Spotlight on the Brown: Greg Esparza
Singer-actor-songwriter steadily climbing the L.A. Brown ladder of success and popularity for the past 10 years or so
Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor
It's been awhile since I last did a "spotlight" piece, not for lack of Brown talent in Aztlan, but maybe because I have been blessed with so many Chicano artist friends to choose from, that choices just blew my mind...but I finally made a decision to do another, and continue our custom of spotlighting the rich talent of the Chicano world in the Land of 1000 Dances like nobody else can, here on LatinoLA.com.
Published on LatinoLA: February 27, 2011
This month, we turn our spotlight to a young Chicano who has been steadily climbing the L.A. Brown ladder of success and popularity for the past 10 years or so, without the usual attitude & arrogance of the commercial music scene, singer-songwriter-actor GREG ESPARZA.
I first saw Greg perform at the Boyle Heights tribute Concert in Los Angeles in 2002 where he fronted for CANNIBAL & The HEADHUNTERS, sharing a stage with headliners like LALO GUERRERO and TIERRA. As new lead singer, he joined original members Bobby Jaramillo and Richard Lopez in their brief comeback tour, which also included singer David Casteneda.
Wow! He was impressive!...singing songs probably older than he, he excited the crowd with his performance of "Land of 1000 Dances", and easily melted the crowd with a soulful acapella version of the classic doo-wop song "Gloria" that had all the veteranas in the crowd swooning & screaming as he hit a nostalgic nerve that had a lot of people asking "who is that guy?"...
A few years later, after the "Thee Midniters featuring special guest Lil Willie G" reunion tour lost it's novelty ( yeah... I never got the "special guest" part either...) Thee Midniters broke out with a new horn section featuring BOBBY LOYA and BOBBY NAVARETTE, and a fresh new young singer that rocked the stage better than Willie, introducing a new generation to Midniter music....GREG ESPARZA.!
This new guy KNEW the "East Side sound" , and wrapped himself soulfully into its rhythm & lyrics like an incarnation of Chicano cool from back in the day.
Again, I joined a lot of veterano music lovers and asked the question: Who is this guy and where did he come from ?...
Greg Edward Esparza was born and raised in Orange County, where he laughingly tells LatinoLA, "For many years, I thought I was white! I mean, being Mexican, Mexican-American, or Chicano was never an issue when I was a kid, so I never really delved into it. But then, as a teenager, I started getting into music, and I would look over my father's music albums and his old 1960's high school yearbook from Garfield High School in East L.A. , started studying up on Chicanos and the Chicano Movimiento in East L.A. , and I thought ' Wow! I wish I could have lived there at that time. This is who I am'...and I gained a new insight into who and what I am...and it was all good!...especially the music."
Greg tells LatinoLA that he was originally inspired to sing by listening to classic crooners like Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Johnny Mathis. "Stuff that was still occasionally playing on the radio when I was a kid."
Then one day, while thumbing though his father's record albums, he came across one from a group he had never heard of: Thee Midniters.
"I had never heard of them, and I was curious. Here were some young Chicanos in sharp suits, and the name of the album was 'Whittier Boulevard' (1965)...so I put it on my turntable to see what it was, and the first Midniter song I ever heard was 'I Need Someone' with Little Willie G at lead vocals...and I was blown away! I mean the smooth voice, the expertly put together music arrangement...and these were young CHICANOS from back in the day that I had never heard of!...by what my parents must have lived through with this music, I became more inspired."
In his late teens, Greg decided he wanted to sing, joined a couple of local bands, and began getting people's attention.
After a couple of years, he was invited to sing with a veteran group called the MONTCLAIRS, with some of the members eventually starting the EAST L.A. REVUE ALL STAR BAND. Greg impressed people that he had mastered some of the classic crooning style and tunes from back in the day....soon after, he was asked to sing with CANNIBAL & THE HEADHUNTERS as they embarked on a short-lived reunion tour with remaining original members, and Greg was given the nod to sing lead in place of the late Frankie 'Cannibal' Garcia.
"I never had the honor of meeting Frankie Garcia, and I hadn't really listened to the Headhunters as they were before my time, so I went back to researching some old albums, and when I heard 'Land of 1000 Dances', that early rock & roll sound just knocked me off my feet. I felt honored to join such Chicano music legends like original headhunters Rabbit Jaramillo and Scar Lopez, and we had some fun."
"Greg Esparza impressed us from the start," says veteran music collector, producer, East L.A. Revue radio station owner, and former manager of the East L.A. Revue All Star Band and Cannibal & The Headhunters, STEVEN CHAVEZ. "Here was a young guy who was handsome, vibrant, talented, and he knew how to work the crowd with his stage presence and knowledge of the East Side sound. He definitely has what it takes to make it in the music business, and I wish him well."
Greg has performed around the world with different artists, as well as locally. He was featured with THEE MIDNITERS on the popular 'Thee Mr. Duran' cable/internet TV program more than once.
He has crossed over into other music genres as well.
"I even gave it a shot at being a Salsero a couple a years ago, when I was invited to join the PARIS ESCOVEDO tour of Asia. I sang all the lead vocals on his last album, we performed in Japan and Korea, and they loved us," Greg says fondly, but laughs." I swear I never sang 'Oye Como Va' so many times! I was even nicknamed 'Gregorio'...it was a fun learning experience for me that I'll never forget...but somehow, I always gravitated back to rock & roll and rhythm & blues".
Greg also does guest spots with other bands, returning the favors given him when he was starting and coming up. He is very popular among fans and musicians of the Chicano "Burrito Circuit" music scene here in the Land of 1000 Dances.
"I have always enjoyed working with Greg Esparza, and have the utmost respect for him as an artist and performer," says author and Chicano music producer RUBEN MOLINA. "I first asked him to join us for a show I was doing showcasing some of the Chicano Soul artists from Texas in 2009, and he didn't hesitate to come out and join us. He easily fit right in with some very talented music veterans, put his heart and soul into a great performance, and we've been good friends ever since. The crowd loves him as well. Currently, he's up there on a level with Chicano soul crooners like SAMMY MEDINA of the BALANCE Band. He has a wide range of music genres under his belt, and he can sing them all. A couple of weeks ago, he came out and joined us at my CHICANO SOULTOWN SATURDAY NIGHT concert & dance, and he gave us a great performance."
Greg has also given acting a try, performing in the stage play about the Chicano Movimiento in East Los Angeles "Cesar & Ruben", and the short film "Lean Like a Cholo".
"I had fun doing these projects, and I always love meeting new people," Greg tells LatinoLA. "But my first love is, and always will be music. The energy of the audience, the buzz you get performing on stage with fellow artists, the beauty & art of Chicano Music...I just can't say enough about it."
Greg can also be called upon to do charity performances for good causes, and his celebrity and popularity have not blown his head out of proportion with the rest of him. His current tour with THEE MIDNITERS have once again taken him on the road with some major names like TIERRA, GENE CHANDLER, and BRENTON WOOD, but he still has time to chat with fans and maintain a generous and humble air about him.
I've seen him perform successfully to large crowds many times, afterwards signing autographs, shaking hands, and getting pats on the back from the crowd, and yet, he still always has a warm smile and handshake for friends ...and I'm one of them lucky older dudes that Greg always seems to recognize in a crowd, and he's always respectful to my Lady, as well as the ladies of other Brown brothers...and that's why we've been friends for the last couple of years.....the guy has my respect and admiration.
So what's next for Greg Esparza?
"Life takes us all on different paths, and I'm sure there's some I have yet to travel...but I will sing for the rest of my life, no matter what path opens up for me. I hope to fill rooms with beautiful music for the crowds with the talented artists I have been lucky to meet & perform with, as well as those I look forward to meeting," Greg says. "Other things I want to continue doing is writing, performing, and recording my own original music."
...as I've always said, being blessed with a talent makes it even more rewarding when you can share it with the people, and Greg Esparza seems to have that in mind!
So....LatinoLA welcomes yet another warrior de Aztlan into the fold of the Land of 1000 Dances ...
Greg Esparza...singer-songwriter-actor...CHICANO !!
Note: for more info on Greg Esparza and his music:
Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor:
Frankie Firme is the 'Al Capone of the microphone & the Hitman of west Coast Chicano Soul" heard daily on World wide Internet radio
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