tunisia". Considering all this, it is not really surprising that I was to take Latin music into my heart so easily and that it seemed so natural.
In high school, El Segundo High School (near L.A.), I was very much into jazz especially Bud Powell and Charles Mingus. While attending El Segundo High School, probably about the 10th grade, I got a broken tympani head from the HS band and tacked it to a nail keg! I played it with brushes, swing-style. Several of us used to get together (trumpet, clarinet, keg) and "tried" to jam. About 11th grade, I got a cheap set of bongos which I had to heat to tune (I quickly learned how to replace heads as heat tuning often resulted in burnt/broken heads).
I also got my first Latin jazz LPs, Haitian, Caribbean, and African LPs about that time. I would listen for hours and try to play along (fun but not too authentic!). If I remember correctly, I also played the keg somewhat like, as I would know later, a dumbek. During the 11th grade a buddy of mine made me my first conga drum in wood shop, it is eight sided with a tacked on skin (I later added an electric light in a socket and a switch to heat it. I used it for my first professional jobs and I still have the drum!).
I later met some guys who lived in a nearby town, Westchester, including two red haired brothers from Nicaragua, Lee & Sergio Pastora (I have been told that Lee played with the Don Ellis Band), and we jammed and shared techniques (weird...the first tumbao we played was TTSTTTOO RLRLRLRL(the S was not really a slap, it was played with the finger tips on the edge of the head, but it did have a higher pitch). I did a lot of "beach playing" on bongos and conga about that time.
Years later, one of the brothers came into a club where I was playing with Blachy Guiterez (see below) and sat in with us!
Exact date is unknown but about this time, I had a minor breakdown and spent about a week in the mental ward at Queen of Angeles Hospital in Los Angeles, CA. On the first night when I voluntarily took a sleeping pill. After the first night, I received no additional medications and stayed up all night playing poker with the interns and several older patients. I only saw the doctor once or twice and was told that I could never come back there. While there, a nurse would take me down stairs to buy milk shakes. When I was released, that nurse suggested that I have some sessions with her husband, a psychologist/metaphysician. I don't recall how many sessions I had with him but he loaned me Baird T. Spaulding's 4 volume "Masters of the Far East". I could not put them down. See my Spiritual Quest page(s) for further details.
I met Mike Pacheco while I was in the 11th or 12th grade and he let me sit in on conga with a trio "Bassie and the Latineers" (Bassie?, bass; Don Romano, piano, Mike Pacheco, percussion) at Cisco's (a Manhattan Beach bar)...totally illegal, as I was only 17 or 18.
When I played conga, he was able to play timbales or bongos. He sort of "took me under his wing" and I used to drive him all around L.A. to various jobs and hung out with him and his musician friends (no lessons but picking up what I could musically). He helped me buy my first conga which was made by Tom Wofford in L.A. The conga is a narrow body "old Cuban style".
A few years later while visiting my family in El Segundo, I found Bassie and Don playing at a club or restaurant in Playa del Rey (?), they remembered me and let me sit in again!
Mike Pacheco: timbales, bongos. congas; a well-known percussionist around L.A. especially during the 50s-60s; he was the finger snapper on Peggy Lee's "Fever" and he played with Perez Prado, Stan Kenton, and many other bands; he also played percussion in the movie "I Want to Live" (a pretty good sound track with Latin percussion, especially for the late 50s). I don't know how active he was after the 1970s because I lost touch with him.
1999/03/04: I just now got Mike's phone number and talked to him for about 20 minutes (almost exactly 40 years since he used my conga with Stan Kenton!); he filled in some of the details regarding the trio and the club; he remembered the date that he used my conga with Stan Kenton in Santa Monica (see below).
2000/11/22: I just spoke to Mike to see if we could meet but he was unable to change his schedule...so maybe soon. He is still active: teaching a few selected students, playing concerts and doing a few recordings. He is in contact frequently with Jack Costanzo.
2010/05/07: I just got word that Mike has passed away. I am really sorry that I was not able to get together with him.
I played the congas during my first year in college 1958-9 with the Loyola (L.A.) University Basketball Band (in the basketball stands: kind of hard to balance and position the congas!) (this may be one of the first time congas were used in a college band!). I also played at various fraternity parties. By now I was listening to Cal Tjader, George Shearing, Perez Prado, Rene Touzet, Bobby Montez, etc.
I also played bongos on stage behind Bob Denver (later of Gilligan's Island fame) spouting "beat" poetry in a Loyola University, L.A., production of "Beat Patience". You know, Bob never called me after he became famous! HA!
I also got to know the campus barber (a Latino?) who also played sax(?) and he also took me to some jobs where I got to sit in on congas.
Mike Pacheco borrowed my first conga for the first concert he played with Stan Kenton in Santa Monica, March 6, 1959. I think he played with Kenton for a while after that (I will try to get more information when I see Mike again).