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Peter Santillano Rises Out of the Ashes
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Peter Santillano - Photo by Ramon Hernandez
(Peter Santillano is not a well known name in Tex-Mex circles but he has a storied past as documented in this report by Ramon Hernandez.)

Peter Santillano might be a late bloomer, but the wait may well be worth it.
The Hondo, Texas-native has been singing since 1954. However, it was not until fifty years later that he recorded his first compact disc, “Caminos Chuecos.”
 
“It’s something I recorded at Max Baca’s tudio for me and my grandkids (Abel Peter, Josiah Cephas, Tresbella Novel and Trinity Jolene),” Santillano said during an 
interview at Moses Garza’s recording studio. “I didn’t promote it after it was manufactured. I just took it home and that was it.”
 
The truth is that he recorded “Cuatro Velas” with Jay García in 1998, but he’s not counting that project which included Candy García, accordion; Kike Esquivel, guitar; Henry Galván, bass; and Roger Caballero on drums.
 
The 62-year-old vocalist says he was initially influenced by his uncles, who all played bajo sexto and guitar. “However, Uncle Pedro De León of Los Aguilas, who played accordion and sang, was my primary inspiration. That conjunto included Efrain Escamilla, bajo sexto; and Agustine Rodríguez on sax.
 
“Everything they played, I learned on guitar by looking at where they placed their fingers on the guitar. And I learned to play on my cousin, Rosalio De León’s bajo sexto after I removed six of its strings. I never mastered it, but I knew enough to later join El Mariachi de Ramón Villa and Mariachi Los Escamilla, both local mariachis.
 
Santillano was twenty-one when he finally joined his uncle’s group, which included David Cortinas and Gilbert Villarreal. And in 1965, they, plus Candy Santillano on drums, formed The Skylanders, a 

combo that specialized on polkas, boleros and rancheras.
 
Three years later he joined the U.S. Army and served in Viet Nam. After military tours all over the West Pacific and Germany, he got stationed in Alaska and Lawton, Oklahoma where he and a few GI buddies performed at Raymond’s Bar.
 
From 1971 to 1998, Santillano went to college, worked for Gary Aircraft Corp., got married, fathered a daughter, Trevyln Odette, did a 15-year stint as a barber, got divorced, went into landscaping and became an advocate for several causes including a movement to save the Alameda Theater when the owners threated to raze the historical landmark in order to build a parking lot.
 
Then the Hondo-native leased the Valle Hermosa, cleaned it up, painted it and changed the venue’s name to the Crockett Bar. René García’s newly formed Five-Star Band – which consisted of Ralph Sáenz, guitar; Roy Paniagua, bass; Donald Garza, trumpet; Frank Pérez, trumpet; García, trombone; and Richard Solís, drums -- became the house band. 
 
“There were no saxes, except those that came and sat in with the band. They also didn’t do any Spanish-language tunes and that’s when I started singing again. This is also where Little Joe, Sunny and the Sunliners, Shelly Lares and Fama would rehearse so it became a very popular bar,” Santillano said.
 
“All that came to an end when in 2006, the owner raised my rent and I had no choice, but to close, otherwise I would still be doing very well.”
 
After five years of retirement, Santillano got serious and enlisted the crème de la crème and two childhood friends to produce a labor of love called “Vejes de Oro” (“Golden Oldies”), a collection of ten vintage tunes starting with Cuco Sánchez’s “Viejo El Viento ( y todavia sopla)” (“Old is the wind, yet it still blows”) to “No Tienes Perdon,” previously recorded by Johnny Canales.
 
The first cut has deep connotation al lyrics such as “Soy como llave que cualquier chapa se acopla,” which translates to “I am like a master key that can open any locked hole.”
 
Other standards include “Me Piden,” “Eres Casada,” “La Palma,” “La Malcornadora,” “Con Cartitas,” “Por Una Mujer Casada” and “Ya No Llores.”
 
“Some are classic conjunto tunes with lots of brass, but it’s not Latin Breed. So I would be me, I gave Frank Pérez an idea of what I wanted – to transpose conjunto to orchestra. He took that 

idea and blew it up into some great musical arrangements with lots of horns because orchestras are dying and I don’t want them to die out.
 
“I grew up with and I love conjunto, but with fine-tuned vocals, as that of Eddie “Lalo” Torres and Bene Medina, whose style features a lot of feelings; and that’s what I wanted to bring back for the people. That’s why David Cortinas is doing the harmonies with me.”
 
In the process, Santillano reunited with Sáenz and René García and also brought in Al Gómez, trumpet; Gibby Escobedo, saxophone; and Jorge Alejandro on bass – all whom he dubbed as The Crockett Band.
 
Besides the performance of every musician on this recording, the upcoming CD release party is unique in that everyone who purchases a CD will receive a free steak and shrimp dinner. So come one, come all to the B&N Sports Bar at 4910 S. Flores Street on Sunday, October 2.
For more information call Santillano at (210) 725-7383.

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