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Bobby Esquivel Takes Liberty with his Band

Roberto Guerra Esquivel, the band leader of one of Tejano music’s most enduring bands, is unique in that he is unlike any other musician.

“There are no musicians or singers in either side of my parent’s families and I can’t say I was influenced or inspired to become a musician,” Esquivel said during an interview at the Hispanic Entertainment Archives.

“In fact, I don’t even know why I signed up to take band in middle school,” he continued with a puzzled look.

After racking his brain, he had to call his mother to find out what motivated him to take band in Truman Junior High School.

“It was because your friends were in band,” his mother said in a return call.

“That’s right, I had a friend named Juan; and once I got there, I liked the music so much, Roland Pérez and Bardo Cavazos, two horn players plus me and Felipe on drums formed an un-named combo. We started out as The Effics than changed our name to The Unknowns. This is during the time of Henry (Peña) and the Kasuals and the Entertainers,” the young looking 56-year-old band leader said of the 1968 experience.

Two years later, Esquivel on valve trombone; Óscar Padilla, tenor saxophone and Ray “Chafa” Hernández, trumpet; started jamming eventually adding a rhythm section and they would play bars where Viet Nam veterans used to go drink beer. However, they never gave themselves a name.

Esquivel’s turning point came in 1975 when he joined the Gabe González Band featuring Gabe on bass; Joe “Pepe” Sánchez on congas and later Jesse González on vocals; and as he says, “We played all the bars – Mendiola’s, El Ranchito, La Escondida, Alejandro’s and La Estrellita — along S. Zarzamora Street all the way to Palo Alto. In 1977, everybody got out and we regrouped as Liberty Band.”

Again, Esquivel said, “Don’t ask me why we named it Liberty Band, but it’s original members were Jesse, vocals; myself on valve trombone and doing second voice; Ray, trumpet; William Paniagua, trumpet; Concepción “Chon” Chávez, alto saxophone; Danny “Pollo” Peña, guitar; Rubén Hernández, bass; and Jimmy “Talache” Cavazos, drums.”

Liberty Band started out the new decade by recording their first album. By now Charlie McBurney had disbanded his own Mother Truck and joined Esquivel.

“Our first five albums contained original music by Charlie,” Esquivel said giving their most memorable trumpet play his due credit. “He’s the one that put us on the map because he gave us the style that we had. Now we ‘all’ do the arrangements as a team.”

After one album on Albert Esquivel’s Hispanic 80s label, the first album on his own Libertad label made Billboard’s charts with their “Oldies Medley” in 1982. What also helped is that they recorded all their productions at Manny Guerra’s Amen Studios. By now Cavazos had quit and had been replaced by Roddy Charo on drums and Gilbert “Gibby” Velásquez was featured on a guitar solo.

When they reached their tenth anniversary, with the exception of Louie Bustos on saxophone, the original band members had stuck together.

“The reason we remained intact is because of the chemistry among the guys. We worked well together and there was no greed, no envy and no ego trips,” the 5-feet-7-inch musician explained.

Asked where Liberty Band stood in regard to Mazz and La Mafia during the mid to late 1980s and Esquivel said, “We didn’t travel that much because we were too busy here and we didn’t have to go out. We did go to New Mexico, Arizona and California, but not as frequently. If I knew then, what I know now, I would have traveled.

“What kept us working is that the band sounded full and complete. Everyone told us that the horns are what added the flavor to the band. We also had Esmeralda Jaimé do a one-year stint from 1988 to ’89,” he added.

It was the bands eighteenth anniversary when Jesse Gonzٔalez got hurt in a car crash on the way home from a gig. Faced with a lengthy hospital stay, Esquivel has no choice but to replace him with Roy García and James Pardon in 1995.

“Jesse was, and is, a natural because he doesn’t have to practice. He just talks and the music comes out effortlessly, even now. So that dealt us a big blow.”

Roy moved to Miami in 1997, but returned in 2006. During that gap, Louie Marinez, Willie Martínez and Johnny “Aztlán” Hernández filled in the void.

“I have been the band’s second voice since day one, but three years ago, everyone started urging me to step up front. ‘You gotta sing more. You gotta sing more,’ everybody kept telling me. Up to that point I would tell myself, ‘I have a singer, so why sing?’ And now that I started singing lead vocals on some songs, I want to sing more.

“Bobby’s shy, but he lights up when he gets up on stage; and once you give him a microphone, he can’t stop,” Cyndi Carrillo said of her boyfriend.

“Whether it’s singing or playing my horn, I love music,” the hazel-eyed singer/musician reaffirmed.

“They’re seasoned musicians, but they never tire of performing and they’re up there having a good time,” Carrillo added.

Esquivel first recording as a lead singer was “Dejame” and the first time he performed it live, he singled his girlfriend out by dedicating the song to her. She in turn was so proud of her man that she stood in front of the stage singing along, cheering him on and making a big fuss. However the tune is about a man telling his love interest to go, to scram and to get lost because he does not love her.

“This confused a lot of our friends and they were even more puzzled when they saw how happy I was as Bobby sang these awful lyrics, but I was there when he recorded it and this was like giving birth to his first child.”

Today the tight-knit group continues to fill ballrooms and dance halls – last year as far as Chicago and Milwaukee.

If you’re craving old school oldies and Tejano rancheras, cumbias and other beats with a big brass sound from their more than twenty albums, check out this brass heavy band when they perform on Valentine’s Day or when they celebrate their 24th Anniversary in March 2011.

“Winter is the worst time of the year and we don’t have any bookings for December or January,” said Esquivel, who as most musicians relies on gigs in order to make ends meet. So for bookings, call him at (210) 260-4000.