Overcoming the Odds with Music
Becky Cordova & The Company rock Northridge
As I write this, an almost overwhelming feeling of relief has overcome me. My Lady flashes me one of those reassuring smiles as I get off the phone from talking with my good friend and agent, music producer Steven Chavez, giving him a full report of the night before, as is our habit.
Published on LatinoLA: May 15, 2006
Her smile is my sunshine, his support & friendship is the warm breeze at my back, and music is a refreshing drink of life that I fill my cup with daily...
As if awakening from a good dream, I think about the night before, in which I re-established contact with some good friends that had overcome an almost devastating crisis during our hiatus, and had a really good time, ending the evening with smiles & love.
First, a little history, if you will...
Six years ago, I moved to the San Fernando Valley from the Eastside of L.A., in what was to me, uncharted waters for the music action of Frankie Firme, a former club bouncer and mobile DJ who was starting his 2nd year as an Internet DJ and entertainment writer.
I met new people (my Lady included), "discovered" new spots and new Gente, and made friends with some of the Valley's brightest Chicano talent, the likes of Gilbert Esquivel, Sal Rodriguez, and Becky Cordova & The Company Band topping the list, and all of them welcoming me into the fold that is "El Valle de San Fer"
It's the last ones that this piece focuses on. Becky Cordova and the Company Band.
Some of my first shows in the Valley were at the Fairways Tavern & Country Club in Pacoima, where Steven Chavez & I helped Chuck Herrera and East Valle Productions bring such groups as The East L.A. Revue All Star Band, Mestizo, Satisfaction, Chico, Nuestro, and ultimately, Tierra, to the Gente Brown de SFV. At every show, the staple constant was always the beloved opening home town band, The Company , who had recently added a dazzling female lead singer, Becky DeSpain, and they occassionally stole the show from the headliners...I was usually the Emcee, so I know what I'm saying!
Made up of SFV locals Eddie Garcia, Ray and Becky Cordova, Issac Avila, Fred Brown, John Sanchez, and Martin "Chili" Ortega, the Company Band has been one of those good groups that has survived the politics, ego wars, mix ups and break ups that plague most music groups as they struggle to find "their place" in the Land of 1000 Dances, which all can tell you, is frought with heartache. Many other other artists have sat in with the Company, but the core group is as tight knit as a Chicano family can get, being together for many years.
After some years together, they reached the pinnacle most L.A. music groups aspire to, traveling out their SFV neighborhood to perform on the road on what has now been called the "burrito circuit" of L.A. Chicano music, hitting places like The Montebello Inn, The Norwalk Ramada Inn, The Puente Hills and Lakewood Hop, BB King's on the Universal Citywalk, The Santa Fe Springs Swap Meet, Original Mike's in Santa Ana, The L.A. Stock Exchange, La Barca Cantina in Whittier, as well as their usual haunts & private gigs in the San Fernando Valley.
In 2005, they recorded their first CD "Taking care of business", which included guest star legendary East L.A. trombonist Romeo Prado of Thee Midniters fame, and received critical acclaim on internet radio stations. One of the co-leaders of the Band, Ray Cordova, married the pretty lead vocalist, Becky DeSpain, in a fairy tale wedding following a killer gig the night before. Eddie Garcia happily heaped a stack of CD's on me for my Arizona-New Mexico-Texas road trip with Steven Chavez and Pepe Marquez...and Aztlan fell in love with Becky Cordova, dubbed "The Diamond of the Valley" years earlier by Chuck Herrera.
Things were pretty much in the clouds for the Company Band, they had gone from 0 to 60 in less than 5 years and were gaining steam...until I got a call from Eddie Garcia earlier this year.
In a tearful tone that was choked with emotion, Eddie infomed me that The Company would be cancelling all gigs till further notice, due to their lead singer, Becky Cordova, becoming "mysteriously" sick & weak during a recent performance, and subsequent medical examination revealed Becky to have breast cancer. I tried calling her husband, Ray Cordova, but all he could do was tearfully choke on the phone and say "I'll talk with you later, Frankie...gotta take care of my Lady".
Word got around quick, and the L.A. Chicano Music World was worried about one of their own. Becky & The Company had made so many friends, and had impressed so many people with their music, it was unbelieveable & inconceiveable that it was over. Through tears and deep emotion, Eddie told me "Not gonna happen, Bro, and don't you EVER say that! I know Becky ain't a quitter and neither is the Company!". Through prayers and many unasked questions, Texas DJ Crazy Chuy Hernandez and I played the Company's music on all 3 of my shows, and in my weekly newsletter, I asked Aztlan for prayers, as they had helped me & my Lady, and others in the music world, in hard times before, and they were needed now...
Then , about 2 months ago, I answer the phone to a cheerful female voice saying "Hey, Frankie! How's my favorite DJ?". It was Lady Cordova herself, calling me & my Lady to let us know that despite cancer & surgery, she WAS NOT gonna let it whip her, she WAS NOT ready to call it quits, and she HAD NOT forgotten her friends... She could not have imagined my open-mouthed, almost tearful response when she ended the call with "I'll see you in Santa Barbara this Friday at Pepe Marquez's CD release party"...pobrecita, I thought...she ain't gonna make it up there, but her spirit was admirable...
Can you imagine mine and Pepe Marquez's shock when Lady Cordova and half the Company Band marched in to the El Paseo Restaurant in Santa Barbara for the party? Becky's smile was beautiful and she looked radiant from across the room, and the smiles on Ray's & Eddie's faces told me home~girl was still in the mix! Pepe and I had to cross the room to personaly greet her, and Pepe smilingly told me "Wow! What a pleasant suprise! I am really honored that Becky & the guys would come all the way up here for me...and she looks GREAT!". I had to agree with the Brutha...girl got heart, that's for sure!
A month later, Rick "Thee Mr." Duran invited me to his "Montebello Thursdays" show at the Montebello Inn, where Becky would be making the first of her many planned comeback performances. I couldn't make it due to my show & another previous commitment, but I asked Rick to give a full report about her. The next day, all he could say was "Becky estva mas de aquellas, homie. You missed out!".
Last Friday, my Lady and I HAD TO go see the Company,who were playing at the Presidente Dinner Club in Northridge, one of their local haunts. We had been meaning to catch their performance, being that we haven't seen them in over a year, and I hate to go that long without seeing any of my friends.
The Presidente in Northridge is one of those small, quaint, "holes in the wall" where you go for good food, and a clean, comfortable ambience, void of large noisy crowds of youngsters in the busy & crowded San Fernando Valley.
The lounge is small, maybe seating 100 people or less, but the service is good, the drinks are cold, the air conditioning works, the crowd is mellow & good looking, and a faithful Company Band following keeps the dance floor full, and the party on.
Walking in as the band was setting up, my Lady & I half expected some sickly girl sitting in a corner, just being there symbolicly as a member of the band, maybe good for one or 2 songs for the night...not "our" Becky!
To our pleasant suprise, there was Becky, looking healthy and radiant, busily checking equipment with her husband, making sound checks with band members, and greeting friends as is her habit. Upon seeing us, I was moved by her trademark smile, which is evident from across any room, and her enthusiasm, as she greeted us with smiles and strong hugs. Her hair loss evident from chemotherapy, Becky none the less looked beautiful in hat & head dress, and with her killer smile jokingly said "I might have lost my hair, but I picked up a few musical notes!". She and my Lady fell into comfortable chatter (they're homies) as I was greeted by the rest of the band members.
"We tried to keep her down, tell her to get her rest, but we can't keep her down...and she will not stay down either... I am so glad she's back, and look at her! She looks so good. I tell you, Frankie, I'm proud of her!" Eddie Garcia beamingly told me. "We just aren't the COMPANY without Becky!" Band members Martin "Chili" Ortega and Issac Avila agreed. "Just watch her work," they told me. I ran into brother Internet DJ Ray "Maloman" Roybal, who told me "You will never guess this Lady is a cancer survivor in just the last 2 months. I'm just gonna kick back and enjoy this".
I got a chance to speak with band co-leader and Becky's husband, Ray Cordova: "I am so proud of her, and happy to call her my wife. I love her so much, and she came through this like a champ! I was probably more worried & tore up than she was, but with all the support & love we got from everybody, thank God we got through this, and we will get through anything else together. In the 35 years I've been performing, recording, and producing , this has been the most fun, being apart of the Company Band. They're my second family. We're getting back on our feet after being off the set for almost 2 months, and I gotta say (breaking out into a big smile)... it's nice to be back on stage as the Company, making music for the people like back in the good old days. This month Becky & I celebrate our first year anniversary as husband & wife. Am I a lucky guy or what?".
And with that, The Company, featuring the "Diamond of the Valley", Becky Cordova, went to work.
Smiling, dancing, and singing like a happy teenager, Becky confidently hit all the corners, taking it upstairs and back, with the band backing her up masterfully, Eddie, Ray & Issac providing soulful backup vocals, and "Chili" Ortega just exploding on stage with energy on congas. It was evident that the band was just as happy & enthusiastic as Becky to be back on the set.
...They were "on it" tonight, performing songs off their CD,and the full dance floor was testament to that, as Becky danced and sang her way back into everybody's heart.
A highlight of the night was when Becky got down to business with the Oldies. Hitting a favorite of my Lady's and mine, Becky performed Etta James's timeless "At Last". I remember about 4 years ago when Becky was relatively new, she used to tell me how she was a little subconscious about how she looked on stage, and how she worried about "taking it upstairs" with the high notes.
Tonight, my friend Becky, Lady Cordova, the "Diamond of the Valley", cancer survivor extraordinnaire, took it upstairs with one of the most beautiful vocal rolls I've ever her sing...and ended it with a smile that drew a standing ovation.
They all tell me it's "back to business" for The Company, and another CD is in the planning stage...I'm gonna get mine!
Judging by their smiles, enthusiasm, and performance, Aztlan will be blessed by the Goddess of Ritmo once again.
Note: For more info concerning the Company Band, and to wish Becky Cordova continued recovery & success : www.thecompanyband-tcb.com
And tell 'em you heard it from Frankie Firme & LatinoLA.com !
When not cruising with his Lady visiting old friends and dancing the night away, Frankie Firme is an Internet Radio DJ and contributing writer.