Dr. Rock & Latin Rock, Inc.

LRI Q & A With Phillip Retamoza Time to get acquainted with Phillip Retamoza, one of Bay Area's top Latin and R&B guitarist, showcasing a style and tone greatly inspired by Carlos Santana. His gigs include bands Tortilla Soup, Leo Rosales All-Stars, and many others. The accompanying video shouldn't be missed, featuring Phillip performing live, in action with dear friend, fellow Watsonville native, and Santana lead singer Andy Vargas, and conguero Branlie Mejias. Guest starring is Phillip's other passion, his 1950 Mercury, featuring fully custom-equipped trunk equipped with Bluetooth PA system and Mesa Guitar amp.

We love the video! How early in life did the car and music bug bite you?

I've loved cars ever since I was a kid, playing with my Hot Wheels. Later on, I remember my sisters taking me to a lowrider car show when I was 14 and this tangerine, chopped 1950 Mercury pulls in. It was completely different than any other car there, and I knew right then it’s what I wanted! Soon after it became cars AND guitars as I began watching my brother Rod's and Albert Torres' band rehearse in our garage, the guitars getting my undivided attention.

The music seed had been planted but did not blossom until I heard Santana III album, spending hours upon hours listening and learning each track, note per note. As my skills improved I have been privileged over the years to play with many local bands, including Thee Nite Owls, Majestic Brown, Soul Fine, Orquesta Gitano, Leo Rosales All–Stars, FLO, Patron, and currently Tortilla Soup.

Talk about your friendship with Santana lead vocalist Andy Vargas. When, where, and how?

I was born, and have lived my entire life, in Watsonville, CA, also Andy's hometown. I've known Andy's dad Javier Vargas, a phenomenal Mariachi singer, but did not meet Andy until later in life because he moved to L.A. at a young age to pursue his singing career. In 2000 we finally met! Andy was best man at our mutual friend's wedding and, intending to sing a few songs, needed a band. My phone rang and Andy and I have been friends ever since — going on 17 years now!

From that wedding came a few more opportunities together, right?

Yeah, in 2001 Andy invited me to sit in with his band at his debut solo gig at the Conga Room in L.A., alongside his all–star band that included Santana's dynamo percussion–duo Raul Rekow and Karl Perazzo. I remember walking on stage thinking "Yikes! I better bring it!" It went well and earned my invite to play with them again at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Growing up modestly and still living in Watsonville, this was pretty exciting for me.

Your car, named "Mercster". It's a beauty! Very, very special.

Well, as for my Mercury, it's been a 30 year project and love affair. It was completed by legendary car customizer Gene Winfield who specializes in Mercurys and movie cars like Blade Runner. I knew I had to merge my passions for custom cars and music early on, but originally it was just going to be for show. As I received more and more requests to play out of my car, it evolved into what it is today.

Last year I was driven to upgrade the sound system in the trunk which consists of a full PA system with Bluetooth, and a Mesa Guitar amp. I was thinking, "Man, there's a reason for this. I guess I'll find out."

And now the video! Talk about it.

As for this video–shoot itself, early last December San Francisco's Latin Rock, Inc. booked Andy to perform in the Bay Area. LRI execs Bernardo Gonzalez and Sam Totah invited me to sit in with Andy. After the show, over a very late–night breakfast, Andy said they had plans to go to Watsonville the next day, visit his parents, and shoot some video. I told him, "Ya know, Andy, I've got this car........"

The next day they showed up at my house, we discussed filming locations and, lo and behold, decided to shoot the video at the school directly across the street from where I live. Joining us is Branlie Mejias on congas. His father Paoli Mejias is currently conguero for Santana!

What you see is what you hear from each of us that day on the school playground! We used a backing track for some of the fills, but Andy, Branlie, and myself are live, no dubs!

Once again God's light shined upon me. It was really an honor to do this video with Andy, such a great person whose friendship I treasure. He does not forget where he came from.

Thank you, Phil. Great chatting with you and wishing you continued success!

It's been my pleasure, and before we wrap this up I must thank my wife Eleanor and my entire family, especially my sisters Alma and Pearl, my friends, Johnny C (Mercster Transport), John C for filming the video and supplying the congas, and of course my parents, may they rest in peace, for all their loving support throughout the years! Lastly, I gotta add a heartfelt thank you to Latin Rock, Inc. and Tortilla Soup for keeping live music ALIVE!

'Blessed' does not begin to describe how I feel.