I was born in the house my father built..... NOT! The rest is hysteria, I mean history!... well, you know...
When I was four years old, somebody gave me a toy piano and soon I started imitating tunes from the radio and TV without much effort, to the amusement of one of our neighbors who was a psychologist, her husband a pediatrician and their son my best playing buddy.
Life went on and by age 12 I had developed an interest in science by myself (since none of my parents had a college degree or was scientifically inclined). I asked for every Gilbert science kit that was for sale. I remember getting the chemistry set, the biology set and my favorite, the TELESCOPE! Soon I was showing the interested parties in the neighborhood the phases of Mercury and of Venus , the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn.
But I also loved to listen to the radio... "Twistin' The Night Away" by Sam Cooke was the theme of a nightly radio pop music program which title translated to English means "Here With The Young" (Aquí Con La Juventud). Of course, everybody was young then! (Except parents!)
So while still of age 12, my father, upon recommendation from our neighbor the psychologist, made me take (of all instruments) accordion lessons! (Hey, it looked like a piano right? But more affordable!) So I went along for a year until I couldn't take it anymore. What I didn't realize then was that the music theory that I was learning would come in especially handy a couple of years later for an unforgettable experience in music that lasts to this day!
Yes, the Beatles came into the world! I loved their music and would had loved to get a guitar except that my previous 'hobbies' had cost my parents a lot of money that they didn't have: We were the only family in this neighborhood in which the wife had to work to make it possible to live there. In the rest of the families in the neighborhood the wife stayed home... well, she didn't have to work... In about half, they even had a live-in maid who would also be a nanny in addition to the wife staying home! But I digress...
So as I was saying, I had hobbies before which caused my parents to spend a lot of dough: I'll give only one example: Radio Amateur. When I was 14 years old I obtained a (novice) license from the FCC to have an amateur (ham) radio station at home and my father bought (charged?) the station from Sears for me. I had a great time then, and made many communications around the world in CW (Morse code) but only for about a year when the enthusiasm faded... After all, one year is a lot of time for a teen, right?!
I found (not to my surprise though) that I could play the Beatles songs on a guitar with relative ease. After all, I understood the relationships between the chords and stuff since I had studied music before... (remember the 'forced' accordion lessons? With its left hand moves?)
But this time I decided "I am not going to ask my parents for a guitar, period. I have asked for bicycles, amateur radio stations, etc... and it has always been a waste in the end, so I think I'll skip this one... It may be just another 'fad'..."
Of course, during that time (1964) many guys in the neighborhood (except me, by choice) were getting guitars (although they didn't know how to play them).
One day I went to the local music store, paid all of $1 for a song book which had the guitar chords to a few Beatles songs, and I just learned them 'on paper' by reading it. I asked a neighbor if I could borrow his guitar and he said no problem (this was near my 15th birthday.) I practiced what I had read in the song book and it was easy. I kept his guitar for a week since I knew I would never ask for one and by Friday of that week I was playing tunes that the other teens in our neighborhood enjoyed and my father came in from work and noticed all of us, who were having a great time playing and singing music in the porch of our home.
The next Monday he came from work with a used guitar he bought somewhere...
This was a turn of events. Suddenly I had a guitar that I could keep for an indefinite period of time (hey, it was mine!) and practice...
Soon after, I decided that I was better off with an electric guitar. I don't know how I got $60 together and bought a cheap (Ayar) electric. I had no amplifier so I used someone else's for the time being.
I started a group (The Wildcats), played in a few school dances and that was it. I found this band to be 'limiting' (except for the drummer, Raúl Paonessa) and then I got together with a guy who had a 'Ludwig' drum set (that was the drum set to have then; expensive) and we looked for other musicians to form a band. This band was the first "incarnation" (out of four, more or less) of THE STOKES, my main band. This must have happened in early-to-mid 1965. (The last incarnation of The Stokes was in 1969-70 with José Nogueras as lead singer, before he formed Bandolero.) The drummer of The Stokes (Adrian Buxeda) said that he knew this guy who played lead real well (after listening to tales about how good this guy was, I had no problem accepting to play rhythm guitar...) He was older than any of us (me and the drummer were barely 15 years old) and we arranged the first practice session. I was all excited that I was going to meet and play with a 'great' lead guitarist! So what actually happened was that he said that I should play lead and he would play rhythm! I admit he was good, but not as I expected. At any rate he knew more chords than I did, making him perfect for rhythm guitar.
The band evolved to exclude him and suddenly I had a band (all members 14- 15 years old) with 6 people in it and we started playing Army and Navy bases in Puerto Rico, and the "Teen Clubs" of these Armed Services. It was a lot of fun! We felt like if we were playing in the Continental US without having to leave home! The military installations we played more often were Ft. Buchanan and San Patricio base (now defunct).
Before I turned 16 years old we recorded an album as a background band to a female singer (then also 15 years old) who is now well known in Puerto Rico (Glorivee). It was a bare bones production. In all the cuts it's just me (guitar), bass, and drums (plus voice). A few years ago I received a tape from the drummer with that album on it... What a trip!
We were arguably the best band in Puerto Rico of that age group, according to the local TV Guide and most everyone else. Our big competition came from guys in their 20s, like the Teen Sounds (later renamed to Sound, Inc.), Sunsets, Telstars and The Living End (great band!). The Challengers were the other significant band of our age group. But it was when Rino joined them as lead singer (after first asking us if we needed another singer; I said no) that the Challengers really took off. Also, during that time more or less, Jorge Casas of The Challengers switched from lead guitar to bass in which he performed superbly (and later went to become bassist and musical director for Miami Sound Machine!). Before that, the brothers Castro (Toñito and César) played bass and rhythm with The Challengers respectively. They then left that band and disappeared from the music scene in Puerto Rico. Then our real competition began
We, The Stokes, were chosen out of many bands from Puerto Rico and in three different years (1966, 68 and 69), to play those summers in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. In those days, St. Thomas was the "Mecca" of any rock band in Puerto Rico. It is a well kept secret, since only three (maybe four) bands got to go. Three of them besides The Stokes were The Living End, Abram Shoo and the Telstars (in their 2nd incarnation).
On a different scale of course, St. Thomas was for us what the city of Hamburg was for The Beatles when they visited Germany. In both instances the visiting bands had what could be called a "License to do Everything"...
Puerto Rico showed then, and without a doubt, that it had rock bands as good as any that could be found in the mainland. The american public in St. Thomas thought so. Most of the people in St. Thomas that went to listen to us play at the club were from the mainland USA.
In 1969, Abram Shoo was playing in Eddie's Back Street in Charlotte Amalie and the piano player was none other than Alberto Carrión. We (The Stokes) were, of course, playing one block down at "A place In The Sun" (formerly Duffy's). But back to 1966...
In the summer of 1966, when we were the second band from Puerto Rico to play in St. Thomas (the first band was The Living End, around May of that year), we children were off to an "overseas" engagement and adventure!. It was a year after the Mamas and The Papas played in the same club/guest house (Duffy's; see the documentary "Straight Shooter, The Story Of The Mamas and The Papas"). Duffy's was in Creeque's Alley, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. The Mamas and The Papas have a song by that name (Creeque Alley) in which they tell their story.
That was an adventure in itself (how could it not be!? We were all children! I was the oldest and I was 16 years old!)
In 1968 the band had turned to 'psychedelia' so we were playing Doors, Hendrix, The Cream. I have to say that we did the best rendition of the long, complete version of "Light My Fire" by the Doors. I went through all the trouble of learning Robby Krieger's guitar solo note by note and our keyboardist (Vicente Rivera-Fuster, may he rest in peace) learned Ray Manzarek's organ solo also note by note. People would start dancing at the start of the song and when the guitar solo started (which was followed by the organ solo) most of them would stop dancing and move in front of the band to just listen. We also played a great rendition of "When The Music's Over". These 2 songs were a great hit at Duffy's in 1968 (the club was called "A Place in the Sun" then and in 1969).
Then (well, in 1967) came college... . So when I finished high school (Colegio De La Salle, Bayamón), just turned 17 in 1967, I was given a 'lecture' by my parents to the effect that because I was going to college now (I never questioned this, I was ready for college...) the band days would be over... Needles to say I proceeded to ignore them since playing in the band was the only source of satisfaction that I had in life then...
The University Of Puerto Rico is the best university in Puerto Rico. At any rate, I didn't know what I wanted to study (music was out of the question, 'thanks Mom and Dad...'). So the first semester of my 2nd year I dropped out to be a full time hippie (I had been one that summer in St. Thomas, 1968, playing the best music in the best club there). It was meaningless for me to come from a month and a half of successfully playing rock in the best place in St. Thomas, to the engineering campus of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), in Mayaguez (that's where my father said I should study) so I DROPPED OUT and went back to St. Thomas to try to start a band but everyone of my friends was 'back to school' and couldn't play. One of them, Jorge Casas, (possibly still in 2003) musical director and bass player with Miami Sound Machine, then told me that he'd love to play in a band with me but he had just joined this band ("New Zeland Trading Company") who was booked to play in all Playboy Clubs around the world! I couldn't compete with that! By the way, two other Puerto Rican musicians who joined that band at the same time were Alberto Carrión and Gonzalo (Gonchi) Sifre. You probably know who Alberto is; Gonchi was later the drummer of the best (during that time, and who knows if of all time) Puerto Rican contemporary jazz band: RAICES.
So that semester I didn't do much and I registered at the UPR again this time as a (believe it or not) business major: My father said something to the effect that if I didn't know what I wanted to study, HE DID and that would be business! So off I am to business school at the UPR... Took one semester. The class that was a catalyst for yet another change (not the last one, though!) was "Psicología en la Correspondencia Comercial (Psychology In Commercial Correspondence").
I suddenly realized that I'd like to study human nature and it's motivations closer. So for the next semester (Sept. 1969) I decided to join the Psychology Dept. as a Psych major.
When I was in my last year as a psych major, I had to take a required two semester course, "Introduction to the Physical Sciences" that everybody left for last for being the most difficult of the mandatory courses. Well I am glad I left it for last since it was about Newton, Galileo, Harvey, Dalton. I had a great time (6 credits with "A") especially when the astronomy part came. It was then that I decided that I'd like to pursue the physical sciences further. I had joined the Rosicrucian Order in those days (age 20) and they stimulated me to further study the 'laws of nature as manifested to Man...'.
When I went to the Physics dept. to request admission they sent me to the director of the dept.'s office where he asked me if I was sure I wanted to study physics with which he had no problem, but he reminded me (and it was true) that the 'natural' flow of students quitting/changing majors was in the opposite direction: From the 'hard' sciences like physics and mathematics, to the 'soft' ones like sociology or psychology... I told him I was sure and I (finally!) graduated from college in 1974, having started in 1967! For what it's worth, I received the medal awarded every year to the most outstanding student in physics at the UPR, the Facundo Bueso Medal.
After that I just wanted to work and make some money so I could have a "nice stereo". I worked as a junior programmer at the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, operated by Cornell University and where Carl Sagan was performing SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) research together with his (then) boss Dr. Frank Drake. The complete account of my experience at the Arecibo Observatory is in a separate page in Spanish.
Then I decided to move to the mainland and I went to Long Island, NY, where for a short time I was a graduate student and Teaching Assistant at SUNY Stony Brook but never finished; had no intention from the beginning. It was just the stepping stone from Puerto Rico to the mainland that I was hoping for. Then I worked at General Instrument Corporation in Hicksville (LI, NY) programming RWRs (Radar Warning Receivers) for defense applications.
After Long Island, I have lived in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, Denver, Chicago, Annapolis, MD (for the longest and best time; great sailing town, BTW!) and after some time back in Miami, I am now in another part of Florida.
I have a Web Site (in Spanish) dedicated to some music by Puerto Rican artists of the 1960s and 1970s.
More to come later...
But before, let's take a forwards leap in time and go to a concert at the University Of Puerto Rico in 1991!
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