Chicano All-Stars

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

The 11th annual Old Monterey Seafood Festival will be taking place this weekend, with chances to sample the best of the area’s clam chowder, sushi and other seafood dishes all around Alvarado Street and the Custom House Plaza.  There will be great music there too, courtesy of Salinas band the Chicano All-Stars, who will be bringing Latin rock to the Custom House Plaza main stage.

In their four years of existence, the Chicano All-Stars have established themselves as one of Monterey County’s top bands, and are arguably the top Latin rock band in the area.  The band has performed at most of the area’s festivals including the Passport to Oldtown Salinas, the Salinas Air Show, Monterey Red, White and Blues Festival and most notably as headliners for First Night Monterey 2004.  So popular were the All-Stars that they have been invited to repeat their headlining performance at First Night 2005.

The Chicano All-Stars were formed by Salinas native and veteran pro musician Sam Martinez (lead vocals, guitar, percussion).  In addition to running a recording studio, Martinez spent 20 years fronting his band Kachabeat, playing reggae and ska originals.  A popular live band, Kachabeat also had a local hit single in San Diego.

While he was playing with Kachabeat, Martinez was constantly besieged with requests for a Latin band, and in response put together the Chicano All-Stars.  “I called them the All-Stars because I wanted people to know that these guys were all top-notch musicians,” he said.  Playing the music of Santana and other Latin rock artists, as well as traditional Cumbia music, the All-Stars quickly gained a following at their shows in local clubs like Sly McFly’s on Cannery Row.  Soon the band was being booked for the larger local festival stages and traveling further afield to San Luis Obispo and Sacramento.  “People ask me why we don’t play the clubs any more,” said Martinez.  “Fact is, we’re so busy playing at festivals and corporate events we hardly have the time any more.”  Martinez claims that the band’s calendar is booked well into next year, and “the phone just keeps ringing.”

In addition to Martinez, the All-Stars features Albert Cervantez on bass, Joe Novacido on lead guitar, Jesse Centeno on keyboards, Cortez Flores on drums and percussion, Andy Sierra on timbales, Robert Pulido on bongos and congas and newest member Gerri Pantoja “we call him the Trainee,” on congas.  The band’s percussion-heavy lineup ensures that audiences are up dancing at every show.

For the future, Martinez hopes that the All-Stars will be able to crack the San Jose music scene.  “We’ve done a couple of shows up there and they went pretty well, so I’m hopeful,” he said.  The band is also looking forward to its return engagement at First Night Monterey.  “To stand on that main stage and just feel the spirit of those 20,000 people in the crowd is just incredible.”  A new CD featuring the band’s original songs is in the pipeline too, but again the pressures of time mean that it is definitely a “work in progress.”

In the meantime, you can enjoy the Chicano All-Stars this weekend at the Seafood Festival.  Bring your dancing shoes and a hearty appetite!

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, October 7, 2004

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