A year ago at this time the Tucson based Country band Badlands had already started to hit the local music scene. The group started after some members of the Tony Corrales Band decided to stay together and form another group following the end of that band's run. All it took was finding the right people to fill certain spots while taking some time to define the sound of the band. Of course there are those who still are unaware of the origins of the group.
In the fall of 2019 I spoke to guitarist Joey Cota about putting together a second group that would work around TCB's schedule. The idea was to play more Top 40 songs in order to get more work in another musical scene. While that band did not materialize into anything it did give us a chance to work briefly with Abelino Sanchez who is an amazing vocalist and guitarist. I first met Abelino when he came to a TCB gig at the Outlaw Saloon and was then invited by Tony Corrales to sit in on a few songs. He was fabulous so I was more than excited at the idea of working with him in the future.
Once TCB had completed its run Joey and I spoke with acoustic guitarist Robert Rojas about staying together in some kind of musical capacity. We had many years of collective experience performing in the Tucson Country Music scene and while we all love playing different styles of music we figured it be best to stay in what was familiar musical territory. Our timing could not have been better as Abelino had been thinking about getting into the Country Music scene in order to work even more as he was already busy with his other band, the amazing Ritmo de Sanchez.
The first rehearsals went really well as the Country songs that we were accustomed to playing sounded amazing with Abelino on lead vocals. However, being from the Tucson area, we also know of the Spanish flavor along with a sprinkle of Rock that many people like so we decided to expand our set list a bit in order in order to establish our own song. We didn't want to be seen as a TCB with other members so we went ahead and stretched ourselves. To say that I was excited would be an understatement because aside from playing all of the Country grooves I was now grooving along to other styles of music that I had either not played in years or ever played at all!
Thankfully, with the talent and dedication of those who made up the first lineup it didn't take long for us to be ready to hit the stage. It didn't take long for Joey and I to line up some shows as the years of hard work paid off when it came to convincing the booking agents of the quality of the new group that we had put together. The first shows went well as everyone loved the energy and new sound of Badlands. While it was nice to be so well received we were all still willing to give the group an honest look in order to make it eve better. In time that would require some changes to the lineup, which eventually led to Robert moving over to bass guitar while Abelino took on a more prominent role as the second guitarist. Once the core was reshuffled the chemistry of the band was even better.
Then the bottom fell out from under our feet. Right as we were catching some momentum the COVID-19 pandemic struck and we were shut down. The group did a few streaming shows but other than that we waited patiently while also rehearsing from time to time in order to stay sharp. Still, it was very disappointing because we not only sounded better but also had some great shows booked for the summer and now had to sit and wait for things to level out.
As things started to open up a bit we had a week filled with gigs at various venues. It was an exciting time as it gave me a chance to start establishing the rhythm section with Robert. Right away I was loving the vibe we had because Robert is as solid as they come in terms of his feel and accuracy while also having an amazing sound, regardless of what instrument he is playing. He is as meticulous as they come so our grooves were solid and felt great.
Abelino is absolutely fantastic both as a singer and a guitarist. His voice is as soulful as it gets while also having the perfect performance demeanor to really sell the story of any song that he sings. He also has a strong stage presence along with a friendly demeanor that has the audience smiling and laughing between songs. His work on the guitar is amazing as his riffs are solid and soulful while his leads tell a musical story. He is quite the character as you need to be on your toes the entire time to make sure you are not the butt of one of his jokes.
Going into what would be my seventh year of working with Joey Cota has been an absolute thrill. He always brings great energy to the stage with his playing with that energy going to the next level when he takes a solo. Aside from that, his sense of humor and generosity bring such joy to the group as he always has us in stitches every time he shares one of his funny stories. Combine Joey's funny ways with Abelino and...well, let's just say that we already have some interesting stories to remember because those will not find their way onto a future blog.
As things shut down again we were blessed to still be able to perform at St. Philip's Plaza, which is an outdoor venue that was not under the same restrictions as all of the indoor venues. That allowed us to hit the stage at least once a month, which was better than nothing. Things went really well as Robert and Abelino continued to settle into their new and/or expanded roles in the band, which meant that the group also sounded better with each public appearance.
That was also when we were all approached with an idea that would turn into a pleasant surprise.
Abelino is a very band first kind of guy and had a great idea to not only expand our sound but to add a whole new dimension to the band. He showed us a video of him singing a duet with the amazing Karina Bermudez and just like that, we were all sold on the idea of adding her to the lineup. She was someone that he had known for quite some time and aside from hearing her amazing vocals along with his I could see that they had both a chemistry as well as mileage between them. Normally, I am one to say that I am willing to give it a shot and let's see what happens, but I could see right away that this was going to work.
After a couple of Monsoon rain-outs we finally had our chance to hit the stage with Karina and it was amazing! Aside from her amazing lead vocals she added some beautiful harmonies to the songs that Abelino sang leads on and, when the two of them sang a duet....WOW! The audience was stunned and loved the sound that our newest member brought to the group. For me it was more than the musical performance. Karina fit right into the culture of the group and that was also something that the audience could see, as we always try to be as genuine as possible.
This band had officially and finally arrived!
Then we caught another break. Many of the local venues were finally opening up again and although there were a number of restrictions we were finally going to have a chance to perform again at some the places where we started our run. It started with a night back at the Outlaw Saloon. We took out some familiar songs that many of us had played on that stage before but also took out some Latin and Rock songs that also went over really well. The limited crowd responded well as we continued to do what we always sought out to do and that was to give the audience our best, regardless of how many people were in attendance.
Then came our return to The Maverick, where we had a great night performing for an enthusiastic crowd as we brought our diverse set list to a venue that was surprised by what they saw. Normally, we would not have been so daring being that we were performing at a well known Country Music venue, but we decided to give it a shot. I guess good music is good music, regardless of the genre as the response from the audience and staff was amazing.
We finished the year returning to St. Philip's Plaza while also getting a chance to return to Whiskey Roads, which turned out to be a good thing for the band. The staff was so pleased with the band that they offered us a regular rotation starting in January of 2021. We were honored to say the least because it such a great venue with a great staff that is committed to giving their patrons the best service and entertainment in town.
2020 was supposed to be our coming out party but it also had some trying times for the band. I strongly believe that we endured those tough times and will endure the tough times to come because of the positive attitude that come from both Abelino and Joey who are always there to put a smile on everyone's face. Robert and Karina are also quick to offer an encouraging word so I am privileged to work with these amazing people both on a musical and personal level.
This past year was like nothing we had experienced before but our band was able to find a way to both establish itself and endure these challenging times. We were only able to do this due to the commitment that the five of us have to the band first as we did whatever we could with every opportunity that came our way. That and the way that we always looked out for each other as we always prioritized the person first, with the band mate always coming second. We will continue to do this as the calendar rolls over to 2021 and look forward to seeing you all at one of our future performances.
|Badlands: Karina Bermudez, Abelino Sanchez, Carlos Solorzano, Robert Rojas and Joey Cota|