Monday, 22 December 2008 06:01
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Carlos Maldonado Jr. dishes classy, progressive musicMaldonado Carloa

By RAMON HERNANDEZ

Carlos Maldonado Jr’s smooth vocals and his ability to play the bajo sexto with such finesse coupled with the silky melodic sounds of Ricardo Rivas accordion

and the polished voice of his father Carlos senior’s guest backup vocals on the last track are a delight to the ear.

Tony Nava, electric bass and third voice; and Roland González, drums; make up the rest of Grupo Fuerte.

If you were to dissect and rearrange Maldonado’s first name, you will note that four of the letters are C, L, A and S. One more “s” and his name would be “Class” -- and that’s just what his music offers.Maldonado Carloa

The opening tune is titled “Agonia” and nothing could be further from the truth because the production is sheer delight. In fact, the second cut, “Ahora Que Te Encuentro” (“Now That I Have Met You”) is a better fitting sound for those who aren’t familiar to his music. The compact disc, which contains three of his father’s penned bolero compositions, recorded as rancheras, ends with “La De Los Ojos Cafes,” the cantina music sounding Freddie Records recordings.

Carlos Maldonado (Sr.) y Sus Aguilas was best known for in his heyday for the latter song, which he recorded when Carlos Jr. was four years old.

“I remember my mom would take me to gigs at various clubs where I would take two albums, two cassettes and two eight-track tapes and go sell them from table to table as my mother would keep an eye on me,” Maldonado said during an interview at the Hispanic Entertainment Archives.

“After I would finish and give mom the money, I would sit by the stage watching the drummer. When my mother noticed my interest, she bought me a pair of drumsticks. I would then take an empty album box, turn it upside down and bang on the box.”

Maldonado was almost five when his parents bought him a drum set and he spent most of his free time practicing in their garage. By the time he was six, his father let him get up on stage and play on one tune. However, he secretly knew his father’s entire repertoire.

“Destiny stepped in when a snake slithered into a club and the drummer, Robert Luna, went to stomp on it and it bit his foot,” Maldonado recalled. “So I would up playing with my father’s band while the drummer’s foot healed.”

Three years later, his father bought him a Hohner two-row accordion and Maldonado sat in the back seat fiddling with the squeeze box. When he noticed his son’s potential to learn, Carlos Sr. taught his son how to play a polka on the way home from Mexico.

When Carlos Jr. turned ten, he and his father came up with the gimmick of switching instruments and it turned out to be such a big hit, the now 33-year-old solo artist said, “People would throw money at me and I wound up making more money then what my father used to pay me – which was $50 to $60 a night plus more on the road.”

When on the road, father and son passed the time singing together, but that was it. Next Carlos Jr. picked up a bajo sexto, tinkered with it and ended up liking it more than any other instrument achieving such a high degree of proficiency that when he turned twelve and his father’s bajo sexto player/back-up vocalist, Joe Cisneros, couldn’t make the gig, Carlos Sr. then hired a drummer and Carlos Jr. started playing bajo and also made his singing debut.

By 15, the teenage musical veteran had played drums on three cassettes plus played bajo and did vocals on another three cassettes. While Carlos Sr. was known for his boleros, Carlos Jr. says, “The rancheras work for us because that’s what gets people up dancing.”

With his great uncle being the late Mario Montes Sr. of Los Doneños, Roberto Pulido of Los Clasicos as second cousin and his baptismal Godfather being Ramón Ayala, there was no doubt Carlos Jr. would eventually come into his own.

“For being so young, another of Carlos Jr. early influences was the three and four-part harmonies of El Conjunto Bernal and Los Chachos,” Jumpin’ Jess Rodríguez added. “And while Juan P. Moreno was up there for a while, Carlos Jr. is the New King of the Bajo Sexto.”

Jumpin’ Jess, who heads J Latin Entertainment is Maldonado’s label promoter.

“His signature sound is the bajo sexto intro using an effects board,” Rodríguez added.

In addition to performing with his father, at 18, the six-foot tall vocalist-bajo sexto player did short stints with Elsa García, the Hometown Boys and David Lee Garza y Los Musicales. His most recent CD, “Más Fuerte Que Nunca” is the third production under his belt as a solo artist.

And if that wasn’t enough, the Houston-native is also a side man with Big Katz, a Tejano copy band, which includes Julian Gonzales, the accordion player from La Fiebre; Rubén Mendoz, the drummer from Los Chamacos and Joe Ernest Fuentes, ex-vocalist and Mingo García, ex-bass player from Avizo.

In 1996, when his father started to think of retirement, he decided to branch out on his own as Carlos Maldonado y Grupo Fuerte.

Although the number of Tejano formatted radio stations has diminished, Carlos Jr. receives plenty of worldwide airplay on Dave Pierce Biondi’s www.bnetradio.com.

When not performing in Texas, Carlos Jr. is following in his father’s footsteps and carrying on the family tradition with his own group as he tours in old stomping grounds such as California, Colorado, Oklahoma, Illinois, Wisconsin, Florida and Linares, Mexico.

To top it off, his most recent CD was featured in Hispanic Magazine’s music section. Radio program directors, such as Rick “Güero Polkas” Dávila at KEDA, are hailing it as “his best work ever” and music critics are giving it rave reviews.

To find out when Maldonado y Grupo Fuerte are performing in your city, check out www.grupofuerte.com

Related: Carlos Maldonado: 'old classics never die'