Garcia still going strong as Malo frontman 

The secret to Malo’s longtime success, says frontman Arcelio Garcia, is that the band is a family.

Among the celebrations the Hispanic rock group from San Francisco has in store for its 40th-anniversary year is a show Saturday at the Great American Music Hall, which inevitably will feature hits from 1972: “Nena,” “Cafe” and, of course, the huge “Suavecito.”

At one point, some people thought the tune — written by Richard Bean, Pablo Tellez and Abel Zarate — featured “white guys trying to sing Latin,” says Garcia, laughing. He added that Malo’s band members from the Mission district are indeed Hispanic.

But, he admits, “It was an American song with a Spanish name and a Spanish hook.”

Still going strong after four decades and numerous personnel changes, Malo’s current lineup includes lead vocalist Garcia, lead guitarist Jorge Santana, guitarist Gabriel Manzo, bassist Gus Bogios, drummer David George, keyboardist Daniel Cervantes, horn players Brian Beukelman, Pete Rodriguez and Jack Musgrove, and percussionists Gibby Ross and David Chavez.

Garcia says performances are like “one and a half hours of aerobics.”

Malo’s origins go back before 1972. In the mid-1960s, Garcia was in a group called the Malibus, which began to expand its sound with the addition of 17-year-old guitarist Jorge Santana, Carlos’ younger brother. 

“People would say, ‘That’s bad,’” says Garcia, describing how they came up with a new moniker to reflect the group’s evolution. “It was just a cool name,” he says.

Garcia fondly remembers playing gigs at places like the Fillmore and Winterland, and the support of the late Bill Graham, a “good friend.”

“He was Jewish, and he loved salsa. He was a salsa freak,” Garcia says.

These days, Malo’s music has found success internationally, particularly in Guam and Japan, and Garcia, who has stuck through “the thick and thin” of the music business, still enjoys, and is thankful for, his ability to play for several generations of fans, people who keep bringing their grandchildren to Malo shows.

“I’ve been blessed,” Garcia says. Each time he appears onstage, he says, “I always look up and think to myself, ‘One more time.’”

IF YOU GO

Malo

Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $22 to $25
Contact: (415) 285-7719, (415) 885-0750, www.gamhtickets.com

lkatz@sfexaminer.com

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Leslie Katz

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