Written and Photographed by Chloe Hodge
It’s not unusual for large crowds to gather early on Friday nights at Tyler’s FRESH by Brookshire’s and although this night is no exception, you would think that the heat would be a deterrent. However, there’s no stopping this bunch from coming out early to score a great table and watch while the evening’s entertainment sets up their equipment, tunes their guitars, plugs in their amplifiers, and adjusts their sound. And actually, the heat is stifled well by a nice breeze and the shade of the building, so its quiet pleasant even though the temperatures are soaring.
As the hot Texas sun begins to descend, Senor Gringo begins their renditions. When the music starts, the crowd experiences a sound quite uncommon for the area. Riffs of Latin guitar and bell chimes fill the air between the chatter and the cheers. Money is thrown into the open guitar case while the musicians play classic Santana. A particular vibe and passion of playing is reflected by those who are in attendance, becoming human metronomes while they tap their toes to the beat, allowing a bond to form with the performers. It is a relationship built on the foundation of the thrill of music.
That is the impression I got when I spoke with the members of the Tyler based quintet in their studio that is embellished with posters of the Beatles’ prominent “Abbey Road” album cover and Dire Straits. That is when it registered that I had stumbled upon the four-walled canvas of their melodic works of art.
“Our music is always a work in process. We get together maybe once a week in our studio,” says keyboardist Don Elbert. “The process has developed over a long time.”
The band was formed many years ago, with this particular lineup of musicians only being a few months old. In the early years of Senor Gringo, the band was primarily inspired by classic rock. As time shifted, Senor Gringo has made a drastic transition – blending that same classic rock music with the rich culture of flamenco guitar.
“I just got turned on to the flamenco guitar. It’s everywhere in all varieties of genres. It’s in country songs and rap and rock. From Jesse Cook to Puff Daddy,” said guitarist and vocalist Richard Callahan. “I just love it.”
The musicians in the band come from various backgrounds of music. Richard Callahan was inspired through metal bands such as Pantera, Testament, and Metallica.
Keyboardist Don Elbert’s music career comes from a soft blues background.
Percussionist Elbert Wright began his musicianship with jazz. Alex Blair, the bassist, is a high school orchestra director who had been taught by a diverse blend of instrumentalists from the classical to modern day music.
For drummer Kevin Ewalt, music has taken him around the world, including South America. That is where the inspirations for the Latin style jazz came about. With the various backgrounds of euphonious influences came the birth of a distinctive sound, so easily differentiated from other bands in the area.
“We had started out doing all this rock and blues music, but we started falling in love with this genre… this Latin jazz sound and feel,” said Don Elbert, the keyboardist for Senor Gringo. “We’re having a blast with it.”
Hours of practicing scales and songs went into learning the quick rifts to really capture that Spanish essence. Although the members of the band have been playing for a combined number of decades, the grooves and techniques that come with the Latin style melodies were a challenge for the band. That challenge is made clearly visible by the callused hands caused by picking strings or beating on a Conga – the result of playing a single song for 10 minutes.
Senor Gringo has become popular entertainment for those in Smith County, playing in many restaurants like Jul’s, Fresh, and Cork. Their goals however, exceed delighting fellow East Texans. The band is in the process of recording their latest work to be publish on iTunes.
Senor Gringo will perform every Saturday at 7pm at Jul’s, located on Old Jacksonville Hwy. “We are very proud of our gigs at Juls,” said Wright. “We get treated really well and always have a blast playing there. Everyone has lots of fun.” The public is invited to attend and admission is free.
For more info about the band and a schedule of upcoming live performances, check out the Senor Gringo Jazz Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Senor-gringo-jazz.