Meet Jesse Flores, Lead Singer of Vudu Café
He leads a hybrid or mix of several different blends; rock, soul, funk, R&B, Latin, and other sounds
Belinda Quesada, Contributing Writer
You never know the influence siblings will have on your life until you're much older. According to Jesse Flores, lead singer of the wildly popular Chicano band, Vudu Café, he really had no choice. Raised with twelve brothers and sisters, it was his sisters' love of pop music that started it all.
Published on LatinoLA: August 20, 2012
Explaining to their little seven year old brother that he could impress the ladies if he could sing like the voices on the radio the ever dutiful Jesse learned "Sauvecito" and performed it for his toughest critics. Thus, a star was born.
Luckily for Jesse, his sister's musical tastes were varied. This helped tremendously in developing range and pitch at an early age. Musical influences included; Smokey Robinson, Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, James Brown, Steve Perry from Journey, Malo, Tierra, El Chicano, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and many more.
Early childhood memories of practice, practice, practice, also helped. Jesse recalls his sisters encouraging him to try and sound exactly like the voice on the radio. Fortunately for him, he could. This early training launched a career and an ongoing love of multicultural music, especially Chicano music.
Fast forward three decades later and Jesse has not lost sight on what's important in music. With pride in his voice he states, "I love Chicano music. It's a source of pride for all the band members. Thanks to our fans Vudu Café (VC) plays a lot of dates here in California. We love our fans here, they get us."
When a large box retail chain store could not fulfill the musical demands of dedicated VC fans, Jesse heard about it and was not happy. After their twelve-month lease was up, the band made the bold decision to pull their music from the store. That takes leadership and commitment. Jesse is not afraid to test the waters.
Furthermore, he knows the pitfalls of the music business: "You have to know your market. We know our fans. They are mostly Chicano but over the years, we've seen the diversity and love it. They love our sound. We meet our fans and talk with them after our concerts and sell our CD's directly to them. They tell us what they love and we bring it to the stage."
The truth is Vudu Café wants to cross over and become a music legend like Santana. They just want to do it on their terms. Their unique blend of original Chicano music has not gone unnoticed by music labels that have approached Jesse about a possible deal. He always has questions at the ready. Number one being, how would they market them? Why can't they take a larger share of the box office, along with higher merchandise profits? Jesse claims their answers are simply not sufficient. He thinks it's just a matter of time before Chicano groups get their due.
The following interview took place in California where the band is preparing for their next concert, opening for Salvador Santana on Friday, Aug. 24th, in Los Angeles, California, at Nick's Taste of Texas. http://www.nickstasteoftexas.com
Belinda Quesada (BQ): Describe Chicano Music?
Jessie Flores (JF): Awe, my favorite subject. I get asked that a lot. I love answering this question because if you think about it. There is no real category for Chicano music. Our band Vudu Café plays original Chicano music. I call our musical style a hybrid or mix of several different blends; rock, soul, funk, R&B, Latin, and other sounds. Chicano music is multicultural with a multicultural audience. Thanks to the original Chicano Legends (read heroes), i.e., El Chicano, Malo, and Tierra, they have kept it alive for everyone over the years.
If you think about how Hip Hop/Rap started some 20 plus years ago, there wasn't even a musical category for it. It's the same for Chicano music today. There's no category, yet, it's a force to be reckon with. I do believe that we have a mainstream sound.
As a Chicano, I am very proud and constantly thanked by our fans that love our music. It's a source of cultural pride for us all. We love playing here in Southern California. We're so happy to be back where we always feel the love.
BQ: Where are you from originally?
JF: I was born in Fresno, California. Raised in San Josse, went to high school in Morgan Hill. Started playing music professionally at age thirteen.
BQ: How and why did you start playing professionally so young?
JF: Well, I'm from a big family and everyone has a job, chores, etc. I was just musically gifted I guess. I could play the guitar, base guitar, piano, and drums. And I write music for each instrument. When you write, it helps to know how each piece will sound. I always wanted to play music and sing.
My mom understood and she actually allowed me to become an Emancipated minor. This enabled me to travel and play bass guitar with the legendary John Lee Hooker. I was fifteen! Can you imagine that? From age thirteen through sixteen, I played cover songs and essentially was just very mature for my age. I'm the second to the youngest of thirteen brothers and sisters.
BQ: What sets you apart from the others musically?
JF: I think it's our unique sound. Our fans tell me that my voice is a cross between Luther Vandross and Steve Perry. Wild combination, right? Yet, it works. In addition, I write all of our music, arrange, produce and scout for talent if need be.
BQ: What does being your own businessman mean to you?
JF: It's music, but at the end of the day, it's business. I look at ticket sales and our merchandising sales. Vudu Café is doing pretty well and growing. The numbers don't lie. Ticket sales are stronger, along with product sales. Chicano music is here to stay. My roots are heavily planted in Chicano music.
BQ: Is there a difference between your California fan and your Texas fan?
JF: I realized that I was in Texas and even though we have a fan base in Texas, we receive so much love in California. Out here, the minute they hear us, there's an instant connection. It is just a magical experience.
BQ: Why Texas as your home base?
JF: Well, my parents were born in Texas. We left California many years ago and we have many relatives here. I am based in Austin. It was a conscious decision to play music here.
BQ: Vudu Café is such an unusual name, how did you come up with it?
JF: Vudu Café has been together since 2003. I came up with the name. I just like it. Brown magic sounds cool, mysterious. It was from my first band called Vudu Highway. I've been playing music for 30 years. I do feel blessed.
BQ: How many in your band? Any original members?
JF: There are 5 members of Vudu Café. Some original members are still with us and a couple have left over the years for personal reasons. We keep making music and being creative the best way we know how. We're very excited about our 4th album to be released next summer 2013.
I'm part of a culture, people get it. They know what the band is doing. In Texas, we had to find the Chicano's and people who loved our music. We email people in all the major cities across Texas. There is more of a Chicano presence here in California. I love it out here
BQ: What's it like touring?
JF: Great, yes, there are times when you don't get enough sleep. We take catnaps.
BQ: Do you have any rituals you do before a concert?
JF: Yes, every time we hit a new stage I literally kiss the stage. We are blessed to be able to do this for a living. I am thankful every day.
BQ: Any hobbies or past times?
JF: No, everything revolves around music. Writing recording, arranging all for the love of music.
BQ: What was the oddest job before making it big?
JF: Our first band, called Vudu Highway was the opening band for female strip club. At a strip club, there were four of us. I was 16, and we played songs before and after the girls danced. We were hired to warm up the crowd. It was really cool.
BQ: What advice would you give to others looking to break into the music business?
JF: Not to forget us! No seriously, try to finance yourself. To get to the first phase of selling and making your own CD. It's about being creative and making your music true. But, you do have to understand the business aspect. I had no role models. And thankfully, I never got burnt. I just listened to my common sense and to a few others who were smarter in these areas.
Be very practical. I remember reading about the creator/director, George Lucas and how he was at a crossroads with financing for one of his biggest first film, Star Wars. The studios did not want to meet his price so, he said he'd take a pay cut as long as he could direct and take 100% of merchandise profits. Highly unusual, but the studios agreed. This turned out to be a very smart decision for Lucas. He went on to make millions and millions. He took a gamble on his creative vision. The rest is history. Sometimes you just have to be practical.
BQ: Who do you look up to professionally?
JF: I look up to El Chicano, Malo, and Tierra. These groups are legends. They have lasted this long and paved the way for the rest of us. I can't thank them enough. They are talented, part of a culture. We hope to be like them one day.
BQ: Most proudest moment?
JF: In music, it was when El Chicano, Tierra, and Malo asked me to join them on stage. And we became friends. Now they call me and invite me to their family parties. I'm invited to their BBQ's, etc. Rudy Salas even asked me to play acoustic guitar for his birthday party. It's a good life…
BQ: I've been told that Vudu Café is the hardest working Chicano band. Is that true?
JF: Ha! Yes, it's true. We love our fans on Facebook, We are the hardest working Chicano group. We are constantly working social media. Social media is a necessity these days. It's just a part of what you need to do to connect to fans. It is so helpful for us. Lots of bands use it and we're grateful. I'm on Facebook daily so you can write to me at www.facebook.com/jessefloresvc.
BQ: Any last parting words, thoughts, and ideas?
JF: Yes, just come see our show. You don't have to even know what Chicano music is all about. Come see us and judge for yourself. You'll find yourself there in the music. Thanks for your support because we love our Vudu Café fans!
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