By Francisco H. Ciriza
Poncho Sanchez was born on October 30, 1951 into a large Mexican-American family in Texas, but grew up in the Los Angeles area. There he was inspired by a broad range of Latin and non-Latin popular music and especially by the conga playing of Cuban great Mongo Santamaria. It was just a matter of time before the music business and its biggest names would make room for the robust always smiling Sanchez.
Having honed his skills as a percussionist, Sanchez got his first big break at the age of 23 joining vibraphonist Cal Tjader’s famed Latin jazz ensemble in 1975. Poncho performed with him until Tjader’s untimely death in 1982.
A year later, he signed with Concord Records and thus producing a relationship between artist and label that has lasted twenty-three years relationship and produced two dozen recordings, a Grammy Award and many more Grammy nominations.
Sanchez’s most recent studio recording on Concord, 2005’s “Do It!” was another in a line of well-produced collections of Latin Jazz flavors which along with his conga style and white-tapped fingers, have become another of his trademarks. What makes “Do It!” distinct, however, is its shining list of guests joining Sanchez and his band.
Two of the albums’ tracks feature the entire line up of 1970’s funk icons, Tower of Power, while another two tracks boast the presence of the equally legendary South African musician, Hugh Masekela.
“For the last fifteen years or so, we’ve decided to have guests on our records,” Sanchez said about the hand-picked guest artists who have not graced his recordings, but more importantly have had a special role in shaping him as an artist, from trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and saxophonist Eddie Harris, to Latin jazz patriarch Tito Puente, conga titan Mongo Santa-maria and the late Ray Charles.
The guests invited to participate on Do It! have been among Sanchez’s favorites for decades. “I’m just doing the things I grew up with and that I respect and really love,” he adds. “It’s part of my life.”
Sanchez’s upcoming CD will feature more of the same. Fans can expect another visit form Tower of Power and appearances by Booker T & the MG’s, Maceo Parker (James Brown, George Clinton), Steve Cropper (Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pick-ett), and Eddie “Knock on Wood” Floyd.
Not all that long ago, the music business was taking its toll on Sanchez’s life. Mounting tensions within the band became overwhelming and he decided to make some changes. He realized things were happening all around him, but he also saw an opportunity to take an active part by becoming the driving force behind positive change. He filled out his band line up with some fresh faces to compliment some of the players who had been in his band for a longer time ultimately creating a powerful, balanced, and positive vibe of which he is very proud.
“For many years, I swear I didn’t take the time to smell the roses. All we did was make sure the band was working, but only on a musical level. I finally had to change it around to give me and all of us some space.”
Poncho Sanchez and his band play Thursday, February 8 at 8 p.m. at the Belly Up Tavern, Solana Beach, 143 S. Cedros Avenue. Tickets are $16 in advance and $18 day of the show. For more information call 858-481-8140.