"Suavecito" to Latin Legends
by Mark Guerrero
Malo is one of the most successful and enduring Latin rock
bands in the world. This year, 2003, they’re celebrating
their 31st anniversary. Their biggest hit, “Suavecito,”
reached number 18 on the Billboard charts in April of 1972.
They’ve played all over the world and have performed
on the bill with the Rolling Stones and Queen. Malo
has at least ten albums to their credit and continue to tour.
In 1997, along with Tierra and El Chicano, they recorded a
live album called “Latin Legends Live.”
The three bands have toured extensively since as “Latin
To get the story of Malo, it begins
with lead singer Arcelio Garcia. Arcelio was born in
Puerto Rico and moved to San Francisco with his family when
he was three years old. When he was a teenager, some
friends of his had a singing group and asked him to sing with
them because their baritone had gone into the army.
Arcelio didn’t know if he could sing, but said he’d
give it a shot. He found that he liked it and started
to learn from his more experienced friends. One day
a car drove by while Arcelio was singing on the sidewalk with
his group. The driver told Arcelio he liked his voice
and asked him if he would join his band. Arcelio checked
it out and joined the band called The Malibus, named after
the sporty Chevrolet. They went on to become a very
well known and popular band in the Bay area in the mid-sixties.
At first they played mainly r&b, but later started to
add Latin music to the mix. Three or four years into
the career of The Malibus, a guitarist was brought in by the
name of Jorge Santana, the brother of the already famous Carlos
Santana. In 1970, The Malibus changed their name to
Malo and things started happening. By 1971, they were
signed to Warner Brothers Records and recorded their first
album, which was simply entitled "Malo" (BS-2584).
Arcelio co-wrote four of the six songs, including their classics
"Nena" and "Cafe." Released in 1972,
"Malo" also included “Suavecito," which
had evolved from a song they had written and been doing in
clubs called “My Love.” One of the band
members at the time, Richard Bean, wrote a new lyric which
gave birth to a major hit record. Malo members Pablo
Tellez and Abel Zarate also got credit for the composition.
“Suavecito” led to world tours and laid the groundwork
for their career of three decades so far. The members
on the first album were: Arcelio Garcia, lead vocals;
Jorge Santana, lead guitar; Abel Zarate, lead guitar, vocals;
Pablo Tellez, bass; Richard Spremich, drums; Richard Kermode,
keyboards; Luis Gasca, trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals; and Roy
Murray, 2nd trumpet, trombone, flute and sax. Guest
musicians included Coke Escovedo, timbales; Victor Pantoja,
congas; and Richard Bean, timbales and lead vocal on "Suavecito."
Malo has always had a "melting pot" of an ethnic
mix, with Chicanos, Anglos, and people of Puerto Rican, Nicaraguan,
and Philippino descent.
Later in 1972, Warner Brothers released Malo's second album,
"Dos" (BS 2652), followed by "Evolution"
(BS 2702) in 1973. In 1974, Arcelio was incorrectly
diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. It turned out
to be yellow jaundice, but he was unable to sing for a year.
This was the period when Little Willie G., formerly of Thee
Midniters of East L.A., came in and became lead singer for
Malo. Willie did one album entitled “Ascención”
(BS 2769) and toured with the band. This album was Malo's
last with Warner Brothers. Back in good health, Arcelio,
who owns the Malo name and logo, moved to New York and started
a new Malo. This resulted in the release of Malo V in
1981. Arcelio then came back to the west coast, where
he has been based ever since. In 1986, Malo had an album
called "Coast To Coast" on the Blue Heron label.
"Señorita" was released on GNP Crescendo Records
in 1995. In 1997, two live albums were issued, "Malo
Rocks the Rockies," on an independent label, and "Latin
Legends Live," on Thump Records, featuring Malo,
Tierra, and El Chicano. It was recorded live at The
Hop in Puente Hills and it has sold very well, according to
Arcelio. Malo has gone through many personel changes
over the years, but Arcelio is the one constant. Jorge
Santana, played with Malo for three or four years in the early
70s. Since then he’s had his own bands and has
performed often with his brother, Carlos. He's also had albums
out, including 1978's "Jorge Santana" and 1979's
"It's All About Love," both on Tomato Records.
In 1994, Jorge was on an album with Carlos and their nephew,
Carlos Hernandez, entitled "The Santana Brothers"
on Island Records. In the last several years Jorge plays
often with Malo. In fact, he just performed with Malo
last weekend, on March 29, 2003 at the Star Plaza Theater
in Merrillville, Indiana.
Malo's current lineup includes: Arcelio Garcia, lead
vocals; Julian Molina, bass; David George, drums; Gabriel
Manzo, lead guitar; Justin Rosetti, second lead guitar; Daniel
Cervantes, keyboards; Frank Bailey, lead trumpet; Pete Rodriguez,
trumpet; Steve Rocha, trombone; Gibby Ross, timbales; and
Tony Menjivar, congas. Another addition to the current
Malo is Arcelio’s son, Octaviano, who’s an
excellent singer and performer in his own right. He
and Arcelio work very well together. My band, Mark Guerrero
& Radio Aztlán, performed twice on the bill with Malo
in 2002. The first time at the Galaxy Theater in Santa
Ana, California and the second at The Hop in Puente Hills,
California. Believe me, the current Malo is great and
can rock the house. Their music ranges from romantic
ballads to high energy Latin grooves. I met Arcelio
at the second concert at The Hop and spoke to him about doing
this article. I'm also on an album with Malo called
"The Chicano Alliance" on Our Town Records (1998),
which includes my songs "On the Boulevard" and "Rosalie"
and Malo's "Lady I Love."
Malo has given back to the community
by doing many benefits for schools and other good causes over
the years. They recently raised $35,000 to refurbish
public baseball fields for Latino teams in the bay area.
Arcelio is also proud of the fact that some of Malo’s
music, including two songs he co-wrote, “Nena”
and “Cafe,” are in college music text books.
He jokingly says that was the only way he was going to get
to college. In 1999, longtime Malo members Gabe Manzo
and Tony Menjivar formed a faith based band. Since Malo
means “bad,” they named their band, Bueno, which
means “good.” The bands Malo and Bueno have
a close connection, but are separate entities and completely
different in the mission and purpose of their music.
Arcelio, who became a Christian about three years ago, occasionally
sings with Bueno, but is not a regular member. Speaking
of good, a few years ago, the band Sugar Ray recorded a hit
song called "Every Morning," which used the vocal
hook from "Suavecito." Unlike many other artists,
Malo did not have to go to court to get their share. Everything
was handled properly up front. It turns out, Sugar Ray's
lead singer, Mark McGrath, had seen Malo play at a car show
when he was a kid. McGrath was taken to the show by
his father, who was a big Malo fan and loved the song "Suavecito."
has some reissue collections available. GNP Crescendo
Records released “The Best of Malo” (GNPD 2205)
in 1991 and Rhino Records issued a boxed set called “Celebración!,”
which includes Malo’s first four albums. Also,
Malo's 1995 CD on GNP Crescendo Records, "Señorita,"
(GNPD 2244) is still available on the net at: www.gnpcrescendo.com.
As for the future, Malo will be back in the studio in two
weeks to record a brand new album on Arcelio’s new label,
Olam, which is Malo backwards. They’re also doing
a dvd with VH1, which will include clips of various television
appearances Malo did in the early 70s such as Don Kirshner’s
Rock Concert, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, and “The
Midnight Special.” VH1’s cameras will also
follow Malo around on tour for the dvd. To find out
what's currently happening with Malo, check out their official
This article is based on an audio taped telephone interview
by Mark Guerrero with Arcelio Garcia on March 28, 2003.
In January of 2004, Malo founding drummer Richard Spremich
sent me an e mail after reading my article on Malo and brought
some additional information about the band's history to my
attention. According to Richard, he along with lead
guitarist Abel Zarate, Roy Murray, Bob Olivera, and Fist Stevens,
were in a band called Naked Lunch. When they were in
their late teens, they played a benefit concert with Tower
of Power and Boz Scaggs and blew everyone away. "We
were the only band that got a standing ovation and an encore
that night." A Warner Brothers record executive
was in the audience. This led to the idea of combining
members of Naked Lunch with members of the Malibus to form
Malo and a deal with Warner Brothers. Richard Spremich,
Abel Zarate, and Roy Murray went with Malo. Richard
Spremich and Abel Zarate were members of Malo on their first
album and contributed to the second album, "Dos,"
before leaving the band. Roy Murray, who played the
great signature trombone intro and trumpet part on "Suavecito,"
was a band member only on the first album.
You Tube Video
for "Suavecito" (1972)
"Best of" CD available at amazon.com link below
to go to the Malo store at amazon.com
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