BOB GALLARZA
Guitarist Extraordinaire
“The Producer with the Midas Touch"
by Sammie Ann Wicks

Bob Gallarza's career as the quintessential California Chicano guitarist who significantly contributed to the development of the "West Coast Sound" of the 60's started almost by accident, when his grandfather gave him an unexpected gift.

The unassuming 15-year-old Gallarza began playing music when his grandfather gave him an old, battered Spanish guitar, and the young player, unaware he had vast amounts of natural ability, says his music career then "kind of just happened." Picking up his grandfather's guitar for the first time, he says he "just messed around," and found that he was a naturally gifted musician.

Now eager to learn more about pop guitar, he roamed the Mexican neighborhood of his native Pacoima, California searching for people who knew how to play, soaking up everything he could from them.

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With basic guitar skills finally under his belt, Gallarza then browsed local music stores, picked up the Mel Bay guitar method instructional booklets, and began to steep himself in knowledge in the area of music in which he was destined to be a national leader--composing and arranging--even while his guitar work continued to improve and reach professional levels.

Gallarza began to play all over the Los Angeles area, excelling in the rock styles of the day, jazz, blues, the Hispanic-favored style Tropical, "Chicano" music, and other popular genres, during which many top musicians--some on the national scene--began to take note of his gifts. Then came the big break.

The number one pop group in the country, the Grammy Award-winning 5th Dimension, had been performing all over the world when they heard Gallarza's guitar work, and quickly contacted him, asking him to join them as lead guitarist. From his berth as the Dimension's lead player, Gallarza made an envious name for himself over the next fifteen years, performing across the U.S. and in Eastern and Western Europe (including performances for European royalty), even taking part in gala performances at the White House for heads of state.

Over the same period Gallarza also performed on Broadway and appeared in such television productions as The Johnny Carson Show, The Today Show, The Merv Griffin Show, The Mike Douglas Show, The Dick Clark Show, The Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon, The Sonny and Cher Show, The Marilyn and Billy Summer Show, and The Midnight Special television show.

After his long, stellar career with The 5th Dimension, Gallarza's legendary musical vision convinced him that the "Chicano music" of the day had to grow beyond a single locale, or even a single region, and in telling its story, reach out to the whole world. Part of that early vision led him to team up in 1984 as a producer, record executive, arranger, guitarist, and musical director with Joe Hernandez in Texas and Hernandez's long-lived and enormously popular Tex-Mex band, Little Joe & La Familia.

Gallarza and Hernandez had met in the 60's when both were playing in California clubs, and reconnected after Hernandez was back in his native Texas. Hernandez ultimately invited Gallarza to join him.

The switch-over for Gallarza was providential, since he had begun to suffer from burn-out in a Los Angeles music scene that was no longer as exciting and innovative to him as it once was. Ultimately, he found the kind of music Hernandez was doing--a dance-based, jazzy, brassy style with a strong Polka beat--refreshing.

Building out of the coalescence of Mexican music and popular styles in North America, the high-energy music of South and Central Texas went through several transformations before Gallarza got completely immersed in it. "Conjunto" music, featuring the Mexican-style button accordion, preceded Norteno with its compulsory bajo-sexto guitar, which led to Tex-Mex (or Tejano, as the emerging new style was called). All the styles in that Texas region appealed to Gallarza, and he threw himself into making a major contribution, drawing on his background in mainstream pop music to show national music executives how exciting and appealing the new Tejano music could be.

"From 1984 to 1992, what we call the Golden Era of Tejano music," Gallarza remembers, because of my mainstream background, I was able to bring the major labels into the Texas scene and got them to sign Little Joe."

Appealing to audiences in an always many-cultured Central and South Texas, Gallarza took bold new steps towards a new Tejano form, mixing not only the jazz Gallarza knew so well in California, but also Western Swing, the rock styles of the time, country, blues, Tex-Mex, and traditional Mexicano musical elements, into an exciting amalgamation of musical expression that would soon become that band's (and Gallarza's) signature sound: a much larger performing group that included electronic and synthesized instruments, huge brass and reeds sections, more complex instrumental riffs, virtuosic lead guitar solos, punchy, social-commentary lyrics, an enlarged percussion section, and hard-driving, modern vocal forays. With this revolution in sound, the audience for "Tex-Mex" music under Gallarza's guiding hand mushroomed beyond the local Hispanic fans into a style that pulled in listeners from all walks of life, and contributed to Little Joe's ascendance as one of modern American pop music's lasting successes.

The labels' great success with the La Familia band led to them ask Gallarza to produce other Tejano artists, including Ruben Ramos, Johnny Hernandez, Stefani Montiel, Elsa Garcia, Lisa Lopez, Adalberto, The Latin Breed, Ram Herrera, Jay Perez, David Lee Garza, The Royal Jesters, David Marez, Jimmy Edward, Chente Barrera, and Joel Guzman.

With these successes behind him, Gallarza took on a primary role as a producer of Tejano music, and soon was dramatically successful.

"I have always been an innovator and the first to try new things," says Gallarza, "and because Quincy Jones was also known for his own similar innovations in progressive pop music, people started calling me 'The Quincy Jones of Tejano Music,'" says Gallarza. "And my work as a successful producer sometimes had people saying that I was 'The Producer with the Midas Touch.'"

Gallarza is credited with being the first producer to introduce the "multi-guest format" on his CD's, where guest artists contribute their talent behind the main CD artist.

"No one else was doing anything like this when I started inviting guest artists into the CD production," Gallarza says, "and this was such as successful thing that everybody else started doing it, too."

No matter what the challenges in putting together a new CD, Gallarza says he never skimped on the quality of production.

"I never spared expense in doing a CD, because I always strove for the highest quality," he says, "and that meant always using the best studio and other musicians available. I worked with the best engineers, and being a musician myself, I frequently got very involved in the mixing."

His work with leading Tejano artists and the collaboration with Hernandez and the La Familia band ultimately resulted in two Gold Albums, two Grammy awards as a producer, one Grammy award as an artist, two additional Grammy nominations, and numerous Tejano Music Awards, including Best Artist, Best Producer, Best Guitarist, and Best Song categories. Gallarza ultimately was inducted into the Tejano Roots Hall of Fame, and this major recognition has proven to him that his original vision for a modernized Tejano style was on target.

With a goal of expanding Tejano music to its highest expression, Gallarza now strives towards major breakthroughs in arranging for what were called "horn bands" in the Tejano style, and has vastly enlarged his ideas about what the Tejano performing group should be, drawing on the roots of American music's past.

"Everything comes in cycles," Gallarza says, "and within the past year, I have taken the concept of the 40's type of band leader up to the present day, where it's the leader of the band who's the actual star, instead of a singer or lead player. I don't know of anybody else who's doing that--setting the scene up for the artist-bandleader to be in the spotlight."

Even with such a track record behind him, the energy-driven Gallarza now says he's passionately dedicated to taking today's Tejano style--which will include an equally brand-new name for a vastly updated sound--well outside the boundaries of Texas and the U.S. to international audiences.

"It's very clear that it's now time for change--and we in this area of music have got to push ourselves forward toward that change, because we know how unique this style is in the world of music," says Gallarza. "To do anything less would not do justice to an incredible art form that the whole world deserves to hear."

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