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Richard Bean: Rock Royalty Doesn't Get Any Better

Meet the real man behind the words and voice of the Chicano National Anthem AKA Suavecito

By Belinda Quesada, Contributing Writer
Published on LatinoLA: August 1, 2013


Richard Bean: Rock Royalty Doesn't Get Any Better


Chicano Rock legend Richard Bean comes from unique lineage and was destined for fame. His great, great grandfather is the infamous Judge Roy Bean whose reputation was well known in the Southwest during the late 1800's. Judge Roy Bean dispensed his own brand of creative justice with compassion and no doubt would have been proud of his grandson, Richard Bean, whose legendary musical credentials date back some four decades.

His Latin Rock band Sapo is still fiercely popular with three decades of loyal fans. Playing everything from their standard Chicano favorites to the classics like Suavecito and others. If you are in the Southern California area, Sapo is playing Friday and Saturday, August 2nd and 3rd, in the Los Angeles area.

Born in El Paso, Texas, and raised in San Francisco, California, Richard's destiny was achieved early on when, while still in high school, he penned Suavecito. A song now hailed as the Chicano National Anthem and played at every picnic, house party, wedding, concert, and car show. Musically influenced by the Rock & Roll sounds from the Hippies of Haight Ashbury, the emergence of Latin Rock in the Mission and the Rhythm & Blues heard in his Hunters Point neighborhood; Richard loved his eclectic life.

Richard Bean's Bio reads like an encyclopedia of the Latin Rock Hall of Fame. He has played with almost every successful musician in Chicano music history. Interesting trivia note, while Bean created Malo's mega hit Suavecito, he never toured with the band; he just made them famous. Asked how he dealt with that irony, he states very matter of factly, "I don't live in the past. It was a mutual decision. I'm a positive guy and thankful for what I have."

The music bug bit Richard in elementary school when asked by his Fifth grade teacher to write a book report on Russia. Instead, with their teacher's permission, Richard and a couple of other band students in his class, learned a couple of Russian songs and performed them for the class. Hence, a musical star was born and at age ten, Richard played his first concert to a group of his piers. They received an "A" for their outstanding efforts. (To this day, Richard still remembers those songs and to prove it, he hummed the Russian melody.)

Blessed with a sense of humor and a gentle personality. Those who know Richard well confirm his loyalty to his family, especially to his father. Richard's father has been ill for most of his life having suffered from Malaria while serving in the armed forces stationed in the Philippines. Only returning home to survive a stroke and a nervous breakdown. For the past thirty plus years his son Richard has been his primary caretaker. Papa Bean will be eighty-eight in August. The interview below left me with a greater respect for Richard Bean. He could have taken his career to many different heights but instead, decided to be a good son to his father. Not many people would give up a popular musical career to care for their ailing loved one.

Belinda Quesada (BQ): How did you start your band?

Richard Bean (RB): I was six years old when we settled here in San Francisco. I lived in downtown San Francisco until an earthquake rocked our house off its foundation. Our family was relocated to Hunters Point and I was about seven or eight. Later, I was raised in the Mission District of SF and went to Mission high with Carlos Santana. I learned to played saxophone with my brother Joe, who was four years older, played that instrument. Later, I joined the band at Mission High and played sax and timbales. That helped me a lot.

I performed in school assemblies and in the marching band. I joined the Boys Club band and got to do parades, etc. Then, I got to meet more people who loved music. My friend, Andy Martin, and me started playing in Carlos Santana's band in high school. Played with him, short lived, it was the start of really wanted to be in a band. We formed the Righteous Ones after we left the Santana band. Then the Malibu's, which was later, shortened to Malo.

Next, I started Sapo, and the rest is history. We have a group of super talented musicians who are dedicated. It's the best band; we all get along really well.

BQ: What motivates your songwriter? Any particular frame of mind or place you have to be to write?

RB: It is really weird with me. For me, the melody comes first. I have tapes where I hum a lot of different things. I play it all in my mind and test it out on instruments. I think about a subject and then I'll write a few lyrics and then come back to it. It's gotta be where I'm feeling it. Not forced. I have a lot of songs that are not recorded more like melodies that I always go back and forth to. I am learning to play the piano. I love the piano, the chords, and the progression. I taught myself to play the guitar and timbales. A lot of song writing is done on guitar. My songs will sound good with the piano. I'm very attracted to sounds. It doesn't have to be any kind, doesn't have to be rock or anything special.

BQ: Can you share any thing unusual or never shared about your creative writing process?

RB: Here's something new, I have really come to like Country music especially country rock. My brother and me have written a couple of songs. On my iphone I have 20 or 30 recorded sounds, ideas, and words that I have recorded. Whenever it comes to me, I try to capture the moment. I sometimes pick up the guitar. I don't always go to the rehearsal studio and will practice at home.

BQ: What was the music business like when you wrote your first hit "Suavecito"?

RB: There were a lot of different variations of music back then. I wrote Suavecito in the late '60's, it was a poem and I love writing poems. I wrote it during my Algebra class for my girlfriend and I was terrible in Algebra, flunked twice and had to go to summer school. Finally, I graduated high school but never told her about the song and have never disclosed her name. She was in 9th grade; I was in the 11th grade. We were always together and I would ride my bike six miles to see her. One day, I rode over there and saw a guy walk out of her house. I knew it was over. The song came from that pain. I saw her years later and I was playing with the Malibu's. We talked but it wasn't the same. She was a dental assistant and had moved on. She was my first love. To this day, she doesn't know.

As far as other types of music, there was a lot of great music coming out of San Francisco. Carlos Santana came out with his band and a little bit of Latin music was making its way around. There was a lot of Salsa music and Latin Rock was on the rise. Our band, The Malibu's, started imitating Santana's group. There were lots of R&B music too. There was music for everybody. For our sound, it was Latin Rock. In Malo, we used horns, Carlos never did, he was more into percussions. Later he incorporated the horns.

BQ: How do you stay relevant for over four decades?

RB: (Laughing) Wow, it goes by so fast. I took a break for about three to four years. I was soul searching and toured with Malo for a couple of years in the early 90's. The conga player called me and asked me to return. It's hard to keep musicians available. You have to have something to hold on to. In my band Sapo, these musicians believe in me. All of the members are really cool and dedicated to the music. There are no personality conflicts, everybody's cool. In fact, do you know Mike Judge; one of the creators of Beavis and Butthead was in our band? He was a great bass player. He is mixed South American and white. Basically, it's been forty years of keeping positive and just not giving up on your dreams. Another thing I learned is that there's always an audience.

BQ: Describe a typical day?

RB: Ha, there is no typical day! Sometimes I might start mowing the lawn, take care of my dad and his needs, go to doctors appts with him, do laundry, schedule gigs, pay bills, grocery shop, or grab a meal and movie with my girl. Even though I plan it out and always check my list, seems like there's always something that I missed.
Sometimes I stress too much like getting to the gig on time. And I remember what Cindi, my late wife would say, why are you stressing. You can only do what you can do. You can't change anything else. Cindi and I were married for 34 years. I lost her to Cancer some years back. But, she's the reason why my father is doing better and out of the hospitals. She wanted him to come live with us. She helped him recuperate. I will always thank her and love her for that.

BQ: Did you dedicate any songs to your late wife, Cindi?

RB: Yes, on Jorge Santana's album "Love the Way" is a song I wrote for Cyndi. It was 2:30 in the morning and I was inspired to write. I strummed the guitar, naked and it just came to me. When I woke up, I finished the rest of it. (True story!) My wife's passing inspired some of the music that I wrote with others, i.e., "Tonight Your Mine." But "Love The Way," is my favorite. Even now when I sing it, I sometimes get emotional.

BQ: Do you consider yourself spiritual?

RB: I believe in God but don't go to church every Sunday. I do believe in a higher power. There is a purpose for everything. I'll never forget when Cindi was ill with Cancer years ago. I went to the backyard and looked up at the stars and asked God to leave her for the children and me just a few more years. He did. She lived another 16 years. I was in church yesterday and it felt good. I pray on my own time. Sometimes I pray before I go to sleep. You don't have to be in church to talk to God.

BQ: How important is your Latino culture?

RB: Very important. I think we should teach our children Spanish, if they know English. And, if they know Spanish, teach them English. As a kid, we spoke Spanish and I didn't know any English. I recited a whole play in Spanish and never really forgot my Spanish. It's important that everyone gets behind their culture and learns something about their history and roots. We have a great history. Going back to the Mayan's, the pyramids, it's remarkable. You can really appreciate what they have done even now.

I believe that it's family first. Friends will come and go. Keep your family together. My boys are close to me and my brother Joseph and I are close. He helps with dad too. In turn, I help my brother with screen-printing business. I'm a Graphic Artist. If we stick together, we can be very powerful.

BQ: Musically, what's happening now?

RB: I want to continue in music and still have a lot of passion for music. I enjoy singing. I look forward to traveling, meeting fans and creating music with Sapo.

BQ: You inspired the Sugar Ray band. How did that collaboration happen?

RB: Turns out that lead singer, Mark Mc Grath's, who grew up in orange County, would go to a lot of swap meets with his father who was a big fan of Malo back in the day. They always heard our music. The song "Every Morning" has the Malo hook that he loved and remembered as a kid. So, I got credit for it. They were totally fair about it from the very beginning. I received platinum and gold records recognition. Their song came out in 1998-1999 and received a BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) royalty's award for being played on air over 3 million times on the radio. Mark was a sweetheart. We took pictures and hung out for a bit at the Warfield. And Marc pointed to me when he sang that song. I felt very special. Glad to see they are on tour again.

BQ: How do you feel about Immigration Laws?

RB: I think we should change legislation. We drag each other down with too much jealousy and should all stick together as one. I see that blacks do for each other. I know that it is hard to suppress people when they want to work. Cesar Chavez did a great thing for the farm workers but there is still more to do. Some come here to work and then travel home when they're done. If they want to become a citizen, they should be allowed to.

The Latin movement continues to have a bigger, more collective voice. Especially when we vote. So, everyone should vote; let your voice be heard. Politicians know that are numbers are growing. Health care is a prime example. No one in America should be without it health insurance. There's no excuse. The government has so much money and should make healthcare affordable for all. Also, we need more Latino politicians. They are more aware of what we want and what we need.

BQ: Do you prefer Chicano or Latino?

RB: I like the word Hispanic it's easier to say. I'm a Hispanic. I don't play Hispanic rock. I play Latin Rock. The word is interchangeable too. You don't want to be pigeon holed. Blacks are called Blacks. We are different. There are so many differences within our culture.

BQ: Married, Single, children?

RB: I have a special girl for a couple of years now. And of course my two sons.

BQ: What are your priorities? Personally or Professionally.

RB: Stay focused and stay healthy. Play music, write music, and learn to play the piano. My priority is my family making sure everyone is cared for.

BQ: Any regrets?

RB: I regret not touring with Malo. I think that when the song came out at its height and someone else was signing my song, it didn't feel right. Although, I do get residuals from the music. Unfortunately, I signed over my publishing writes. I don't have any say over who sings the song. All in all, I've been pretty blessed for what life has given to me and what I've given back. I've been positive and am happy. Just a few regrets with the music side of life.

BQ: How do you want to be remembered?

RB: As someone who contributed and tried to make things better in the world. I'm a positive person. I believe if you allow negativity in your life. It is the beginning of a downward spiral. I guess I'd like to be remembered as someone who contributed musically, made people happy and appreciate life more. I'm a humble, very affectionate, and I really appreciate people. I take it all in.

BQ: What would you like to share with young musicians?

RB: The music business is tough. You are not always going to be on top. It ebbs and flows. People everywhere love music. You will always be entertaining a new audience. Practice, practice, practice. Learn as much as you can about your music and about business. When you are just starting out, it's hard to make ends meet. You might have to have a second or third job. But your love of music will carry you through.

Oh, yeah, come support Sapo, we're playing in Los Angeles Friday and Saturday, August 2nd and 3rd. For tickets: https://www.facebook.com/chicanorock1 or https://www.facebook.com/chicanorock1 or call: (415) 285-7719 or (323) 396-2438.

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