I had the chance to chat with the original singer of the song, "Suavecito", and one of the founding members of the band, “Malo”, Richard Bean. This is what I learned about him and his musical journey.
Tell me a little about your background and how you got started in music.
Going back to the beginning, I am an original founding member of the band, “Malo” from back in the day. This was back while I was in a band called, “The Malibu's” before changing the band name to, “MALO.” So, we go through the Malibu phase, we then start to record the first, “MALO” self-titled album under Warner Bros. Records. After recording my song, “Suavecito,” left the band and started another band called “Sapo”. I was with them for a while and then I went back to “Malo” again. Then I toured with Jorge Santana (Carlos Santana’s brother) And then went back to “Malo” again. So, as of today I'm back again reclaiming my legacy.
Taking you back a little further I was born in El Paso TX. I moved to San Francisco, California in the early 70s. From there I started school in the San Francisco Bay Area. My interest in music started after seeing my brother come home with a saxophone. I thought it was a cool instrument to learn so, in junior high school, I followed my brother's lead and began playing saxophone as well.
I even played in marching bands. In the ’60s, we moved to the mission district of San Francisco, (An evolving neighborhood with Latino roots and a hipster vibe. Old-school taquerias and eclectic live-music clubs mix with chef-driven eateries and craft cocktail lounges) I got involved in a choir and that's where I met Carlos Santana. We put a band together and I and one of my buddies who also played sax got connected to Carlos because he wanted to have a couple of horns in his band. Even though that wasn’t the first band that I played in, being in a band with Carlos was definitely one of the highlights.
That was short-lived because Carlos wanted to pursue music professionally whereas some of the other members in the band still had jobs and they couldn't be available for some of the times he wanted to have practice. The band was called the “Dynamics”. We did have a couple of engagements. One that I can remember was the one that we did at Mission Hills high for a Spanish club band which was very cool! It was nice. Even though I had my own band, I also played in other bands like, “The Righteous Ones” and (guitarist) “Abel Zarate”, who later would join me in the band “Malo” and when we did the recording back in the early70s. He was young at the time.
Another band I played was called the “Malibu’s” And a lot of musicians that were from that band went on to do a lot of other things. The malibu's was short-lived because a couple of the guys in the band ended up being drafted into the military. This is what led me to form a band called “The Righteous Ones”. So, when that broke up, I went back to “Malibu's”. See, before we were called the “Malibu's”, we were known as “The Fabulous Malibu's”. The fabulous Malibu's were more like an R&B band. In this band, I played sax and co-sang with a friend of mine, Arcelio Garcia, (percussionist for Malo). Later, he and I would team up together in “Malo”.
Now that band was pretty famous back in the day. Back in the day, “Dick Clark”, had a program called “Happening 68”. We performed on his show and Out of all the bands in the United States, we made it to the finals. Unfortunately, didn't win we lost to a girl band out of Texas. So that was a springboard to what was to come later. So basically, the fabulous malibu's became the malibu's which then became Malo.
We started playing in a club called, The Nightlife” for quite some time. We were the house band for about 9 months straight and that's where we got noticed by a producer affiliated with, Warner Bros. Records, David Rubinson. So, we ended up signing with Warner Bros. Records and that's when we did Malo’s first album.
The first album which included the song, “Suavecito” (means "soft" or "smooth" in Spanish) was written by me, and this was the song that sprung the album to the top. I wrote that song in high school for a girl that I was in love with but, she didn't know that I wrote the song for her. And later on, she ended up breaking my heart, but I never told her. The funny thing is people always ask me what her name is, but I feel that it's better that I don't mention her name. Let the legacy be more of a mysterious thing. Unfortunately, I ended up leaving that band and I started a new one, “Sapo”, a Latin rock band.
With “Sapo”, we were pretty famous. We signed with “Bell Records”. This label had many successful recording artists such as The Partridge Family, The 5th dimensions, and so on. They had a really good catalog. Unfortunately for us, we didn't get the right exposure. One of the contributing factors to the lack of exposure was that the president of that company was going to be leaving the label which put us in a position where they couldn't promote our band The way we would have liked them too. But that was a really good band. So, I was with “Sapo” for a few years.
In the early 90s, I went back to “Malo” and toured with them and then left them and went back to start up “Sapo” again. So now, as it relates to the Malo band, I want to protect the legacy with “Malo” and “Suavecito” and make sure that the music is being performed the way I originally intended it to be.
What is one of the most memorable moments in your music career?
One of the biggest things in my career that I'm the proudest of is “Suavecito”. This song from what I've heard is known as the “Chicano National Anthem.” The funny thing is that I didn't believe it for a long time until me and Jorge, Carlos Santana’s brother, put together a four-piece rock and roll band Jorge Santana called “Jet”. Now a lot of people don't know that we formed that band, but a lot of good music came out of the Jet band. Now, this is after we recorded the Jorge Santana album back in 1978 which is right now picking up a lot of notoriety especially now since Jorge has just passed away in May of this year.
Now I want to go back a little bit. I told you that we recorded it with “Sapo”. Well, after that, I got with Jorge Santana in the late ’70s and early ’80s and we recorded the “Jorge Santana” album. I wrote a beautiful song called “Love the Way” that was on that album as well. That song, “Love the Way”, did the same thing for Jorge Santana's album that “Suavecito” did for Malo. It caused that album to reach major success.
“Sapo” also had a big hit and that song was called “Can't Make it.” And that was the song that shot that album to the top. But getting back to my memorable moment. After Jorge and I went on tour, I put back “Sapo” together, then I went back with Jorge again. But this band was a four-piece rock band that we put together with just rock and roll music was amazing! It was some of the best guitar work that I've ever heard Jorge play.
One day we were performing at Lincoln Park in LA for Cinco De Mayo. We were sponsored by Budweiser and we were performing “Suavecito” as a four-piece band, but the crowd still loved it. So, would it happen was when we started performing the song, I noticed these four big Latinos, Chicano men holding this huge Mexican flag. So, when we started playing the song, they got right behind us holding up the flag and I can hear people saying get off the stage! Then someone else shouted, “not until the song is over” so as soon as the song was over, they walked off the stage. But I have to say, when that was happening, it brought tears to my eyes when I was singing the song. It meant so much to them as it meant so much to me performing for them. Then I would hear “Suavecito” is the Chicanos national anthem man! I would have to say those events were some of the highlights of my career and I'll never forget them.
What were the most challenging moments?
Well, music is always a challenge especially writing music. Even though you want the crowd to respond to your music it's like it doesn't really matter because this is something that comes from your heart. I don't know if it will be a challenge, but it will be something that I would want to see what the reaction would be. And the faces of the crowd when you are performing the song. I don't know if that would be challenging but I think that would be part of it. Both writing music and performing live are always a challenge because you never know how people are going to react. But most of the time when I perform, I get great responses from the people And I always get a lot of positive feedback as far as how well we performed.
Who were your musical influences?
Well, I would say R&B music. I used to listen to a lot of Smokey Robinson, Sam and Dave (an American soul and R&b Duo), and Sam Cooke. See, I'm more of a crooner. My background is more like the temptations and The Righteous Brothers. I just had that R&B in me you know I love that soul. I would say that soul music had a big influence on my life. Just like when I was played sax I listened to “Junior and All-Stars (Junior Walker). A lot of the music back then had horns in it you know so music in R&B.
And I also like the songs of the 80s. I think they had a lot of feeling in them. It wasn't till later on when Carlos Santana came out with the Latin rock Is when I got into rock and started playing the timbales. Later, I realized that playing timbales and trying to lead a band is not the same as just being upfront. Because, when you are playing behind an instrument you can't really interact with the crowd because you're stuck behind their playing. So, I eventually gave up playing timbales so that I can be more interactive with the audience doing vocals.