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Date or Sequence
Narrative including Bands &
Personnel and Musical Influences

I worked with many S.F. and San Jose bands, small and large, playing congas mainly but frequently playing drums substituting for drummers who could not make a job and frequently at the last minute. I could not read the charts and frequently did not even know particular rhythms, e.g., mazurka, German polka, Viennese waltz, etc., but I have apparently always had a "good ear" and was able to "fake it" well enough to get by! I played virtually all those jobs "cold"! I played multiple times with most of the bands.

Bands included:

  • Leo Acosta Orchestra (Leo had recorded two original tunes "Que Bueno Se Puso El Baile" and " La Flor" on a 45 on Capitol Records in Mexico in 1971?)
  • Leo Toscano Orchestra
  • Chris Carmona Band
  • Connie Caudillo Band
  • Jimmy Flores Band
  • Rene Della Rosa.

1999/05/14: Reading John S. Roberts "Latin Jazz" on page137, he mentions piano player Al Zulaica and I recalled that I had played several times with Al (don't know where, don't know when).


Sometime in the early 70s, I played congas on three jobs (San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose) with Chico Ochoa's Orchestra backing Celia Cruz!

Chico Ochoa Orchestra:

  • Chico Ochoa, leader
  • ?
  • Willy Vargas, timbales, vocal
  • Pete Escovedo, vocal
  • other band members I did not know
  • and me again on congas

Willie Vargas had gotten me the job when Chico said he needed a conga player, Willie suggested me and I got the job, sight unseen, sound unheard! I just showed up for the first job. In 1998, Rudi Petschek sent me the negatives of the black and white photos that show Celia in front of the band.

The entire band is watching the leader for cues except for me...I am watching Willie for cues. smiley face

Those three jobs are still a major highlight of my musical career. Pete Escovedo sang and played bell on at least one of the concerts. I sure wish that someone had taped those concerts!

Sands Ballroom, Oakland, CA: Front L-R: Califa-congas, Benjamin "Benny" Martinez-q├╝iro, Pete Escovedo-cowbell, Willie Vargas-timbales; Back: Jess Silva-bass.
Concert photos of Celia Cruz with my head showing on the bottom left.

I also recorded with the "Los Cuatro Amigos" on sound tracks for the children's PBS bi-lingual "Sesame Street"-like TV program called "Villa Alegre". I played congas but also overdubbed bongos and bell. I even played drums for one samba. This is the only job for which I ever received a residual check! When we recorded for TV, we got paid well but we signed away replaying rights for TV, but when they made an LP, I received a check for about $125! I think I made a Xerox of the check but I have no idea where the copy might be.

Los Cuatro Amigos:

  • Moises Rodriguez, leader, arranger, guitar, vocal
  • Cheo ?, guitar?vocal
  • Willy ?, bass.

Mike Hermosillo later joined them on trumpet for a world tour. They asked me to go with them on drums and congas but my new computer career sort of kept me from going. I somewhat regret not going!

Does anyone know where I can get the Villa Allegre LP or a tape copy?

If you do, please let me know using the Submit_Comments Page.

1971/02/14 Married to Carlynne A Blaisdell.

I worked with Augusto Amador and we recorded a few tunes with strange (for those days) time signatures, i.e., 5/4 and 7/4.

  • Augusto Amador (Latin?), leader, composer, arranger, piano and ARP, recording mixer
  • Eddie Valencia, drums
  • Califa, congas;

+++1971/10/?? Tape


Anecdote: One Sunday afternoon, at San Joses Starlight Ballroom, Sonora Mariano played opposite Cal Tjader. Tjaders conga player (the one after Bill Fitch, I think) played with his congas on stands with a mike up each conga! I played with the big band sitting down with congas on a board and no mikes. His sound was muffled, cloudy, and mushy! My congas were clear and clean. On our break, Tjader ask me if I would like to sit with him. I was tired and/or a bit scared and declined! To this day, I sometimes wonder how my musical career might have been different, if I had accepted and maybe started to work with Tjader.


I quit playing Latin and switched to playing drums, first with a Hawaiian rock group at the Tiki Ho in Los Gatos. Ted Rivera had taken me there one night and I had played a few tunes on congas and then sat in on drums for another couple of tunes. When their drummer left a few weeks later, I was asked to play with them!. This is where I met Pete Elisary. I then played with another pop group which included Dickie ?, the bass player from the previousTiki Ho job.

Anecdote: When I left Latin music, the guys in Sonora Marianao did not think I was quitting Latin music (they thought I was going to another Latin band) until I sold virtually all of my instruments (congas, bongos, timbales, drums, etc.) from the stage of Arturo's Quiet Village on my last night with the proviso that I could buy them back within a year.

I did get all my Latin stuff back within the year except for the congas which I had sold to Joyce Zavaleta (see above) so I had to buy another set of congas (GonBops this time) and I purchased a cheap drum set and enhanced it with a decent snare, cymbals, and hardware. As of 1998, I still have the GonBops and this drum set, although the drum set has been enhanced considerably and is hardly recognizable as that old set!


When Pete Elisary started "The Poor Boys of Hawaii", a pop, oldies-but-goodies, rock, PR, Hawaiian and Latin band, he asked me to play drums. We played mainly in Hayward and S.F. clubs and parties. Except for me, all the Poor Boys were all PR from Hawaii.

Poor Boys of Hawaii:

  • Pete Elisary, leader, vocals, guitar
  • Herb Rodriguez, vocals, guitar
  • Johnny Rodriguez, vocals, congas
  • Eddie Quinones, vocals, bass
  • yours truly, drums.

L-R: Eddie, Califa, Pete, Herb, Johnny

L-R: Pete, Califa, Herb, Eddie, Johnny

1974 L-R: Pete, Califa, Herb, Eddie, front Johnny

Note: In about 1991, I saw Johnny's son playing cuatro with a jibero band in Hayward, CA at PRUMA Hall. Wow! What a musician and so young! And I got to sit for a couple of tunes.

Anecdote: The following is a bit long winded but it is difficult to really describe in words: I recall a particular tune which started out as a PR seis caliente and turned into a bit of a descarga in which I was in control of the tempo and structure. We would start at a normal fast tempo but whenever I felt like it, I would change the tempo. I would do a lead-in of some kind and slow down the beat and the dancers would follow. I would do it again and again with the dancers following each tempo change keeping the same steps. Eventually the beat would be so slow that many of the dancers would have to leave the floor but the dancers who could would continue dancing the same steps at the tempo of a very very slow bolero! I would then little by little go through the reverse process, speeding up instead of slowing down and the dancers, without missing a step, would continue to dance. Eventually the tempo was about three times the speed of the original startup! We would usually lose a few more couples during the speedup! After that I would again bring the tempo down and I would continue to slow down or speed up and eventually there would be only a few couples remaining. When the tune ended both the dancers and the band received resounding ovations from the audience and the dancers! This tune often would last for more than a half hour and was a bit like a dance contest! Controlling this particular tune was a real joy for me!

2012/11/31: I just remembered that when the band wanted to do a bossa nova. But Pete was not familiar with playing I suggested that he play as if he was comping to a vocalist and it worked out just fine!

+++ tapes?


I made a University of California job transfer and moved to Poway, CA (San Diego). I did not pursue music in San Diego because I had "paid my dues" in discrimination from many Latinos (obviously not all Latinos but many!) in the San Francisco Bay Area and did not want to go through it all again. Actually, I did sit in once on congas for a couple of tunes with Jack Constanzo when I first got to S.D.