Family Tradition

With prospects drying up for Latin rock, a gifted guitarist returns to the acoustic sounds of his youth

But he began to miss his family, who strongly urged him to follow them to the United States. He also wanted to play something more original. In Cancún, he felt like a musical gun for hire, a rented musician, not unlike the mariachis anxiously standing in line to be hired for the next fiesta.

Nonetheless, he was reluctant to come to America, and for the first two months after arriving in Phoenix in 1994, he was depressed and wanted to return to Mexico. His English was weak, and though he was with his family, he felt isolated. He didn't know any musicians and he was far from his desired destination of New York. But the culture shock soon started to fade when he and his younger brother Francisco "Pancho" went to a night of rock en español at Paraiso Night Club at 39th Avenue and Indian School.

Thursday nights at Paraiso were the first nights of rock en español in the Valley, and happened at a time when the scene was just beginning to assert itself. Angeles laughs when he talks about the band that first night, remembering that "they sucked bad, man."

Cascabel: An acoustic ensemble now playing Mondays at Six in Scottsdale.
Kevin Scanlon
Cascabel: An acoustic ensemble now playing Mondays at Six in Scottsdale.
Gustavo Angeles: A rock en español veteran from Mexico.
Kevin Scanlon
Gustavo Angeles: A rock en español veteran from Mexico.

That band, Leyenda Urbana (Urban Legend) had just formed. When the drummer literally fell backward off his kit, the crowd began yelling "Culero, culero" ("asshole, asshole") and throwing anything it could get its hands on. "Limes, anything man, but they kept playing," Angeles says.

For the next three weeks, Pancho bugged Durango, LU's leader, for an audition for his brother. Angeles soon replaced the band's guitar player and LU began playing covers of El Tri, Nirvana and Metallica for a passionate mosh-pit that, on a good night, might number 300 Mexican rockeros.

One night the direction of the band changed drastically when it opened for Sergio Arau, who was in Botellita de Jerez, a famous rock band in Mexico, and is also the son of Alfonso Arau, the Mexican director (Like Water for Chocolate) and actor (El Guapo in Three Amigos!). According to Angeles, Arau played an incredible set of originals with musicians from Argentina and was booed mercilessly by an intolerant crowd that wanted to hear rock covers. Backstage, Arau encouraged LU members to play original music if that's what they really wanted to do. Those words stuck with the band, which gradually started throwing originals into its set lists, until it was playing only its own songs. "After a while, the crowd was requesting the original tunes," Angeles says with a smile.

The money was rolling in, with the band's average nightly take at $650 and reaching as much as a thousand bucks. When the promoters realized they had a good thing going, they lowered the band's share of the door from 60 percent to 20. The group decided to try its luck elsewhere and soon realized that, even after the big reduction, it had left a good deal. LU's momentum was further slowed when Durango moved to Texas for a year. Angeles formed a new group with his brother Pancho on bass, but it didn't have LU's spark.

When Durango returned, he joined the Angeles brothers and formed Casa de Locos. They made up for lost revenue by playing gigs at the Mason Jar and even some out-of-town shows. They also started to open for some internationally known acts at the Celebrity Theatre. Their first gig there was for Ekhymosis, the group Juanes fronted before going solo. "We were treated like rock stars," Angeles remembers.

Word of mouth was starting to spread, and for the next year and a half, CDL was the mainstay in an exciting period for rock en español in the Valley. It was the house band at Toolies rock en español Tuesdays, and a particular favorite of owner Bill Bachand. But the frustration of trying to find both high-paying and regular gigs, combined with the scene's overall loss of energy, led to the demise of the band. The subsequent Latin music explosion may have had a global impact, but it has yet to return the Phoenix rock en español scene to the glory it experienced between '94 and '98.

The realization that the local rock en español movement was sputtering led to a change in Angeles' outlook. He migrated to more consistent gigs in the non-rock Latin scene, where he's also made an impact. His role in Cascabel is key if only for his experience in Cuba. On a visit there with Guerrero, he learned the tres, a unique three double-stringed guitar that looks and sounds like a twelve-stringed acoustic and is featured prominently in the band's traditional repertoire.

Cascabel, Spanish for rattle, is an acoustic ensemble that also features percussionist Camilo Moreno and guitarist/singer Curt Cichon. They recently started a new Monday night residence at Six in Scottsdale, and there is talk of some exciting international possibilities, including a one-month World Cup gig in Japan, and a return trip to Cuba. If Angeles and his bandmates do visit Cuba, they plan to precede the trip with a two- to three-month stay in Spain. The reason? "To live the life of a Gypsy," Angeles says.

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