Beyond the Beat: Meet Latin Rock Promoter Dr. Rock

He's like the Caped Crusader who never lost the thrill of creating a Latin Rock venue and bringing the music to the people

By Belinda Quesada
Published on LatinoLA: November 2, 2010

Beyond the Beat: Meet Latin Rock Promoter Dr. Rock

In the 1960's, with the birth of the Chicano Movement already underway, Latin music and Latin culture continued to blossom in San Francisco. The Latino culture experienced phenomenal changes with the emergence of a new sound called Latin Rock.

Born out of a demand from the Latino counter-culture that wanted to identify more closely with their roots, the Chicano/Latino movement had begun and it inspired everyone to connect to their bilingual and biculturalism. From the important political struggles of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta leading the United Farm Workers movement, to the creation of Chicano Studies in colleges and universities, to the embracing of the Civil Rights movement, to the witnessing of the expression of Chicano art; this was the perfect storm of change. And the Chicano/Latino movement was brought to life.

It was during these tumultuous times that a creative new style of music emerged that would change Rock and Roll forever. This genre was Latin Rock.

In San Francisco's Mission District, the Latin music filled the air and the city was alive with a unique blend of sounds. With the infusion of Latino's and those newly arrived residents who still spoke their mother tongue groups like Santana and Malo thrived in this creative and liberated community. The Chicano/Latino movement wanted their own heroes and demanded their own musical sound. Thus, Latin Rock was born and with its emphasis on percussion, most notably, Timbales and Congas. It was infectious and resonated with all music lovers, not just Latinos.

At this time, an impressionable young teen was experiencing these same cultural phenomena.

Now, flash forward to present day and meet "Dr. Latin Rock", AKA Dr. Bernardo D. Gonzalez III.

At night, Dr. Rock was living his Rock & Roll dream as a successful Latin Rock Promoter and manager of the popular quintessential Latin Rock group, "Malo." By day, he was a Dentist, working in his barrio, in the Mission District. He loves Latin Rock music. Not just a little, a lot.

For Gonzalez, it began at age 15, while watching the movie "Woodstock," he fell in love with Santana's nine-minute live performance of "Soul Sacrifice." He recalls it as transformative moment and watching such a talented Mexicano like Carlos Santana play so beautifully, well; it literally changed his life forever. Already in love with Rock and Roll, having played drums, piano, and guitar: he now found another music focus, Latin Rock.

Being the only one in his family to pursue a college degree, it was important to him to complete his studies. Gonzalez attended college and went on to apply to dental school. An ambitious young man, he knew music was a passion, he just wasn't sure he could make any money from it.

A funny thing happened on the way to dental school while volunteering for Bill Graham's Presents as a security guard, Gonzalez fell in love with how musical acts were organized. As he explains it, it wasn't the business of music that he loved; it was the idea that you could create something beautiful for people to enjoy. After volunteering as a security guard for nearly a year, BGP offered him a job. Still in college, Gonzalez worked his way through dental school at the University of San Francisco Medical School.

1983, after graduating from the University of San Francisco's Dental school, Gonzalez' father, Bernardo Gonzalez II, urged him to help his fellow San Francisco Merchant Association members organize their local street fair. What better person than someone who had just learned the music promotion business?

The only way to describe what followed was pure serendipity. In search of local talent to play at their street fair, a local musician, John Watson, offered to connect him with the lead singer, Arcelio Garcia, of the legendary Latin Rock group "Malo". Turns out, they had retired some years back but, had reorganized in New York City under a new name. However, after speaking with Arcelio and the rest of "Malo" musicians, they agreed to relocate to San Francisco and have Gonzalez and Ron Sansoe, Co-manage them. This proved to be on of their best decisions for the group.

Over the last nearly three decades, thousands of music lovers both old and new have come to appreciate their fabulous/infectious Latin Rock sound. Simultaneously, in 1985, Dr. Bernie opened his dental practice in the same location where his father sold shoes some 25 years earlier and business is still going strong.

Fast-forward nearly three decades to present day. This popular San Francisco Mission District dentist is better known as "Dr. Rock" in his barrio. He's kind of like the Caped Crusader who never lost the thrill of creating a Latin Rock venue and bringing the music to the people, at very reasonable ticket prices.

This has been Dr. Rock's dream from day one.

It was his love of Latin Rock music and his keen ability to organize all facets of a major concert that helped propel him into legendary Latin Rock history as the "Go To" promoter to get it done. Luckily, he was very good at it.

Dr. Rock is an unselfish man of many talents. Since 1984, he's been collecting signed posters, records, photos, books, and all sorts of music Rock memorabilia. His collection is so vast that he has been able to create a traveling museum dedicated to the legends of Latin Rocks. The first Latin Rock traveling museum started in Sacramento at the request of some Dr. Bernie who thought this might be a good idea to bring people together. This tremendous lifetime collection is scheduled to be in 22 cities around California, Arizona, and New M?®xico in 2011.

Leaving the music industry and his partnership with Sansoe, it was 1998, and another fortuitous changed was about to happen. Dr. Rock married and shortly thereafter celebrated the birth of two beautiful children, Samantha, now 12 and Alex, now 10. It was within a year or so after son Alex's birth that he noticed his son wasn't thriving as his daughter did at that same age. As a baby, Alex never spoke and was quite fussy about his food intake. The good doctor knew something wasn't right and soon after, a specialist diagnosed Alex with Autism.

Now Dr. Rock had a new mission. Driven to help find a cure for autism and spend more time with his children, he left the music business for several years. It wasn't until his former co-manager of "Malo", Ron Sansoe, called to request his help. It was now 2004, and Ron and Jim McCarthy co-wrote the book, "Voices of Latin Rock." The book chronicles every musical detail of Latin Rock history, complete with pictures and intimate details described by many who were there. The book covers over four decades of Latin music history.

Both Ron and Dr. Rock agreed to work together again. It was Ron's request that his good friend produce a launch party for the book and a one time, spectacular Latin Rock concert. Dr. Rock had only one small request: that they be allowed to donate a portion of the proceeds to the local chapter of Autism. It was an educational outreach campaign to help parents of Autistic children and their schoolteacher's purchase much needed computers and special school supplies, as they were severally underfunded.

The event was so successful that it is now in its 6th year with no sight at end. It is the anticipated Latin Rock music event of the year and sells out well in advance.

Part of Dr. Rock's appeal is his complete passion for the music he loves. He is a walking encyclopedia for the last 30 years of Latin Rock history. Also extremely knowledgeable about the history of Rock and Roll, he could probably win any trivia contest.

This Dentist and music promoter knows his history. Trust me. He is a walking Google Search Engine on Rock trivia. Dr. Rock is a unique cat who grew up in Redwood City, moved to San Francisco when his dad, a realtor turned shoe salesman sold shoes out of the same building he purchased in the early 1980's. This is the same building where Dr. Rock set up his practice and still continues to see his patients.

Always on the look out for new creative talent, Dr. Rock is in a unique position just like his mentor, Bill Graham, to successfully produce Latin Rock shows that sell out. Introducing his love of Latin Rock to the masses at affordable prices has been a life-long goal. In addition, scouting for Latino musicians with original music and outstanding talent is what keeps this native California Promoter very busy.

Ultimately, it was the love of his son that brought this Latin Rock music promoter back to life.

Divorced a few years back, Dr. Rock continues to thrive and has taken on a couple of new gigs promoting two activities that are near and dear to his heart; promoting San Francisco's "Carnival Festival" a spectacular two-day festival that promotes the city he loves and brings all cultures together for the pleasure of great music, culture, and community. He also guest lectures at the College of San Mateo on what else, the History of Latin Rock.

The following is our lightening round Q & A:

BQ: What types of crowd attend your shows?

DR: The crowds that come to our shows are great. Sometimes there are families, mother's daughters, father's, and sons, just a mix of people of all ages. With most of the crowds being Latino. It's beautiful view from back stage.

BQ: Is the music limited to the West Coast?

DR: No, Latin Rock is now universal. It crossed over years ago.

BQ: Who are the new Latin Rock stars?

DR. "Blanca" is a very talented group that I am really impressed with. They sing perfectly in English and Spanish and produce all original work. They are a group of four very talented musicians who have a following. "Blanca" has been singing professional with her musical parents from a very young age. I predict big things happening for them.

BQ: How has "New Media" affected the way your music is marketed?

DR: Yes, "New Media" has made a tremendous difference in reaching hundreds and thousands of people quickly. We love our friends on our Facebook page. We have sold out many concerts online because they saw it first and supported the gig. We see more spectacular shows ahead and look forward to what's to come.

Please visit us at:

BQ: How has the Chicano music changed over the years?

DR: Chicano/Latino music is now mainstream and played by many musicians and cover bands. It's a compliment, but nice to know that groups like "Malo", "Santana", and "Tierra" and others are still around to appreciate and be seen live in concert. The music has a following and at "Malo" concerts, we have groups of loyal fans that always show up at our concerts wherever we play. We love our fans.

BQ Who was your major musical influence?

DR: The "Beatles", "Keith Richards", "Paul McCartney"; but, most of all, "Carlos Santana", they're really Rock idols.

BQ: What were the advances made in Latin Rock?

DR: I would have to say it's the percussion instruments. In the past, they were synthesized, now they're played live. Big difference and musicians prefer it.

BQ: What is the most surprising change?

DR: The Urban sound and influence.

BQ: Will there be any Latin Rock documentaries made?

DR: PBS has made a documentary on Salsa and Jazz. So, we're probably next. Hello PBS?

BQ: What else would you like to do other than music?

DR: I would love to work more with my son through education and play. Teach him how to be more independent. I am concerned about him growing up and being able to be on his own one day. Some Autistic children can grown up and learn to be a bit more independent if they learn some basic life skills and live in a community with others. It's what every parent worries about. What will happen when I'm not around? We just have to keep looking for a cure or medical breakthrough.

DR: Who is your mentor?

DR: The late Bill Graham was a phenomenal businessman and I admired him and learned a lot from him. I also greatly admired my father, who passed away a few years ago. He was a smart businessman and a very smart dad who influenced me to work hard for what I want.

BQ: How important is culture to music?

DR: Very important, it's the soul and heart of music and a great source of pride for us all.

BQ: What would you like to see change on the music scene?

DR: Lower ticket prices. Make it more affordable for all.

BQ: What was your proudest moment?

DR: The birth of my two children.

BQ: Favorite movie?

DR: The Godfather I & II.

BQ: Favorite song?

DR: Do you have to ask? "Soul Sacrifice" by Santana. That was the song that made me fall in love with Latin Rock music.

BQ: How would you like to be remembered in history?

DR: I haven't done enough yet. Give me some more time. I want to make a contribution to Autism. That's very important to me.

And, for the musical side of me, I've always cared about bringing Latin Rock music to many for a reasonable price.

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