Thursday, March 29, 2007

Grupo Fantasma Fantastic

Note: The following is a near twin to a story that appeared in the February edition of LareDOS in Laredo, Texas. It can be seen online, too, at


Grupo Fantasma is very much alive and flying high with an effective manager in Mike Crowley and the attention of the Prince.
“Laredo,” A corrido they sing on occasions is printed in Hecho en Tejas – An Anthology of Texas Mexican Literature -- alongside the works of other well-known Texas musicians Selena, Little Joe Hernandez, Freddy Fender, Sunny Ozuna, Roberto Pulido, Conjunto Atzlan, Laura Canales, Tish Hinojosa, Lydia Mendoza and Chingo Bling, but Fantasma’s current streak could propel them well past the rest in the book.
“They are a great band,” Crowley said by phone from his home in Austin. “Nobody ever accused the music business of being fair, but hopefully we will get these guys where they should be.”
Fantasma guitarist Adrian Quesada credits Crowley, a longtime veteran of the U.S. music scene, with taking the Laredo-influenced Latin funk, cumbia and Hip Hop mix band to new heights in recent months.
Fantasma played with Prince in Florida prior to the Super Bowl, played for CBS execs before the big game, picked up several gigs in Las Vegas at Prince’s 3121 Club and for a Golden Globes after party in Los Angeles.
Austin-based Fantasma is so busy it only plays about once a month in the capital city.
Fantasma’s visibility in Hecho is in a two-page spread with the corrido “Laredo,” which the 11-member group usually plays when it occasionally returns to Laredo.
Quesada, guitarist and cuatro player Beto Martinez, bass man Greg Gonzalez, drummer Johnny Lopez III are all from Laredo. The band’s traveling concessions salesman Gilbert Mendoza is also from Laredo.
Ironically, “Laredo” is one of their few numbers that they didn’t write. Quesada said it’s an old corrido and they were published in newly printed Hecho because the book’s editor, Dagoberto Gilb, knows them.
Gilb is the author of several books, teaches at Texas State in San Marcos and lives in Austin.
Quesada notes that Crowley helped author musical success for the Cars and Jimmie Dale Gilmore a number of years after working on some of Elvis Presley’s tours in the 1950s, which included several rural dance hall appearances.
Quesada also credits Crowley with connecting them to Prince and possibilities of recording with the well-known Rock star.
“We were playing in Las Vegas every Thursday night and backing up Prince,” Quesada said. “Thank God we flew to Vegas.
“We are still busy without him and we’ve been talking about working on an album with him.”
One of Fantasma’s rare recent Austin gigs was a charity event for Las Manitas restaurant, which is being moved out of its site in a property takeover.
Fantasma was interviewed on Austin’s ME Television on Feb. 9 and said they expect touring to return them to Canada, where they played last year, too. Fantasma’s other recent gigs have been in Georgia, Mississippi and New York, frequently leaving group members to drive either of their two 15-seat vans. And those who volunteer to drive generally decide what music plays on the radio, which can be as varied as the music Fantasma plays on stage.
Fantasma fans seldom ever hear them on radio because they don’t cater to that media.
“We don’t write to get on radio,” Quesada said. “We do what we do. We’re into the band being ourselves. If something gets picked up it’s OK, if not that’s OK, too.”
Crowley says getting a band’s music heard on radio is not nearly as important as it was with so many other ways for fans to download music now. Getting on radio is good, but not the key to success it once was and Crowley says Fantasma is already gaining the notoriety radio-successful bands have had in evidence through recent events.
Crowley would know. His resume includes work with famed musicians such as John Denver, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, the Pointer Sisters and Joe Ely. He also worked for Concerts West in Seattle, Wash. and in California until moving to Austin with his wife in the 1980s.
Crowley says Fantasma puts itself in position to be successful because the 11 parts all fit together so very well -- and practice, practice, practice.
“They are a great live band and they practice every Tuesday,” Crowley said. “It’s something like a very exceptional football team. They practice and practice. They practice every Tuesday night.
“You see it when they are playing. There are not any surprises. They all know what each other is doing.”
Crowley likes listening to Fantasma for that fine, natural, professional touch and its fusion of styles.
“It all comes together in their own way,” he said.
Crowley says Fantasma will be back in the recording studio soon and new songs like “Revoltar,” which was played for the 200 or so braving temperatures in the low 50s at the Jalapeno Festival is expected to be on the next CD. “Revoltar” carried a sound and time like one that could go to radio stations, but that media is only one consideration nowadays.
Crowley isn’t sure where all of the group’s successes could take them, but doesn’t see any barriers – other than the group’s size – getting in their way. Airfare for 11 is considerably more than it is for the typical band roughly half that size.
Crowley would like to take the band to the Montreux music festival held each year in July on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland, but taking the 11 usually means 13 or 14 go and summer airfares and hotels are at their highest. Switzerland isn’t cheap, either.
Montreux was a milestone in Texas guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan’s career -- booed off the stage one year before returning to thunderous approval the next.
“I’d love to go to Montreux, but we need someone who’ll pay for it,” Crowley said, whose confidence in Fantasmas isn’t based on his own viewpoint.
Crowley recalls another musician at the Montreal festival in Canada saying “that band dominates”
And it’s true,” Crowley said. “It’s going to happen.”


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home