Sweet Home Alabama

With the taste of East Los Angeles Sabor

By Hector A. Gonzalez
Published on LatinoLA: January 14, 2010

Sweet Home Alabama

I have always been very grateful to God that I was given the gift and the ability to play a musical instrument.

Throughout my entire 35-year career as a Professional Musician and Bass Player, I have faced many musical challenges in my life and I am very proud and honored to say that I have always delivered as the true professional that I consider myself to be.

In 1998 when Television Producer Dan Guerrero contacted me about being the Musical Director for the Telemundo Daytime Variety Show, "Al Dia Con Maria Conchita", starring Actress and Grammy-nominated singer Maria Conchita Alonzo, I knew that I would have my hands full. I not only had to compose the opening and closing theme songs along with all of the bumper music, but I also had to provide the back-up band and musical arrangements anytime that Maria or the producers wanted or needed her to perform live. I refused to Lip Sync to pre-recorded tracks and I always insisted that the Telemundo House Orchestra perform live whenever possible.

Our television shooting schedule was very hectic and we were taping the show "Live" in front of a studio audience at the KTLA Tribune Studios in Hollywood.

Unfortunately, the show was canceled almost a year into production, with nearly 80 one hour shows in the can. We were all very disappointed because up to that point, there were no other Latina Daytime Musical Variety Talk Shows on Spanish or American Television and we all knew that we had made television history with Maria Conchita Alonzo.

Two weeks ago, I got the call from General Manager, Jennifer Burchfield at Brookside Sales to be the Musical Contractor and Band Leader for the pre-game VIP Party at the Brookside Golf Club and the Alabama Tail Gate Event and the Citi BCS National Championship at the Rose Bowl that was televised on ABC TV this past Thursday the 7th of January, 2010.

This event is considered to be the Super Bowl of College Football.

Coincidentally, my ABC Sports Prime Time Emmy Award for "Outstanding Individual Achievement in Live Sound" is for the 1984 Summer Olympics and Football Soccer at the Rose Bowl which also aired exclusively on the ABC television network.

This event was particularly challenging and interesting to me because the entire audience was made up of mostly people from the state of Alabama and they were all here in Pasadena, California to support their college football team and to party hearty. My responsibility was to keep them happy and musically satisfied. The song list had to be upbeat and recognizable. The only special request was that we play "Sweet Home Alabama".

My usual East Los Angeles Band Leader song list with Oldies, Funk, Hip Hop and Disco tunes was not exactly what this gig called for and I really wanted to make an impression to the crowd which I was told could be anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 people in a huge tent located on the golf course adjacent to the Rose Bowl.

To play it safe, I needed all "Classic Rock" songs for this event.

I remembered my Bell High School friend, Bassist and Vocalist Phil Salvail whom I had seen perform in 2008 at Boomers in Long Beach, California with the "Sin City Playboys". His vocal performance and bass playing really blew me away and I was very impressed!

Phil was the very first person that I called and he was very excited and available for the gig and had also lived in Alabama for a while. He recommended studio and concert drummer, Johnny Vila who had worked with Phil in a Van Halen Tribute Band......perfect, so far so good!

Next, I called the legendary Irish Lead Guitarist, Tim Sullivan who had worked with Phil and already knew most of the songs and thank God that he was also available for this gig!

I rounded off the group with legendary rhythm guitarist and vocalist, Robert "Bobcat" Cook. I also added Ricky Rodriguez on Congas to add the L.A. musical flavor and I brought in Luis "Chia" Lizarraga as my assistant and to sing background vocals and play hand percussion.

I later added Richard Downings on Roland Synthesizer Guitar to cover the horn parts as well as keyboard and assorted musical instruments. This guy is an awesome musician!

Rehearsals began at the Hot House Rehearsal Studios in Santa Fe Springs with our dear friend and owner Richard Morales who was also a former Record Executive at Capitol Records. The staff and facility along with their musical equipment and location always makes the Hot House a pleasurable place to rehearse.

Next, Phil, Tim and "Bobcat" started putting together a song list and we spent four (4) evenings practically in a row, rehearsing with the entire group until we started to feel and sound like an actual band. We reviewed every Classic Rock song from "Kryptonite" by 3 Doors Down to "Rebel Yell" by Billy Idol, "Little Sister" by Elvis and "All Summer Long" by Kid Rock . We even threw in "Smooth" by Carlos Santana and yes, we also learned "Sweet Home Alabama". We had to be ready and prepared with enough songs for this gig because we were scheduled to perform from 1:00pm to 4:00pm with the game scheduled to begin at 5:00pm.

Finally, we had the perfect song list for the event.

The biggest musical challenge for me was playing the 1966 Fender VI Jaguar Baritone Electric Bass Guitar (on loan from the Kevin Laffey Guitar Collection) which was the same model used by The Beatles in the film, "Let it Be" and on the song, "Hey Jude". Harmonically, I had to stay out of the bass players way and not confuse the drummer with these two (2) low frequency Fender musical instruments battling for attention. Phil was playing his 1974 Fender Precision Bass and along with Bobcat's vintage 1964 Telecaster we had the original sound that Leo Fender sonically envisioned back in 1962 when the Jaguar Baritone Bass Guitar was first introduced by the Fender Musical Instrument Company in Fullerton, California.

On the day of the gig, Dolores Gonzalez who owns Pro 1 Stage and Production Sound Services provided the massive Concert P.A. System in the Alabama VIP party tent. They also provide all of the stage and sound services for most of the events at the Staple Center in downtown L.A. including the upcoming Annual Academy Awards Show.

Chicago-born Audio Engineer, TC mixed the "Live" Sound and we rocked that tent. TC has been touring with B.B. King and Carlos Santana to name a few. What a Pro.........

At the beginning of our second set, we opened with, "Sweet Home Alabama" and it was amazing to hear the entire crowd singing along with us on the chorus. It reminded me of the 8th Annual Chicano Music Awards at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium a few years back when the entire crowd of 3,000 people were singing, "Naa, Na, Na, Na, Naa" along with Cannibal & the Headhunters and their hit song, "Land of 1000 Dances".

We actually ended up playing for over two hours non-stop with a very short break in between. This was definitely a high pressure gig but we were all having so much fun that it didn't really seem like we had been on stage for that long.

Finally, during our intermission, the University of Alabama Marching Band and Cheerleaders performed for the crowd and we took the opportunity to take a much-needed bathroom break and enjoy some great food. Several UA college students came up and took some photos with Phil Salvail. The crowd absolutely loved us and they even said to me at the end of the show that they wanted our band card for future events.

To top it off, Alabama won the game......WOW!!!!

Special Thanks to "Bobcat" for all of your help and assistance during the preparation for this event along with the American Federation of Musicians and photographer, Wilki Tom for your incredible pictures and to our crew, Jim "The Hawk" Hamilton and Selim Osorio as well as Jennifer Burchfield and her husband, Sergio for having the trust and faith in me to hire us for this outstanding and special event.

Band mates and Crew Members, Phil Salvail (Class of 75), Jim "The Hawk" Hamilton (Class of 72), Robert "Bobcat" Cook (Class of 72), Selim Osorio (Class of 72) and Hector A. Gonzalez (Class of 72) are all graduates of Bell High School on Bell Avenue in the City of Bell, California.

It is also interesting to note that on May 7th of 1965, our own East Los Angeles musical groups, The Premiers and Cannibal & the Headhunters opened for The Rolling Stones at Legion Field Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama.

About Hector A. Gonzalez:
Emmy Award Winner, Musician and Professor Hector A. Gonzalez teaches Chicano Studies at East Los Angeles College and is the owner of Rampart Records, celebrating 50 years (1960 - 2010) of Chicano Music and the West Coast Eastside Sound
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