Sapo was an early 1970’s San Francisco-based Latin-rock band now considered one of the seminal and influential bands from the period. The band originally had ten pieces including congas, timbales, drums, two guitars and a four piece horn section.
Sapo was formed just as Malo’s song “Suavecito” hit the national top ten charts. Richard Bean, the singer and co-writer of the song, left Malo and formed Sapo with his brother horn player Joe Bean. Richard wrote Sapo’s songs and was the lead singer and timbale player. The band rehearsed four hours a day, five or six days a week in a large garage on South Van Ness Ave. in SF’s Mission District. They soon landed a national record deal on Bell Records (which later became Arista).
With excellent songs and musicianship, the resulting album was a national success and hit in the Latino community. Richard Bean still performs with Sapo. A few side notes: Sapo bass player, the late Jose Simon, went on to become a well-known San Francisco comedian. Dan Orsborn, one of the original guitarists and back-up singers, went on to write the score for Michael McClure’s hit SF musical “Gorf” and the music for the cult classic United Artist’s film “Smile” starring Bruce Dern, Barbara Feldon and Melanie Griffith.
Friend, legend, lead singer, band leader…
Started getting involved with music playing sax in Junior High, Liking it so much, he formed and performed with different bands like The Dynamics (with Carlos Santana), Wizardz ( with former Malo guitarist Abel Zarate), Jet (with Jorge Santana, brother of latin rock legend Carlos Santana), The Righteous Ones, Casanova ( with Mike Judge bassist- creator of Beavis and Butt Head), but it wasn’t until 1968 with a top 40 band called The Malibu’s, that one of his most creative periods would occur. As the latin rock scene blossomed in the San Francisco Bay Area, the popularity of groups like Santana gave way to a new sound that would sweep the country. Producer David Rubinson decided he was going to create a super latin group and began to incorporate musicians from various groups in the area that would form the legendery Chicano super-group Malo.
Formed in 1971, with Jorge Santana and Abel Zarate on guitars, Pablo Tellez on bass, Pianist Richard Kemode, Jazz trumpeter Luis Gasca, singers Richard Bean and Arcelio Garcia, and other steller local players, the band was complete.
After a few short months the group began to develop a new horn-oriented latin funksound that was explosive and exciting. Developing a reportoire of original material, it was a new concept that fused jazz, latin, R&B, and rock. “We played well together”, recalls Richard Bean in an interview conducted at KPFA Radio in 1994. “We jammed, and songs started happening from the riffs we created. Released in 1972 on Warner Bros. records, Suavecito has gone on to become one of latin rock’s most requested classical love songs. Richard Bean, lead singer, and co-composer of the million seller, wrote the lyrics and the melody as he says” I wrote the words in algebra class and took it to a rehearsal.” The rest is history, as the song swept the world.
But before Richard Bean could reap the glory of success, he left Malo for unspecified reasons and knew Suavecito would become a big hit when he heard it on the radiodriving down Mission Street in San Francisco. Realizing his potential, he wanted to create something that reflected his musical ideas and concepts. He and his brother Joe Bean decided to form a band and began to audition players. The group would be called SAPO and would include the noted congero Raul Rekow, who would join the Santana band a couple of years later. The rest of the band was rounded out on bass by the now famous comedian Jose Simon, pianist Kincad Miller, Oscar Estrella on guitar, Bobby Gaviola on trap drums, and trombonist Wayne Wallace (Bill Summers, Pete Escovedo, Tito Puente, and John Santos & The Machete Ensemble).
One of their first songs was a funky *guajira* that Richard Wrote, called I Can’t Make It ” The song came out of a poem I wrote “, says Richard.
Once I the had words, Iknew how I wanted the song to be. I took it to the band and we developed it and made a demo tape for Bell Records, (AKA ) ARISTA who loved it. We auditioned for the label in San Jose, after seeing the whole package we got signed in 1974.
The song was at it’s height and became an anthem during the Lowrider era around 24th st. and Mission, as lowriding reached it’s peak in the ’70′s and early ’80s. The album featured an exciting selection of latin flavored tracks like Ritmo Del Corazon (with its “Orale A Orale” chorus) Sapo’s Montuno, Been Had, and Nina . Recorded at the Wally Heider Studios by famed engineer Fred Catero (Tower of Power), the album never got commercial air play it deserved but was an instant street hit.
Sapo disbanded in the late ’70s. Jorge Santana, who scored a contract with New York City Based Tomato Records, reunited with Richard, who would Co-Write and sing lead for his recording project. It hasn’t been all roses for Richard, but in the 90′s with the emergence of a new Chicano/Latino generation searching for its roots, he and his music have been re-discovered and as a result, he reformed Sapo in 1995. I had the pleasure of recording Sapo ( with the help of ace recording engineer Michael Yoshida) at the KPFA Studios for my show “Live from Aztlan” (Sun@1to5am) where he recorded several of his classic jams.
In early 1998, Richard Bean and members of Sapo appeared on the national television show, Vibe, hosted by funk comedian Sinbad. It brought him and his music to millions who never knew that this unsung vocalist was the actual singer of Suavecito . In late1999 , TIME WARP RECORDS re-released SAPO’S exciting and dynamic first album on CD after the demand of his loyal fans, who would ask to bring it out again, while they heard him perform the songs of Sapo ,on his Malo tour.
After touring extensively with Sapo, Malo, Jorge Santana, recording 3 albums and writing and arranging many hit singles including Suavecito , Love The Way , Nobody’s Perfect , and Can’t Make It , Richard is still a focal point in the music world currently enjoying the success of SUGAR RAY’S multi-platinum CD and their hit single EVERY MORNING , Richard co-wrote the smash hit single with the band SUGAR RAY.
Richard is always ready to take you to a higher dimension in music. With the ever
changing sound and music, Richard manages to stay one step ahead of the time. Performing songs from his three albums in concert as well as the new material, Richard Bean and SAPO are always, an exciting band to see.
” I have heard it so many times that it almost is part of my brain, I think Richard Bean (along with Pablo and Abel) really created a sweet Latin lovers anthem, the song is simple, like all great love songs and I think it is very romantic. Richard was/is a great songwriter with a very different aspect to his writing. I wonder how Malo would have fared had he and Abel stayed in the band. Well; Malo got a Top 20 Billboard hit that has lasted for 40 years and means lot to Chicanos. Also I thought Richard’s work with Sapo was exemplary – that is also a classic recording…….”. This is a quote from Jim McCarthy writer for “Voices of Latin Rock” on his opinion of “Suavecito”.